Monday, April 28, 2008

Corporate self censorship is betraying our freedoms?

This article by Bruce Bawer will not be easily read by most, if any, lefties. Nevertheless, lefties should not dismiss the threat posed by either an extreme ideology embraced by Muslim extremists (it was Lefties who called for action against the Taliban while the righties ignored things there). While Mr. Bawer points out the problem using largely anecdotal examples, there is one trend in his anecdotes that is worth exploring.

Here is Mr. Bawer's central thesis:

What has not been widely recognized is that the Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1989 fatwa against Satanic Verses author Salman Rushdie introduced a new kind of jihad. Instead of assaulting Western ships or buildings, Kho­meini took aim at a fundamental Western freedom: freedom of speech. In recent years, other Islamists have joined this crusade, seeking to undermine Western societies’ basic liberties and extend sharia within those societies.

Mr. Bawer cites as evidence of success of the jihadist attack on freedom of speech, the assasisination of Theo van Gogh, and the response of Muslims to the Danish cartoons depicting a bomb in a turban. Two events, not sure I am convinced this is convincing evidence, that is working. But Mr. Bawer continues on with an easy target to blame, the Western media (and multiculturalism). He claims that the Western media, especially the BBC, basically frame these stories as "we" are the bad guys.

I am not convinced by the evidence Mr. Bawer presents. I am an academic and used to a much, much, higher bar to claim something like he is. A single source who knows some editors is not enough to make such a claim:

Press acquiescence to Muslim demands and threats is endemic. When the Mohammed cartoons—published in September 2005 by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten to defy rising self-censorship after van Gogh’s murder—were answered by worldwide violence, only one major American newspaper, the Philadelphia Inquirer, joined such European dailies as Die Welt and El País in reprinting them as a gesture of free-speech solidarity. Editors who refused to run the images claimed that their motive was multicultural respect for Islam. Critic Christopher Hitchens believed otherwise, writing that he “knew quite a number of the editors concerned and can say for a certainty that the chief motive for ‘restraint’ was simple fear.” Exemplifying the new dhimmitude, whatever its motivation, was Norway’s leading cartoonist, Finn Graff, who had often depicted Israelis as Nazis, but who now vowed not to draw anything that might provoke Muslim wrath. (On a positive note, this February, over a dozen Danish newspapers, joined by a number of other papers around the world, reprinted one of the original cartoons as a free-speech gesture after the arrest of three people accused of plotting to kill the artist.)

I could go on to point out the shortcomings of this article, it is easy to do. Nevertheless, I do think the press underreports this issue, the ideological aspects of this social movement. I am just not convinced it is because they are bowing to dhimmitude. How much does it have to do with the generally dumbed down nature of the press? And when our own government is assualting our basic constitutional freedoms, freedom of speech, in a self-censored manner, is not going to make it very high on anyone's list of atrocities.

I also wonder what effect the corporate ownership of the press has on this lack of reporting? Controversy is usually the news' best friend, but it is not so comfortable in a board room.

But, what troubles me more about Bawer's article is what is the solution?

He begins his conclusion:

Enough. We need to recognize that the cultural jihadists hate our freedoms because those freedoms defy sharia, which they’re determined to impose on us. So far, they have been far less successful at rolling back freedom of speech and other liberties in the U.S. than in Europe, thanks in no small part to the First Amendment. Yet America is proving increasingly susceptible to their pressures.

The key question for Westerners is: Do we love our freedoms as much as they hate them? Many free people, alas, have become so accustomed to freedom, and to the comfortable position of not having to stand up for it, that they’re incapable of defending it when it’s imperiled—or even, in many cases, of recognizing that it is imperiled

So, should we outlaw sharia? Islam? What actions would Mr. Bawer suggest? I suppose he would like to see Islam painted with a signle brush, as 'bad'. Yet, in the name of security, we are trampling all over our bill of rights. Indeed, surveys of our own people show as much support for limiting free speech as there is for support for violence among Muslims...a small, but significant minority.

Now, I am just a college professor. But I ask my students, in classes of mostly freshman, how many think that the 10 Commandments should be made criminal law? About 30% do. How many think non Christian religions should be outlawed in the US? About 10-15% do.

the major problem with Mr. Bawer's analysis is not that jihad is having an effect on our freedom of speech, but rather, that a defense of free speech has already taken such a beating already.

One last thing. Isn't multiculturalism a strong antidote to jihad? Wouldn't that be a counter argument? Isn't the only reasonable counter argument? Freedom of religion seems to me to be a major multicultural statement.

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