Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Banning Books in Iran

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports that Iran's publishing industry has been subjected to strict new regulations that have prevented thousands of books from being published. As the article makes clear, these new restrictions are merely part of a broader assault on intellectual freedom by the Ahmadinejad/Khamenei regime:

Censors are reportedly blocking the publication of a book by a giant of Iranian literature, novelist Sadegh Hedayat.

Renowned Iranian novelist Mahmud Dolatabadi said in late October that publishers should respond to the pressure by asking to be excused from publishing. He said writers should withhold their works, rather than seek publication.

Fellow novelist Ali Ashraf Darvishian says that he and many others have decided not to submit their books to the Culture Ministry for review.

"I can name the titles of 4,000 books that are currently awaiting permits," Darvishian says. "Some of the writers and poets publish their books outside Iran or on websites. This has put a lot of pressure on the publishing industry; some [publishers] are facing bankruptcy or have gone bankrupt. Many booksellers have changed jobs."

Journalist Emadeddin Baghi recently complained in an open letter to Culture Minister Saffar Harandi that about six of his books have been banned. Most of them deal with human rights issues, such as the situation inside Iranian prisons or the death penalty.


Baghi tells Radio Farda that he thinks the ban is retaliation for his investigation into dissident killings in the 1990s, or his association with dissident Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri.

"They have prepared a list of writers whose books should not be published -- some because they are laical and [officials] believe their books could lead to the propagation of secularism, some because of their antiestablishment stances," Baghi says. "The truth is that I'm neither known as being laical nor have I taken antiestablishment stances. The main cause of sensitivity could be over the issue of chain killings of intellectuals, which was covered in the press; I wrote the first article about it. Another reason could be my old ties with Ayatollah Montazeri."

The publishing restrictions have coincided with what writers charge is a government crackdown on freedom of speech in Iran.

Iran's writers association said earlier this week that censorship has reached a new peak in Iran. The association warned that that Iran's cultural community will not remain silent.

(Emphasis added-DD)

Monday, October 30, 2006

A Victory for Common Sense

Jack Stephens at Conservator brings word that the ACLU has dropped its lawsuit against Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act. Section 215 is the so-called "library provision" of the Patriot Act, even though it doesn't even mention the word libraries and there is no evidence that it has ever been used in a library setting.

To quote the ACLU's press release:

“While the reauthorized Patriot Act is far from perfect, we succeeded in stemming the damage from some of the Bush administration’s most reckless policies,” said ACLU Associate Legal Director Ann Beeson. “The ACLU will continue to monitor how the government applies the broad Section 215 power and we will challenge unconstitutional demands on a case-by-case basis.”

Considering how the ACLU has done so much to contribute to the climate of uninformed hysteria that has come to surround the Patriot Act, it is gratifying to see at least some movement towards common sense on their part. Hopefully the American Library Association will follow suit.

Letter from a Cuban Librarian

Freadom has the text of a moving letter written by an imprisoned Cuban independent librarian to his daughter:

My daughter, I know we both coincide in recognizing that forgiveness is a powerful force, is tranquility for the mortal mind and along with benevolence are the attributes of those who own their own destiny. That is why you, as well as I and everyone else forgive those who did not allow us to be together today, confident that we will have many other moments in life to share together in harmony and in total liberty.

Please visit Freadom for the rest.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Credit for Trying?

Thanks to Jack Stephens for letting me know about this item: a recent Los Angeles Times column by Meghan Daum (link via Patterico):

THE EVENTS at Columbia University on Oct. 4, in which about a dozen students stormed a stage where the founder of an anti-illegal immigration group was speaking, didn't exactly resemble those of April 1968. There were no arrests, no soundtrack by the Grateful Dead, no occupation of the president's office. But considering that most young people are considered to be politically apathetic, you have to credit the Chicano Caucus and the International Socialist Organization for trying.

The speaker, Jim Gilchrist of the Minuteman Project, a citizen's border patrol group, had been invited to campus by the Columbia University College Republicans. Reports in the New York Times said students holding banners reading "No One Is Illegal" jumped on the stage and were soon joined by dozens more protesters as well as supporters of Gilchrist. Protesters later said Gilchrist was knocked backward and his glasses were broken. The student newspaper, the Columbia Spectator, reported that "one student was kicked in the head and bleeding."

(Emphasis added-DD)

So radical thugs essentially stage a riot in order to suppress speech they disagree with, and Ms. Daum believes that they deserve credit for trying?

After soliciting the views of former Weather Underground terrorist Kevin Rudd, Ms. Daum concludes her column as follows:

Still, I'll give them an A (OK, maybe a B+) for trying. So does Rudd.

"I'm not going to point a finger at these kids and say you're a hoodlum fascist," he said. "I'm just going to wait and see what they do." In other words, it's not Columbia's president who has to get his hands around this. It's young activists themselves.

Well, allow me then "to point a finger at these kids and say you're a hoodlum fascist", because that's exactly what they are. They arrogated to themselves the right to violently suppress the free speech rights of others, in a place that is supposed to be committed to the free exchange of ideas.

Unfortunately, that such behavior would occur on a university campus doesn't surprise me. What does surprise me is the reaction of a supposed adult like Ms. Daum, whose reaction is to say "ohhh, look at the cute little activists, you have to give them credit for trying". Had this been right-wing activists disrupting a speech by someone like Kevin Rudd, would Ms. Daum react quite so flippantly? Somehow, I doubt it.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Hopeful Developments in Europe

The last several days have seen two small but hopeful developments regarding Europe's willingness to stand up against Radical Islam's war on intellectual freedom:

-In Germany, the Deutsche Oper announced that it will go ahead with its production of the Mozart opera Idomeneo. The production was canceled in late September in an act of preemptive self-censorship due to fear of a possible violent reaction from radical Islamists.

-In Denmark, a lawsuit against the newspaper Jyllands-Posten over its publication of the Prophet Mohammed cartoons was dismissed. Unfortunately, the reaction of some Muslims was less than encouraging:

"It is not up to the court to decide if Muslims will have hard feelings or not," Ameer ul-Azeem, spokesman for Jamaat-e-Islami, told the Associated Press news agency.

His group belongs to an Islamic alliance that organised mass protests across Pakistan earlier this year.

In Syria, where a mob attacked and set fire to the Danish and Norwegian embassies in February, legislator Mohammed Habash said the ruling would "widen the gap between the Western and Islamic world".

"What the newspaper did represents a true insult to millions of Muslims who do not follow Danish laws," Mr Habash, who heads the Islamic Studies Centre in Damascus, told AP.

(Emphasis added-DD)

The reaction of one prominent Danish Muslim leader is particularly illustrative of the problem:

"I'm not surprised, shocked or disappointed," said Ahmed Abu-Laban, a Copenhagen imam active in one of the organizations that brought the lawsuit.

"Freedom of speech has been the issue from the beginning. It is seen differently in Europe than we see it."

He urged Danish journalists to exercise self-censorship when dealing with sensitive subjects and said he hoped Denmark would pass laws guaranteeing "the dignity of people."

"Islam has been demonized and we pay a high price in discrimination," he said. "There is blasphemy and discrimination, but now it's interpreted to save the face of the government."

(Emphasis added-DD)

Is it really unreasonable to believe that the "European view" of free speech should be allowed to prevail in Europe?

Why Castro Fears Independent Libraries

Freadom provides a link to pictures of two Cuban independent librarians beaten by pro-regime mobs. Radical left-wing Castro apologists such as Ann Sparanese have tried to justify the Cuban dictatorship's repression of independent librarians by arguing that the latter are agents of a foreign power because some of them have accepted funding from the US Government. Even if we assume for the sake of argument that this is true, how does this possibly justify the Castro regime's actions?

After all, if the Cuban regime is as popular and beloved as sympathizers such as Sparanese claim it is, how can the independent library movement possibly threaten it? If Cubans really do love their Maximum Leader, are they suddenly going to become tools of neocon imperialism just because someone lends them a couple books to read? If Sparanese and others are correct in arguing, in the face of both logic and common sense, that Cuba's official libraries do not limit access to anti-regime viewpoints, then what is the harm in the existence of independent lending libraries that further enhance intellectual freedom?

The answer, of course, is that the Castro regime is not popular; it is a brutal dictatorship that rules by fear. It fears independent libraries not because of who pays for them, but because it dreads any lessening of its control over Cuban society. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Mary Anastasia O'Grady outlines a new strategy of "non-cooperation" that Cuban dissidents have adopted to break this totalitarian stranglehold on their country:

Non-cooperation is a strategy aimed at whittling away at the most fundamental tool of every totalitarian regime: fear. The system can survive only if each Cuban believes he is greatly outnumbered by lovers of the revolution and that in speaking out, he is doomed. This is why the regime risked so much bad press to crush the dissidents in March of 2003 in a brutal island-wide crackdown. Intense, debilitating fear must be kept alive if the regime is to survive.

Opponents of the regime also understand the power of fear and it is why they are hopeful about the non-cooperation campaign, which provides a passive way for Cubans to quietly discover solidarity. Rather than calling on citizens to actively rebel against the government, "non-cooperation" asks them simply to refuse to participate in the oppression.

(Link courtesy of PajamasMedia)

Preventing the Cuban people from having access to independent sources of information and expression is crucial to maintaining this climate of "intense, debilitating fear". This is why the Castro dictatorship represses independent libraries and other forms of intellectual freedom.

North Korea and the Internet

An excellent article from Monday's New York Times discusses the role of the Internet, or lack thereof, in North Korea. This reference to a famous satellite image of the Korean Peninsula at night helps put the issue in context:

The South was illuminated from coast to coast, suggesting that not just lights, but that other, arguably more bedrock utility of the modern age — information — was pulsating through the population.

The North was black.

This is an impoverished country where televisions and radios are hard-wired to receive only government-controlled frequencies. Cellphones were banned outright in 2004. In May, the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York ranked North Korea No. 1 — over also-rans like Burma, Syria and Uzbekistan — on its list of the “10 Most Censored Countries.”

That would seem to leave the question of Internet access in North Korea moot.

The main objective of the Kim Family Regime that rules North Korea is to preserve their totalitarian Stalinist state by keeping it as isolated as possible from the broader world. Their policy towards the Internet is fully in keeping with this goal. Instead of censoring or filtering the Internet, North Korea avoids it altogether:

Julien Pain, head of the Internet desk at Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based group which tracks censorship around the world, put it more bluntly. “It is by far the worst Internet black hole,” he said.

Yet, as the article notes, not even the totalitarian edifice created by the Kim Dynasty can keep North Korea completely isolated from the outside world:

Writing in The International Herald Tribune last year, Rebecca MacKinnon, a research fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard, suggested that North Korea’s ban on cellphones was being breached on the black market along China’s border. And as more and more cellphones there become Web-enabled, she suggested, that might mean that a growing number of North Koreans, in addition to talking to family in the South, would be quietly raising digital periscopes from the depths.

Last year, CNN ran a program featuring video secretly produced by North Korean dissidents using cell phones and digital cameras. On the one hand, the footage painted a bleak, chilling picture of life under the Kim Family Regime. Images showed dead bodies lying in the street, with passersby strolling right past them as if this were an everyday occurence. Considering that as many as 2 million North Koreans perished by famine in the mid-1990s, while their regime continued to pursue nuclear weapons, such a blase attitude towards death is tragically to be expected.

For all this, the very existence of the video and those who took it offers some cause for hope. North Korea is the world's most repressive regime, a Stalinist monstrosity with gulags containing an estimated 200,000 prisoners. Freedom of expression is almost literally nonexistent. Yet, despite this totalitarian apparatus of control, there is dissent in North Korea and information technology is entering the country to foster it. The Kim regime's desire to keep North Korea isolated from the world is ultimately bound to fail. We can only hope this happens before North Korea's megalomaniacal ruler plunges his country into a nuclear holocaust.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Islamist Double Standards

British Muslim journalist Adel Darwish recently pointed out the hypocrisy of Islamists who use the language of personal freedom to decry restrictions on the wearing of veils. MEMRI provides some excerpts:

"I support a woman's freedom, Muslim or non-Muslim, to wear whatever she wants, provided that the conditions for such freedom exist. Most importantly, she should, when adult, be able to choose from several available options.


"Most of those who raise the slogan 'a woman's right to wear the veil' are Salafi fundamentalists who reject the principle of a person's freedom of choice to begin with. The proof is that they immediately declare a person's life forfeit because he dares to interpret a Koranic text in a way that contradicts their ideology - although Islam rejects the concept of a priesthood or intermediaries between God and human, whether he is a man or a woman. It is a person's right to make personal mental efforts to interpret Koranic verses. By the way, nothing in the Koran requires a woman to wear a veil. There is no need, therefore, for an intervention or a fatwa by Al-Mahallawi, Al-Qaradhawi, or anyone else.

"The boisterous minority accuses the West of failing to understand the 'Muslim people's culture.' Have they tried to understand British culture? My wife, for example, does not dream of recreating herself in a bikini in the gardens of Islamabad. At the same time, in British culture, it is neither polite nor tactful to have a conversation with another person while wearing sunglasses, let alone hiding the entire face behind a veil. Why do those who choose to come to Britain to live not try to understand certain basic cultural concepts of this country including freedom of expression and thought, personal efforts at interpretation, and equality between the two sexes instead of showing disdain for the country's culture on the pretext of the right of a minority within a minority?"

(Emphasis added-DD)

The ultimate goal of Islamists is a state governed by a strict interpretation of Islamic Sharia law. The actual record of such states makes a mockery of the idea that Islamists believe in freedom.

The Internet in Cuba

Reporters Sans Frontieres has just released a report on Internet censorship in Cuba. The document is available on the RSF web site; here are a few highlights:

An investigation carried out by Reporters Without Borders revealed that the Cuban government uses several mechanisms to ensure that the Internet is not used in a “counter-revolutionary” fashion. Firstly, the government has more or less banned private Internet connections. To visit websites or check their e-mail, Cubans have to use public access points such as Internet cafes, universities and “Youth computing centers” where it is easier to monitor their activity. Then, the Cuban police has installed software on all computers in Internet cafes and big hotels that triggers an alert message when “subversive” key-words are noticed.

The regime also ensures that there is no Internet access for its political opponents and independent journalists, for whom reaching news media abroad is an ordeal. The government also counts on self-censorship. In Cuba, you can get a 20-year prison sentence for writing a few “counter-revolutionary” articles for foreign websites, and a five-year one just for connecting with the Internet in an illegal manner. Few people dare to defy the state censorship and take such a risk."

As the report notes, fewer than 2% of Cubans have Internet access, a figure "down there with Uganda or Sri Lanka." Those few Cubans who can access the web have to be approved by the government to do so. While Cuba does not block web sites like China does, the Castro regime does use spyware that shuts down e-mail and word processing programs if certain forbidden keywords are typed in.

These chilling restrictions on Internet access and use are yet further evidence of the Castro dictatorship's fundamental hostility towards intellectual freedom.

(Thanks to Steve Marquardt for sending word of this report)

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Expelled for Blogging

The Sudanese regime has expelled a UN envoy because he criticized them on his personal blog:

The government of Sudan on Sunday gave the top U.N. official in the country three days to leave, marking the latest hurdle in international efforts to bring peace to the nation torn apart by civil war.

Sudan expelled Jan Pronk, the top U.N. envoy to Sudan, who has openly criticized Khartoum as well as rebel groups on his Web log.

Sudan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs gave Pronk a letter addressed to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan saying the government was terminating Pronk's mission and setting the timetable for his departure, said Radhia Achouri, spokeswoman for the U.N. mission in Sudan.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

"If you can't slaughter him and kill him, at least destroy these websites…"

Starting with the Rushdie Affair, radical Islam's war on intellectual freedom has become a globalized phenomenon. Now, it has even been exported to cyberspace. The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) provides just one example:

On October 19, 2006, Islamist websites posted a list of German sites which, according to the author, defame Islam and must therefore be shut down. The message that accompanies the list says: "[These websites] insult the God of glory and call Him the God of swine… they describe the Prophet as a rapist of young girls… and as a robber... Where are you, the lions of jihad [in] the media? Who is going to put this dog [i.e. the individual behind these websites] in his place? Who will destroy his website and [the other] websites through which he disseminates his filth?… Isn't there an Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi [to take care of] this dog? Isn't there a killer [who will kill] him, like the one who murdered the Dutch director [Theo Van Gogh]?... If you can't slaughter him and kill him, at least destroy these websites…"

The author concludes by urging the readers to circulate his list of websites, and adds: "Perhaps Allah will produce someone who will [punish] this depraved person as an example to others, and will demonstrate to the Crusaders and to the Jews that the Islamic youth will never keep quiet in the face of any insult to their religion and their Prophet..."

(Emphasis added-DD)

The Islamist assault on free expression is no longer limited by geography: it is truly a global threat.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Knowing the Enemy

Jeff Stein has a less than encouraging piece in the New York Times, dealing with the frightening lack of knowledge many in Washington have of Islam and Islamism:

FOR the past several months, I’ve been wrapping up lengthy interviews with Washington counterterrorism officials with a fundamental question: “Do you know the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite?”

A “gotcha” question? Perhaps. But if knowing your enemy is the most basic rule of war, I don’t think it’s out of bounds. And as I quickly explain to my subjects, I’m not looking for theological explanations, just the basics: Who’s on what side today, and what does each want?


But so far, most American officials I’ve interviewed don’t have a clue. That includes not just intelligence and law enforcement officials, but also members of Congress who have important roles overseeing our spy agencies. How can they do their jobs without knowing the basics?

A very good question. Forget policymakers, in the post-9/11 world, every American citizen should know the basics about the Middle East.

Death Threats in Egypt

A woman Muslim scholar in Egypt has been subjected to death threats for questioning the need for women to be fully veiled. Italian news site AKI has the details:

An Egyptian female theologian and professor has received death threats for her comments that the niqab, the face-covering eyes-only veil, is not obligatory, Gulf News reports. Souad Saleh, former head of female religious studies at Cario's al-Azhar university, told an Arabic TV network this week that there was no unequivocal text in the Koran requiring women to cover their faces. Her comments came amid a row over the decision by a university hostel in Cairo to ban the niqab in its dormitories, for security reasons, and a wider debate over the use of face-hiding Muslim veils by women in Europe.

An angry male preacher told a mosque congregation in Giza, south of Cairo, that he was ready to kill Saleh for her claim, and was arrested and questioned by police, Gulf News reported Thursday.

Saleh, known in Egypt as "the women's mufti" for her numerous fatwas, or religious edicts relating to women, had already been fiercely criticised by some Muslim fundamentalists for her remarks.

The reason why this news is so disturbing is that Islamists have a frightening tradition of acting on their death threats, especially in Egypt. As Koenraad Elst has written:

Egypt has a history of Islamist violence that has affected even the country’s most renowned writer, Nobel Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz (b. 1911), who was stabbed with a knife to his neck and seriously wounded in 1994. Farag Foda, a Muslim liberal and long-standing critic of the fundamentalists, was murdered in June 1992; his son and other bystanders were seriously wounded. During the trial of several suspects in the Foda murder, expert witnesses defended the execution of apostates and blasphemers.

(Emphasis added-DD)

Hopefully, Ms. Saleh is able to avoid such a fate.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Cowardice in the UK

Media Guardian (reg. required) reports that employees of a UK tabloid forced their paper to stop publication of a feature spoofing fundamentalist Muslims:

The Daily Star last night pulled a page that mocked Muslim law by turning the tabloid into the "Daily Fatwa" following a newsroom revolt.

Management acted after the Daily Star's National Union of Journalists' chapel held a stop work meeting that produced a resolution condemning the page.

The page included a "Page 3 burqa babes special" showing a woman in a niqab, as part of a feature billed as "How your favourite paper would look under Muslim law".

The page also contained a blank editorial stamped with the words "censored" and "Allah is great" while across the top of the page were the words "no news no goss no fun".

This was apparently too much for the Daily Star's journalists, who demanded that the page not be published:

At a hastily arranged stop work NUJ chapel meeting, staff voiced fears of violent reprisals and carried a motion that condemned the feature.

"This National Union of Journalists chapel expresses its deep concern at the content of page 6 in tomorrow's Daily Star which we consider to be deliberately offensive to Muslims," the motion read.

"The chapel fears that this editorial content poses a very serious risk of violent and dangerous reprisals from religious fanatics who may take offence at these articles. This may place the staff in great jeopardy. This chapel urges the management to remove the content immediately."

(Emphasis added-DD)

Good to know that the NUJ courageously stands for self-censorship in the face of possible "violent and dangerous reprisals from religious fanatics".

Naturally, the NUJ had to try to put the best possible spin on the actions of its local chapter:

The NUJ general secretary, Jeremy Dear, said: "This was an outrageous and hugely irresponsible idea which fortunately our chapel courageously resisted and, in so doing, protected both the paper and its staff from possible serious repercussions.

"The union's code of conduct condemns this sort of gratuitous material which is likely to encourage discrimination and hatred in our society.

Yes, kudos to the Daily Star employees, who "courageously resisted" the side they knew would not try to saw their heads off in the middle of the street. I wonder, though, would they have been nearly as worried about encouraging "discrimination and hatred" had the page in question mocked Christians or Jews or Americans? Somehow, I doubt it.

As with the Idomeneo affair , it is clear that the Islamists have created a climate in Europe where they don't even have to make any death threats to get results. Just the possibility of jihadist violence is enough to persuade many Europeans to censor themselves.

(Link courtesy of Tim Blair)

The POD Revolution?

Writing in the October 15th Sunday Times, Bryan Appleyard predicts that the rise of print on demand (POD) technology will spell the end of the large chain bookstores he is less than enamored with. In discussing the UK book market, he argues that these stores have forced publishers to all but abandon publishing interesting, intellectual works in favor of pulp bestsellers that have a better chance of selling. As a result:

Publishers have been forced to take fewer risks. Their cheap-to-run backlists can survive on small sales, and the mass market will look after itself. But the middle element in the equation — consisting of the new, the risky, the strange, the difficult, the ambitious, the non-generic, everything, in fact, one values — has been squeezed out. As publishers repeatedly say, the number of copies of a book that now have to be sold to justify the upfront costs is getting higher and higher. New books that aren’t The Wag Diet by Jordan Beckham don’t stand a chance.

The solution to all this is POD. This does away completely with all stock and cash-flow problems. In POD, an author delivers his manuscript and the publisher edits, designs and sets it on a computer, but doesn’t actually print any copies at all. Instead, it simply waits until somebody buys one. At that point, the book — a proper one, on paper, with proper binding — can be made on the spot and delivered through, for example, Amazon or direct from the publisher. Alternatively, the buyer can get it from a printing and binding machine rather like the current digital-photo processors. The latter method is the obvious one, and Starbucks is indeed looking at it.

Essentially, POD allows the user to go to a machine, select their book, swipe their credit card, and a professionally bound copy of that book will be published on the spot. In Appleyard's view, the impact of POD "will be seismic, almost certainly more radical than the impact on the record industry of MP3 technology." In my view, this may overstate things.

POD technology will certainly have a dramatic impact on the publishing industry, and on libraries. Should libraries be able to print books on demand for patrons, it might well obviate the need for things like approval plans and selection profiles. Instead of devoting their acquisition budgets to building "just in case" collections, libraries could spend their book funds on "just in time" POD purchases, as requested by patrons. POD could also be the deathknell of Interlibrary Loan, at least as far as books go.

Will print on demand thus eliminate the need for large bookstores and libraries? In my opinion, no. After all, movie theaters have faced over 5 decades and several generations worth of home entertainment technology, and are still going strong. This is because people enjoy the experience of seeing movies in a cinema setting. In much the same way, even in a print on demand environment, many will still enjoy going out and browsing crowded bookshelves at their local bookstore or library. To echo a point Appleyard himself makes, people already have the option of buying virtually any book they want online via Amazon or other web outlets. Yet they continue to visit bookstores and libraries.

In short, print on demand will have a major impact on how libraries and bookstores do business. It will not, however, drive them out of business.

Choudhury Update

The Jerusalem Post has some disturbing news regarding Bangladeshi editor Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury:

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, editor of the Weekly Blitz newspaper, an English-language publication based in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka, was working in his office on October 5 when nearly 40 people stormed the premises.

The mob beat Choudhury, leaving him with a fractured ankle, and looted cash that was kept in the company safe. Choudhury was briefly hospitalized.

This passage explains what is at stake in the Choudhury case:

Dr. Richard Benkin, an American human rights activist leading the fight for Choudhury's release, expressed grave concern about the current situation.

"Choudhury is unique because he has not fled to the West, but continues to oppose militant Islamists from inside the Muslim world," Benkin told the Post. "He feels that if he can defeat the radicals in their own back yard it will be a victory for peace and justice unlike any other thus far."

"More and more Muslims are looking at this case," Benkin said. "They want to see if Shoaib will get the support and protection he needs from the West. If he is victorious, other Muslims will try the same; if we allow him to go down, they will remain silent."

(Emphasis added-DD)

Librarians for Fairness has information on how to express your support for Mr. Choudhury.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Silencing Moderate Muslims in Canada

Robert Spencer has an excellent essay at FrontPage Magazine on two outspoken moderate Muslims in Canada who have been subjected to the regular Islamist practice of censorship by death threat:

At the same time, however, Islamic reformers have a difficult road. They are often targeted as apostates by jihadists, and often physically threatened. Farzana Hassan Shahid, the new president of the Muslim Canadian Congress (MCC), is the latest victim of this phenomenon. After her liberal views on many Islamic hot-button issues became known, she began receiving death threats from Muslim hardliners who considered her positions evidence of her falling away from Islam. One called her the “younger sister of Satan.” Another accosted her husband at an Ontario mosque and demanded he “control his wife.”

Consequently, Farzana Hassan Shahid explained, “there is an underlying fear all the time...that uneasy feeling is part of my daily life. I have been declared an apostate twice, for opposing the Sharia [Islamic law]. We have asked [Ontario Attorney General] Michael Bryant to include or acknowledge accusation of blasphemy and apostasy into the existing hate laws so the public and legal frame work is sensitized to this issue.”

Hassan Shahid is not the first MCC official to be targeted by jihadists. Up until recently, Tarek Fatah was the MCC’s communications director. But in August he abruptly resigned from his position, as well as from the group’s board, severing all ties with the organization, although he had been one of its founders.

Muslim Moderates Under Siege

While I disagree with much of what Mr. Spencer has written in the past, he is dead on with this piece. If the climate of fear and intimidation created by radical Islamists can extend even to Canada, how much hope is there for moderate Muslims to defy the jihadists?

Sources on the Shining Path

To answer Walter Skold's question, there are plenty of sources that document the barbarous nature of the Peruvian Shining Path movement. I did a quick post on this myself a few weeks ago. Here are just a few additional links:

-This section of a 1997 report from Human Rights Watch offers an overview of the kinds of atrocities committed by the Shining Path:

Since the beginning of the armed conflict, Peru's two armed opposition groups, Shining Path and the MRTA, have consistently violated principles of international humanitarian law.(133) Such violations include the selective killing of non-combatants, indiscriminate attacks, forced recruitment, and, in the case of the MRTA, hostage-taking.(134)

Shining Path, in particular, has gained a reputation for its glorification of violence, making a revolutionary virtue out of the cold-blooded assassination of noncombatants perceived to be its ideological enemies. Shining path has explicitly rejected respect for the principles of human rights, a stance that is amply displayed in the group's disregard for the laws of war:

(Emphasis added-DD)

-Another good overview of the group is this 2002 analysis from the Center for Defense Information:

In this early strategy of rural revolution, the Sendero clashed most frequently with the very poor indigenous populations whose interests it claimed to advance. In areas within its sphere of influence, the group forced farmers to reduce production to subsistence levels and destroyed modern farm equipment. Beyond targeting farm production, the Sendero has imposed puritanical regulations on the populace by outlawing fiestas, prohibiting drinking, and terrorizing peasants that have turned to trading and selling. Although some the group’s activities, such as its public executions of corrupt officials, have followed the standard Maoist doctrine of winning hearts and minds, most of its efforts reflect a simpler strategy of terrorizing local populations into submission. In response, many peasants in more prosperous areas, such as the Mantaro Valley in the central Andes, have cooperated with government forces and formed civil defense patrols to resist Sendero control.

-Oddly enough, Al Jazeera's English language web site has an interesting article on the Shining Path movement.

-Finally, this opinion piece provides some additional background:

"In 1989, the Maoist guerrillas hacked to death my uncle and his family whom they accused of helping counterinsurgency forces in Lima. They hacked them with knives and machetes before slitting their throats. That was one of the bloody violence by Maoists". Dr. Naritoma said. She stated "Maoist and Al Queda are no different. Shining Path and Maoists are criminals and murderers, so without eliminating them peace will not exist in this world. We Peruvians condemn them. We don't want to hear their name. Shining Path is a failed ideology in this world".

Reviving the E-Book?

I have never been a big fan of the idea of the e-book. While I appreciate making the information contained in books available electronically, the idea of reading a book as such in electronic format just doesn't appeal to me. Last week, however, the New York Times reviewed a new product from Sony designed to win over e-skeptics such as myself:

What distinguishes Sony’s effort from all the failed e-book readers of years gone by, however, is the screen.

The Reader employs a remarkable new display technology from a company called E Ink. Sandwiched between layers of plastic film are millions of transparent, nearly microscopic liquid-filled spheres. White and black particles float inside them, as though inside the world’s tiniest snow globes. Depending on how the electrical charge is applied to the plastic film, either the black or white particles rise to the top of the little spheres, forming crisp patterns of black and white.

The result looks like ink on light gray paper. The “ink” is so close to the surface of the screen, it looks as if it’s been printed there. The reading experience is pleasant, natural and nothing like reading a computer screen.

Essentially, then, this new product allows you to read an e-book as if it was in paper. While this sounds kind of cool, I think writer David Pogue gets it right with his conclusion:

Is that it, then? Is the paper book doomed? Was it only a transitional gadget, a placeholder that came between stone tablets and e-books?

Not any time soon. The Sony Reader is an impressive achievement, and an important step toward a convenient alternative to bound books. It will make certain niche groups very happy: gadget freaks, lawyers with massive document stashes, doctors and pilots who check hefty reference texts, high school students with 35-pound backpacks and anyone who likes to read by the pool for 20 weeks at a time.

The masses, however, may continue to prefer the more established portable-document format. Those older reading machines never run out of power, cost about 2 percent as much and don’t break when dropped. You know: p-books.

Count me with the masses on this one. E-books can be useful under certain circumstances, but aren't really needed by most people. After all, if the only way to make e-books truly readable is to simulate the experience of reading a paper book, then why not just stick with the latter?

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Futility of Appeasement

In a lengthy, thought-provoking essay for the Weekly Standard, Reuel Marc Gerecht discusses the consequences of an American abandonment of Iraq. He ably debunks the notion that leaving Iraq will make us "safer", assuage the jihadists, or lessen anti-Americanism in the Muslim world. As Gerecht points out, there is almost nothing America can do to alleviate the deep seated rage of the Islamists. This hatred is a reflection of the Islamist worldview, and not simply a response to specific policies and actions. In short, the Islamists will hate us regardless of what we do, and trying to tailor our policies to appease their anger will only backfire.

Gerecht notes in particular the absurdity of censoring artistic and literary works offensive to Islamists. He points out that this would be foolish and counterproductive:

Yet should we back down from advocating equality between men and women in Islamic countries because such advocacy makes some Muslims more inclined to convert civilian jetliners into fuel bombs? Was Madeleine Albright wrong to talk about such things incessantly? How about Karen Hughes today? Should we chastise our artists and writers--and Muslim artists and writers who've come to the West for its freedom--if they transgress the proprieties of faithful Muslims, especially radical Muslims who require only a little more psychological TNT to send them over the edge into anti-American holy war?

Bill Clinton came very close to embracing artistic self-censorship, as did Jacques Chirac, over the Danish cartoon incident. Many jihad-rising critics and former counterterrorist officials in the Clinton administration argue that we need to avoid behavior that inflames anti-American Muslim passions. By this reasoning, we will always be playing defense to their offense and possibly violent umbrage.

Do the jihad-rising critics want to rewrite history, and stop President Clinton's WMD bombings and sanctions against Saddam Hussein's regime, knowing now how bin Laden exploited Muslim solidarity by underscoring this Western aggression? Should we just have let Saddam go free (he was almost there in 2000)? The vast majority of Muslims in the Middle East certainly would have applauded. By this reasoning, who knows how many Muslim militants would have refrained from the leap into the all-consuming hatred of jihad? Maybe one of the 9/11 bombers wouldn't have flipped if we'd stopped bombing and sanctioning Iraq, and the Twin Towers would still be standing. Then again, perhaps such a cessation would have whetted the appetite of the same militants. To bin Laden and those who've embraced his cause, American defeats have been much more inspiring than American victories.

The truth is that much of what the United States needs to do to win the war on Islamic extremism will naturally infuriate those who view the United States and American culture as threatening to Islam, all the more because they also find it appealing. Your average Muslim fundamentalist, who has no intention of becoming a holy warrior, fears and hates, and admires and envies, America. Such men and women are probably near a majority of all Muslims in every Arab land. Almost everything the United States does in this world ought to annoy these people. Much of what the United States needs to do will outrage them.

(Emphasis added-DD)

In 1755, Benjamin Franklin wrote that:

Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.

This quotation is frequently cited by those concerned about the alleged threat to intellectual freedom posed by sections of the USA Patriot Act. However, it is far more appropriately applied to those who would voluntarily curtail free speech and expression in a futile effort to appease the Islamists.

The Persecution of Choudhury

In a superb piece for the Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens describes the brutal persecution endured by one freethinking Bangladeshi journalist:

Meet Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury. As these lines are being written, Mr. Choudhury, a gadfly Bangladeshi journalist, is running for his life. Assuming he survives till Thursday, he will face charges of blasphemy, sedition, treason and espionage in a Dhaka courtroom. His crime is to have tried to attend a writers' conference in Tel Aviv on how the media can foster world peace. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

Welcome to Bangladesh, a country the State Department's Richard Boucher recently portrayed in congressional testimony as "a traditionally moderate and tolerant country" that shares America's "commitment to democracy, human rights and the rule of law." That's an interesting way to describe a country that is regularly ranked as the world's most corrupt by Transparency International and whose governing coalition, in addition to the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party of Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, includes two fundamentalist Islamic parties that advocate the imposition of Shariah law. There are an estimated 64,000 madrassas (religious schools) in Bangladesh. The Ministry of Industries is in the hands of Motiur Rahman Nizami, a radical Islamist with a reputation of a violent past. In March the Peace Corps was forced to leave the country for fear of terrorist attacks. Seven other journalists have also been brought up on sedition charges by Ms. Zia's government, most of them for attempting to document Bangladesh's repression of religious minorities.

But few stories better illustrate the Islamist tinderbox that Bangladesh has become than Mr. Choudhury's. "When I began my newspaper [the Weekly Blitz] in 2003 I decided to make an end to the well-orchestrated propaganda campaign against Jews and Christians and especially against Israel," he says in the first of several telephone interviews in recent days. "In Bangladesh and especially during Friday prayers, the clerics propagate jihad and encourage the killing of Jews and Christians. When I was a child my father told me not to believe those words but to look at the world's realities."

Mr. Choudhury's problems began when he accepted an invitation to visit Israel. He was arrested and spent 16 months in prison. Unfortunately, this was just the beginning:

In July, the offices of the Weekly Blitz were bombed by Islamic militants. In September, a judge with Islamist ties ordered the case continued, despite the government's reluctance to prosecute, on the grounds that Mr. Choudhury had hurt the sentiments of Muslims by praising Christians and Jews and spoiling the image of Bangladesh world-wide. Last week, the police detail that had been posted to the Blitz's offices since the July bombing mysteriously vanished. The next day the offices were ransacked and Mr. Choudhury was badly beaten by a mob of 40 or so people. Over the weekend he lodged a formal complaint with the police, who responded by issuing an arrest warrant for him. Now he's on the run, fearing torture or worse if he's taken into custody.

The story of Mr. Choudhury is about more than the repression of a brave dissident: it is a case study in how the growth of radical Islamism has endangered intellectual freedom in much of the Muslim world. As Stephens alludes to in his essay, Islamism has become an increasingly influential force in Bangladesh. This radicalization has included the development of jihadist groups who openly proclaim their desire to replace Bangladesh's troubled democracy with a Sharia-based Islamist regime. If courageous moderate Muslims like Mr. Choudhury are silenced, the Islamists will be well on their way to achieving this objective.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Press Censorship in Somalia

The Islamic Courts Union (ICU), the Islamist movement which has conquered much of Somalia, has issued a list of 13 rules governing privately-owned media outlets. Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) has published the full list on its web site. The following four rules in particular make the ICU's contempt for intellectual freedom abundantly clear:

The media must not publish or disseminate information contrary to the Muslim religion, the public interest or the interest of the nation.

The media must not disseminate information likely to create conflicts between the population and the Council of Islamic Courts.

The media must not publish or disseminate elements of a foreign culture contrary to Islamic culture or promoting bad behaviour, such as nudity on film.

The media must not employ the terms which infidels use to refer to Muslims such as 'terrorists,' 'extremists' etc.

RSF has denounced these restrictions in uncompromising terms:

"We are just speaking on behalf of a profession that refuses to exchange chaos for servitude. If, as they claim, the Islamic courts want to restore peace and justice to Somalia, they must abandon this plan."

Sadly, it appears that giving up "chaos for servitude" is exactly what is happening in Somalia.

One of the "most beautiful ideas of recent years"

Friends of Cuban Libraries reports that Cuban author Amir Valle issued a ringing denunciation of the Castro regime's pervasive censorship while attending the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany. In particular, he commented on the vital role the independent library movement plays in the struggle for intellectual freedom in Cuba:

The theme of the PEN Club event at the Frankfurt Book Fair was Writers in Exile, with a particular emphasis on Zimbabwe and Cuba. In his presentation, Valle warned that the Cuban government is preparing a crackdown against writers on a scale reminiscent of the 1970's, the most repressive decade in the island's recent history. "All of the violations against freedom of expression in Cuba are permitted by the system and the Constitution," said Valle. He described Cuba as a country which has converted art and culture into a political weapon.

The result of this situation, according to Valle, is the total politicization of culture, in which only conformist literature is allowed. In Cuba, he declared, there is a permanent violation of the right to freedom of information, prohibition of the Internet and restrictions on access to books. He said Cuba's National Library plays an important role in preventing uncensored books from being acquired by local branches of the official library system.

As an antidote to the regime's effort to ban books, Amir Valle praised the development of Cuba's pioneering independent library network as "one of the most beautiful ideas of recent years." With the goal of making uncensored books available to the general public, volunteers throughout Cuba have opened hundreds of independent libraries offering books that are unavailable in the official library system. "In Cuba..., he stated, "it is disgraceful that these people have been branded as foreign agents, worms and tools of the enemy." In addition to defaming the independent librarians, said Valle, the regime also subjects them to imprisonment and forced exile and has exerted pressure against their family members. Despite this repression, he noted, the independent library movement continues to grow. Many of the librarians jailed in Cuba have been adopted as prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International, and International PEN has also campaigned to win their release from prison.

(Emphasis added-DD)

Saturday, October 14, 2006

More on Press Censorship in Zimbabwe

In a piece for the Weekly Standard web site, James Kirchick provides some additional details on the brutal climate of press censorship in Zimbabwe, as well as news of a potentially hopeful development:

So it was more than a little encouraging to read the news out of Harare on Monday that the Daily News, a crusading independent newspaper whose journalists have been routinely harassed, whose offices have been firebombed, whose printing presses have been destroyed, and which was forced by the government to shut down in September 2003, is one step closer to resuming publication. The paper's publishers made an appeal to the country's High Court to grant them a license to print, as the succession of repressive laws that Mugabe enacted in 2002 requires all local media to register with the government. In a country where those meant to enforce the rule of law all too often see it as an irritation rather than, as they ought to, "their God," (as Beatrice Mtetwa, the country's top media lawyer, told me in August), the Mugabe-packed state media commission has twice refused to grant the Daily News this license in spite of a Supreme Court ruling that the ban was invalid. At the height of its popularity, the News had a circulation of 150,000 (and a readership of much more than that; the number of readers per copy is much higher in Africa than in Western nations), an impressive number for a country of about 14 million people.

The News's struggle to reopen has taken place within a larger context of repressive actions against the media. In January, the government arrested board members of Voice of the People (VOP), an independent radio station, and only in September was the case thrown out. Mugabe has successfully jammed the Voice of America and BBC. All four of the country's radio stations are government run, as is the one television station. And since 2002, foreign journalists have been legally barred from entering the country. But Mugabe does not view all foreign press with suspicion. Just before I arrived in Harare, Al Jazeeera announced that it would be the first international television station to open a bureau there.

Tyrant v. Daily News

Preemptive Censorship

Amir Taheri has written a must read essay on the growing climate of preemptive censorship in Europe created by fear of radical Islamists. He notes the deleterious impact on intellectual freedom of this phenomenon:

In Germany, France and Britain numerous illuminated manuscripts of Persian poetry and prose have been withdrawn because they contained images of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) and other historic figures of Islam.

In most European countries, an official black of list of books has emerged, containing works deemed to be "hurtful to Muslim sentiments". The list includes the names not only of such major European authors as Voltaire and Thomas Carlyle but also of Muslim writers whose work has been translated into European languages. For example, the novel Haji Agha by Sadeq Hedayat, translated into French and published in the 1940s, is no longer available. The novel Four Pains by Cyrus Farzaneh has also disappeared from French bookshops and libraries along with The Master by Darvish.

Last month a British publisher, acting on "pre-emptive obedience", cancelled plans to publish the translation of Twenty Three Years, a controversial biography of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) by the late Iranian author Ali Dashti. Literary agents and book publishers have no qualms about admitting that they would not touch any manuscript that "smells like stirring the Muslims into a rage". One editor tells me that he has rejected at least 10 manuscripts in the past year alone because he did not wish to "risk controversy or worse" with Muslims. "I don't want to live under police escort," he says.

The American author and feminist Phyllis Chesler is still trying to find a British publisher, while her colleague Nancy Korbin has just lost her American publisher. In both cases, fear of angering Muslims is cited as the excuse for what is, in fact, "pre-emptive obedience".

Taheri makes the vital point out that this kowtowing to radical Islamism is anything but beneficial to most Muslims:

The truth, however, is that blaming Muslims for censorship, one of the ugliest evils in any civilised society, is an insult to a majority of Muslims. The adepts of "pre-emptive obedience" see Muslims as childish, irrational and incapable of responding to works of literature and art in terms other than passion and violence.

When Islamists seek to suppress intellectual freedom, it is not simply an emotional reaction to speech that offends them. Rather, it is an integral part of a calculated strategy designed to impose their totalitarian vision, first in the Islamic world, then elsewhere. When we in the West give in to their threats and begin to surrender our intellectual freedom to them, we just make it easier for the Islamists to deny this right in Muslim nations.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Censorship and Repression in Zimbabwe

Frontpage Magazine has an enlightening interview with exiled Zimbabwean newspaper editor Geoffrey Nyarota. Mr. Nyarota provides a chilling look at the sufferings of his homeland under the despotic rule of Robert Mugabe. In particular, he discusses the regime's brutal campaign against free expression:

After independence, it was one of Mugabe’s dreams to establish a doctrinaire socialist one-party state in Zimbabwe. He embarked on a campaign to suppress opposition political parties. One of the strategies of his campaign was to establish total control over mainstream media. During the struggle for independence, radio and television were already under government control. Soon after independence, the government extended that control to encompass the print press. The state secured control over the country’s largest newspaper publishing company, Zimbabwe Newspapers, publishers of a string of daily and weekly papers. I worked for this company in the early years of independence, being dismissed in 1988 from the editorship of The Chronicle, one the government’s two daily newspapers. This followed my exposure of widespread corruption involving cabinet ministers and other government officials.

The government reacted to the so-called Willowgate Scandal by tightening controls over the media. When we launched The Daily News in 1999, the government’s reaction was violent. Our printing press was destroyed in a bomb explosion. Journalists were routinely harassed and arrested on very spurious charges. Finally the paper was banned. As of now, the government enjoys a monopoly of control over the mass media again. Press freedom has been severely restricted. Existing independent newspapers are forced to exercise self-censorship in order to survive. In the absence of genuine press freedom other freedoms are curtailed.

Fighting Zimbabwe’s Monster

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Postmodern Gibberish: Just One Click Away

Courtesy of NRO's Phi Beta Cons blog comes a link to an invaluable new academic resource: The Postmodernism Generator. Simply click on the link, and you too can have your very own meaningless, computer-generated, jargon-laden, postmodernist essay, complete with footnotes. Hit reload to keep the magic coming. Endless hours of fun can be had.

Correction: The Generator isn't new; it actually dates from February 2000. Still, that doesn't make it any less entertaining.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

"When it comes to Islam, there is no freedom of the press nor freedom of opinion in Germany."

The English web site of Der Spiegel features an interview with liberal Muslim scholar Dr. Bassam Tibi. Dr. Tibi is a noted political scientist and student of Islamic fundamentalism who has resided in Germany since 1962. He is a serious scholar and a Muslim, hardly someone who can be accused of "Islamophobia". So when someone like Dr Tibi sounds a warning about the threat posed by Islamism to free speech, it is well worth noting:

SPIEGEL: The administrator of one of Berlin's opera houses, the Deutsche Oper, has cancelled the Mozart Opera "Idomeneo" out of fear of an Islamist reaction. Is this the first sign of Germany bowing down to Islam?

Tibi: It's not the first sign, but rather a repeated one. Recently we have been seeing more and more acts of submission, the most recent case being the Pope's apology. When it comes to Islam, there is no freedom of the press nor freedom of opinion in Germany. Organized groups in Islamic communities want to decide what is said and done here. I myself have been dropped from numerous events because of threats.

SPIEGEL: You are trying to say that critics of Islam are systematically silenced in Germany?

Tibi: Yes. Even the comparatively moderate Turkish organization DITIB says there are no Islamists, only Islam and Muslims -- anything else is racism. That means that you can no longer criticize the religion. Accusing somebody of racism is a very effective weapon in Germany. Islamists know this: As soon as you accuse someone of demonizing Islam, then the European side backs down. I have also been accused of such nonsense, even though my family can trace its roots right back to Muhammad and I myself know the Koran by heart.

"Europeans Have Stopped Defending Their Values"

Taking the Pledge

Jack Stephens has officially given up commenting on Mark Rosenzweig. As Jack eloquently puts it, "(w)ho gives a rat's ass what Mark Rosenzweig has to say about anything at all? Enough already."

Frankly, I think Jack's right. As much joy as I get from fisking Rosenzweig's inane rants, I'll make the sacrifice and forego such entertainment in future. It's for the public good.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

"Londonistan" and Censorship

Several months ago, there was a brief mini-scandal over the perceived reluctance of the Brooklyn Public Library to purchase the book Londonistan. Written by outspoken British commentator Melanie Phillips, Londonistan discusses the disturbing growth of radical Islamist sentiments among Britain's Muslim community, and the unwillingness of much of UK society to confront this phenomenon.

Considering the prevailing political climate in our profession, I certainly would not be surprised if the librarian in Brooklyn was less than enthusiastic about ordering Londonistan. However, as Theodore Dalrymple points out, the difficulties involved in getting the book published are the real source of concern:

You might have thought such a book, written in clear English, would be snapped up by British publishers, especially as it has sold well in the United States. But it was turned down by all the major publishers in Britain, and eventually taken only by a very tiny house (Gibson Square Books, Ltd.). Its widespread rejections cannot be explained on narrow commercial grounds, or on purely literary ones: 200,000 books per year are published in Great Britain, not all of them by any means imperishable literary masterpieces or bestsellers. The only reasons that withstand scrutiny are precisely the ones that the author offers for the enfeebled stupidity of British government policy. In other words, we are dealing with a deep cultural problem, not just a problem of the wrong personnel being in charge. Mr. Blair, in all his blustering faintheartedness, is unfortunately a true representative of his people.

Unfortunately, the case of Londonistan is not an isolated event. On October 4th, the Jewish Press reported another such instance of censorship:

Last week a book publisher told Nancy Kobrin, a psychoanalyst and lecturer on counter-terrorism, that they were withdrawing the publication of her book, "The Sheikh's New Clothes," because they were afraid of fundamentalist repercussions, according to Kobrin.

The book, subtitled "The Naked Truth about Islamic Suicide Terrorism," tackles the psychology of fundamentalist Islamic terrorists and tries to understand the roots of their radical behavior.

It appears that Ms. Kobrin's book will be brought out by another publisher. However, the climate of fear created by the violent Islamist campaign against free expression is now clearly affecting the publishing industry. This should be a source of deep concern for anyone who supports intellectual freedom.

Campus Indoctrination: It's Not Working

As the recent Columbia incident shows, the left of center orthodoxy prevalent in much of academia has had a chilling effect on free expression. What it has not done, as Arthur C. Brooks argues, is turn conservative students into liberals or leftists:

Most studies of the subject have indicated that, indeed, upward of 90% of college professors at many universities hold liberal political views. In some schools and departments, faculties are virtually 100% left-wing. It is one thing to lament this ideological lopsidedness in the academy. But it is quite another to assume that professors actually bend the little minds in their care toward a liberal point of view, or even a radical one. Imagine a student with God-fearing Republican parents exposed to the depredations of an English professor aiming to use his class as a Bolshevik training camp. Will the professor succeed in turning the kid into a Red? The evidence says, probably not: When it comes to politics, people from conservative families follow their parents, not their professors.

The most recent evidence on this subject comes from the mid-1990s, in the University of Michigan's National Election Studies. These survey data uncover two facts. First, people who go to college are more likely to vote Republican than those who don't go to college. Adults 25 and under from Republican homes are, for example, 11 percentage points more likely to vote Republican if they attended college than if they didn't. And young adults from Democratic households are 11 percentage points less likely to vote Democrat if they've gone to college than if not.

The data cited by Brooks is important in two ways. For one thing, it disproves the ridiculous notion propagated by some that liberals are smarter and better educated than those Bible-thumping, knuckle-dragging conservatives. Ironically, it also reflects the dominance of the campus left. Considering how infrequently liberal and leftist views are permitted to be challenged on campus, many of those who espouse them simply don't know how to make logical arguments designed to persuade non-believers. Instead, as at Columbia, they resort to juvenile sloganeering and attempting to suppress views they disagree with. This is not a recipe for persuading conservative students to change their beliefs.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Azzam in Australia: An Update

Stephen Denney recently posted an update on the restrictions imposed on jihadist literature in Australia:

Australian attorney general Phillip Ruddcok has announced that he may allow Australian academics limited viewing of two books recently banned. The two books are Defence of the Muslim Lands and Join the Caravan, both by the late Sheik Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian- born Islamic radical who was assassinated in 1989 (see Sept. 1 entry of this blog). Responding to protests after the books were removed from the Melbourne University library, Ruddock said he is prepared to discuss "as to whether or not, on a limited basis and a structured basis, material necessary for research can be made available for that particular purpose."

Again, while I fully understand the reasoning behing the Howard Government's decision, I still believe it to be silly and counterproductive. This policy won't prevent Islamists from accessing Azzam's works, but it does help prevent Australians from gaining a better understanding of our enemy.

A Letter From Iraq

Time has reproduced a must read letter on its web site from a Marine officer serving in Iraq. To describe the letter as candid is an understatement. Alternately inspiring and disheartening, the document provides some valuable "ground truth" on the situation in Anbar Province. I found the letter particularly interesting because it's clear that the author is part of an intel shop, responsible for the same kind of tasks I'll be doing when I eventually go downrange:

All: I haven't written very much from Iraq. There's really not much to write about. More exactly, there's not much I can write about because practically everything I do, read or hear is classified military information or is depressing to the point that I'd rather just forget about it, never mind write about it. The gaps in between all of that are filled with the pure tedium of daily life in an armed camp. So it's a bit of a struggle to think of anything to put into a letter that's worth reading. Worse, this place just consumes you. I work 18-20-hour days, every day. The quest to draw a clear picture of what the insurgents are up to never ends. Problems and frictions crop up faster than solutions. Every challenge demands a response. It's like this every day. Before I know it, I can't see straight, because it's 0400 and I've been at work for 20 hours straight, somehow missing dinner again in the process. And once again I haven't written to anyone. It starts all over again four hours later. It's not really like Ground Hog Day, it's more like a level from Dante's Inferno.

Rather than attempting to sum up the last seven months, I figured I'd just hit the record-setting highlights of 2006 in Iraq. These are among the events and experiences I'll remember best.

The Secret Letter From Iraq

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Book Review: Long May They Wave

A few months ago I posted about the fall 2001 flag flap at the Boulder Public Library. To recap, in the wake of 9/11 a BPL employee named Chris Power suggested that the library hang a 10' x 15' American flag near the main entrance of the building. The BPL's director, Ms. Marcelee Gralapp, initially approved the suggestion, but later changed her mind. When the Boulder Daily Camera got wind of the story and asked her about her decision, Ms. Gralapp stated that hanging the flag "could compromise our objectivity. We want people of every faith and culture walking into this building, and we want everyone to feel welcome." The absurdity of this explanation became even more evident when it was discovered that the BPL was hosting an art exhibit on domestic violence that included a display of 21 ceramic penises. Because nothing makes people "feel welcome" like ceramic penises. Eventually, the brief controversy blew over, and the incident became simply one more example of political correctness run amok.

Unfortunately for Mr. Power, the story did not end there. Apparently held responsible by Gralapp for the leak that sparked the controversy, he found his 15 year career at BPL brought to an end when his position was eliminated due to city wide budget cuts in 2003. His job would be the only library position eliminated. That same year, Power's candidacy to replace a retiring Gralapp as library director was turned down under circumstances that left him little doubt that the process was stacked against him.

Mr. Power tells his story in a book called Long May They Wave. After I posted on this topic, Mr. Power was kind enough to contact me and send me a copy. At long last, I have read the book, and found it to be quite interesting.

At its heart, Long May They Wave is an entertaining and well written account of an incredibly surreal series of events. What makes the Boulder controversy so fascinating was its bizarre mix of the profound and the absurd. On one level, it raised issues such as the role of libraries in public discourse, free speech and censorship, community standards, patriotism, and political correctness. At the same time, the controversy featured ceramic penises, the "Dildo Bandito" and Sparky the Fire Dog. Power recounts it all in detail.

Along the way, he debunks the various objections offered to his flag proposal. In particular, he convincingly refutes the idea that patrons would have had to push aside the 10' x 15' flag in order to enter the library. As he shows in a scaled drawing, the location where Power proposed hanging the flag was high enough that it would not have come anywhere near human height. Power also discloses the ironic fact that he was not the source of the leak to the Boulder Daily Camera. Rather, it was a library volunteer who told her neighbor about the flag decision that led to the media finding out about the story.

As intriguing as the flag flap was, it was not what I found most compelling about Power's story. Rather, it was his broader account of his career at BPL that really struck a chord with me, and I suspect, with many librarians. Power's description of Gralapp, while somewhat one sided, strikes me as basically accurate for the simple reason that all too many of us in the library profession have experienced directors who display similar traits.

He sums up Gralapp's management style as one of rewarding her friends and punishing her enemies. On the one hand, she was warm hearted and solicitous towards many of her subordinates, including Power. She was also a skilled politician who clearly did great things for BPL in her over 40 years as director. On the other, Gralapp made it a point to go after anyone she suspected of disloyalty. In addition to his own example, Power mentions that of a library volunteer who read to kids as part of a storytime program (Unbeknownst to anyone at the time, this was the same volunteer who indirectly leaked the flag story to the Daily Camera). When this woman was interviewed for a TV news broadcast during the flag controversy, she criticized the decision not to display it. Several months later, her storytime program was eliminated. Gralapp also engaged in cronyism and favoritism, and made a habit of bending rules and regulations to get her way.

Of course, any first person account is going to be biased, especially one written by an admittedly embittered ex-employee. For the most part, though, the book is relatively measured in tone. Power supports his story with citations from newspaper and magazine articles, and even interviewed several of the individuals involved. Power makes a genuine effort to be fair to most of those he criticizes, especially Gralapp. The most glaring exception is a library manager whom Power identifies by a pseudonym, towards whom he levels some very serious allegations that would have better been left out, in my view. He also comments on the gender imbalance in the library profession, going so far as to blame his ouster on a desire of the "Old Girls' Club" led by Gralapp to replace him with a woman. I think this is going a bit far. After all, by his own admission he got along with Gralapp for 13 years before the flag controversy hit.

Overall, Long May They Wave is an inexpensive and entertaining look at a bizarre footnote to American library history, and an interesting study of one library's internal political dynamics.

Friday, October 06, 2006

License to Riot

Power Line has a followup on Wednesday's disgraceful assault on free speech at Columbia University. Incredibly, according to the New York Sun, university administrators are blaming the speakers for inciting the incident:

It only gets worse. After letting the perpetrators escape, university administrators had the gall to berate the president of Columbia's College Republicans, Christopher Kulawik, for allowing his guests to infuriate the crowd, according to Mr. Kulawik. In other words, despite formally nodding to the value of free speech, Columbia is effectively blaming the victim for inciting the chaos. "It's a horrible feeling to know your peers are willing to resort to violence when they disagree with you," Mr. Kulawik told our Eliana Johnson. Yet Mr. Kulawik's peers could be forgiven for thinking they'd get away with it, given their school's troubled history on free speech.

Apparently, Columbia believes that you're permitted to riot if a speaker says something you don't agree with, at least if you're part of the politically correct left.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Some Banned Books are More Equal than Others

In light of the Maryland bible incident, this story from a reader of NRO's Corner seems apropos:

Your comment reminds me of the time I was in a bookstore, waiting in line to purchase a book. The cashier, a smug young man, wore a button that said "I read banned books." I said, "So do I — the Bible." He exchanged his smug look for one of horror!

Google, Libraries and the Web

The New York Review of Books has an interesting, fair-minded piece on Google and the implications of its book digitization project from Jason Epstein (link courtesy of Pajamas Media):

In 1998 two Stanford graduate students, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, founded Google.com, a search engine that uses a better technology than had previously existed for indexing and retrieving information from the immense miscellany of the World Wide Web and for ranking the Web sites that contain this information according to their relevance to particular queries based on the number of links from the rest of the Internet to a given item. This PageRank system transformed the Web from its original purpose as a scientists' grapevine and from the random babble it soon became a searchable resource providing factual data of variable quality to millions of users. And once again it was the exigencies of commerce that transformed Google itself from an ingenious search technology without a business plan to a hugely profitable enterprise offering a variety of services including e-mail, news, video, maps, and its current, expensive, and utterly heroic, if not quixotic, effort to digitize the public domain contents of the books and other holdings of major libraries. This new program would provide users wherever in the world Internet connections exist access to millions of titles while enabling libraries themselves to serve millions of users without adding a foot of shelf space or incurring a penny of delivery expense.

Spurred by Google's initiative and by the lower costs, higher profits, and immense reach of unmediated digital distribution, book publishers and other copyright holders must at last overcome their historic inertia and agree, like music publishers, to market their proprietary titles in digital form either to be read on line or, more likely, to be printed on demand at point of sale, in either case for a fee equal to the publishers' normal costs and profit and the authors' contractual royalty, thus for the first time in human history creating the theoretical possibility that every book ever printed in whatever language will be available to everyone on earth with access to the Internet.

Epstein does a reasonably good job of addressing the major arguments against Google's digitization project. For those who worry (such as the French) that their own libraries will "suffer under Google's worldwide dominance", he points out that they can always digitize their own materials. For those like myself who question the usability of e-books, Epstein predicts that users will be able to download books to machines that "will automatically print, bind, and trim requested titles on demand that are indistinguishable from factory-made books, to be read as books have been read for centuries."

As for the vociferous copyright objections to the Google project raised by publishers, Epstein insists that they will eventually have no choice but to go along, just as the music industry has acquiesced to digital downloads. This may be correct, but seems a little too dismissive of the issue for my taste. Anyway, read the piece and judge for yourself.

Crushing of Dissent at Columbia

Last night at Columbia University, radical leftists provided a dramatic illustration of the atmosphere of intolerance for conservative views that permeates much of academia. The New York Sun has the details (link courtesy of Pajamas Media):

Students stormed the stage at Columbia University's Roone auditorium yesterday, knocking over chairs and tables and attacking Jim Gilchrist, the founder of the Minutemen, a group that patrols the border between America and Mexico.

Mr. Gilchrist and Marvin Stewart, another member of his group, were in the process of giving a speech at the invitation of the Columbia College Republicans. They were escorted off the stage unharmed and exited the auditorium by a back door.

Having wreaked havoc onstage, the students unrolled a banner that read, in both Arabic and English, "No one is ever illegal." As security guards closed the curtains and began escorting people from the auditorium, the students jumped from the stage, pumping their fists, chanting victoriously, "Si se pudo, si se pudo," Spanish for "Yes we could!"

Yes they did. And I'm sure the little fascists are quite proud of themselves for it. Powerline has the video if you want to see it for yourself.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Cyber-Jihad against Free Expression

The Jamestown Foundation reports that radical Islamists are now organizing to wage an "electronic jihad" against web sites that offend them:

The latest criticism of Islam being a violent religion, which was sparked by incendiary comments made by Pope Benedict XVI, has caused internet jihadis to launch a new website called Electronic Jihad, located at http://www.al-jinan.org. The purpose of the website is to help organize an electronic jihad against websites that insult Islam and Islamic sacred figures. The site has been well publicized on more established jihadi websites. Jihadi forums are posting quotes from the Quran in order to encourage and convince jihadis and regular Muslims of their duty to engage in electronic jihad and to attack anti-Islamic sites in order to shut them down. Furthermore, postings from August on the Electronic Jihad site already claim that they successfully shut down the Israeli website http://www.haganah.co.il. Thus, it seems that while street protests in response to Western criticism of Islam have died down in the Islamic world, the battle is still raging on the internet.

Once again, the Islamists make clear their desire to suppress free expression.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Banning the Bible in Maryland

Given ALA's self-professed determination to protect the freedom to read in schools, I wonder what they'll do about this apparent violation of that principle:

Amber Mangum was a frequent reader during lunch breaks at her Prince George's County middle school, silently soaking up the adventures of Harry Potter and other tales in the spare minutes before afternoon classes. The habit was never viewed as a problem -- not, a lawsuit alleges, until the book she was reading was the Bible.

A vice principal at Dwight D. Eisenhower Middle School in Laurel last month ordered Amber, then 12, to stop reading the Bible or face punishment, according to a lawsuit filed Friday by Amber's mother. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, alleges that the vice principal's actions violated the girl's civil rights.

Link courtesy of Pajamas Media, who wonder what would have happened if Amber had been reading a Koran.

Monday, October 02, 2006

YA Books About Cuba

Freadom has announced a new awareness service for discovering children's and young adult resources about Cuba:

Two new book review and online discussion groups
have been launched for teachers and students that will highlight the best
books and resources on Cuba for young people.

"As a way to celebrate banned books weeks all year we are proud to lauch
both Cuba4Kids and YACUBA," said Walter Skold, the co-chair of FREADOM,
the library group which is sponsoring the new project.

"In light of the legal and social battles in Florida recently over several
books for children, it is important that parents and educators know what
kind of quality -- and substandard -- publications are available," said
Skold,"And to have an open forum where these resources can be discussed."

"We agree with the position of the Florida ACLU that the answer to
inferior books is more and better books, not banning," he added.

Please see the original message for more information.

Saved from Myself

I have a confession to make: I've come to regard fisking Mark Rosenzweig as a guilty pleasure on a par with watching reruns of Cops. When I saw his latest bit of nonsense about the National Book Festival, it took all my self control to keep from spending valuable time ripping it apart. Thankfully, Jack Stephens has stepped up and taken care of this matter. Jack, you have my gratitude.

VDH on Europe and Free Expression

It's been a while since I've linked to the work of Dr. Victor Davis Hanson. His latest essay for National Review Online, however, demands a link. Dr. Hanson properly and uncompromisingly excoriates those in Europe who choose to appease the Islamists by abandoning their time honored traditions of free thought and expression:

What would a Socrates, Galileo, Descartes, or Locke believe of the present decay in Europe — that all their bold and courageous thinking, won at such a great cost, would have devolved into such cheap surrender to fanaticism?

Just think: Put on an opera in today’s Germany, and have it shut down, not by Nazis, Communists, or kings, but by the simple fear of Islamic fanatics.

Write a novel deemed critical of the Prophet Mohammed, as did Salman Rushdie, and face years of ostracism and death threats — in the heart of Europe no less.

Compose a film, as did Theo Van Gogh, and find your throat cut in “liberal” Holland.

Or better yet, sketch a cartoon in postmodern Denmark, and then go into hiding.

Quote an ancient treatise, as did the pope, and learn your entire Church may come under assault, and the magnificent stones of the Vatican offer no refuge.

Definitely read it all:

Traitors to the Enlightenment

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Cuban Libraries Update: The Banned Books Edition

Recently, Freedom House released its ranking of the world's most repressive regimes. Included in these rankings is a list of the "worst of the worst", the eight countries that most effectively suppress the exercise of human rights. It should come as little surprise that Fidel Castro's Cuba is one of those eight.

The full report includes a useful summary (link in PDF) of the human rights situation in Cuba. It describes the Castro regime's brutal campaign against independent librarians and other dissidents. The repressive, totalitarian nature of the Cuban dictatorship is worth remembering when discussing the issue of intellectual freedom in that country. With that in mind, here is a roundup of recent news on the Cuban libraries issue:

-ALA Councilor Ann Sparanese has produced an essay attacking the Cuban independent librarians' movement as a tool of the US government. This is because the US has provided independent librarians and other dissidents with funding and equipment. Sparanese argues that this amounts to "foreign subversion" that we Americans would never tolerate.

The problem with Sparanese's argument is that "foreign subversion" has in fact been tolerated in US history. The Communist Party USA was intimately involved in Soviet espionage in the 1930s and 40s, and received millions of dollars in annual Soviet subsidies until the late 1980s. Yet it was never banned. Of course, there is no evidence whatsoever that the Cuban independent librarians are involved in anything more "subversive" than widening the scope of intellectual freedom in a country ruled by a brutal dictatorship. That the Castro regime fears this speaks volumes about its true nature.

For additional criticisms of Sparanese's essay, see Freadom and Conservator , and the comments section of the original article.

-Hopefully, Ann Sparanese saved some bile for the neocon, warmongering Swedes, since Friends of Cuban Libraries reports that a Swedish NGO is providing assistance to Cuban independent libraries:

Erik Jennische is showing me books written by [Cuban exiles]. For Cubans living on the island, it is in principle impossible to have access to them. The books are not necessarily of a political nature; they can be any type of literature, says Erik, and he believes the intention of these authors is not to criticize Cuba, but rather their goal is to freely describe the country and what is happening there. In Cuba there are two types of libraries: the [state-run] public ones and the illegal ones, free libraries, also known as independents. The books by authors whose works are sent to Cuba by SILC wind up on the shelves of the independent libararies. In the public libraries it is impossible to find works by authors who question the ideology of the Cuban regime, he says....

"The independent libraries in Cuba and our collaboration with them," says Erik Jennische, "began with a statement made by Fidel Castro at the Havana International Book Fair in 1998. He said that there are no prohibited books in Cuba, only a lack of money to buy them. We took him at his word.... We have plenty of books, and we send them to Cuba. We have gathered hundreds of books in Sweden through donations, and we have collected a lot of money to buy even more; we send them with tourists and other persons traveling to Cuba, who then deliver them to the independent libraries. The Cuba regime claims that it alone has the right to describe what is happening in Cuba. Only one version of the truth is allowed in Cuba, the image put forward by the regime, and it is this version which is being challenged by the dissident literature [supplied to the independent libraries]...."

-However, this this other bit of news from the Friends site isn't quite so positive:

The Friends of Cuban Libraries have received information on a new wave of repression being directed against Cuba's independent library movement since early 2006. Juan Carlos González Leiva, a librarian, lawyer and human rights activist in Ciego de Avila, provided information on the heightened repression to the Independent Libraries Project, directed by Ramón Colás and Berta Mexidor.

According to a preliminary report issued by the Independent Libraries Project, Mr. González Leiva states that since early 2006 "the Cuban government... has been carrying out a wave of violent and arbitrary raids on independent libraries and peaceful dissidents throughout Cuba. On repeated occasions, these raids have been conducted by paramilitary mobs during 'acts of repudiation' and at other times by the combined forces of the National Revolutionary Police and the State Security police."

-Freadom has a letter from Steve Marquandt documenting the Castro regime's burning of books.

-Finally, for additional background on the Castro dictatorship's campaign against independent libraries and other forms of free expression, see Theresa Bond's essay from the September/October 2003 issue of Foreign Affairs.

Banned Books Week 2006 concluded yesterday. One need only look at Cuba to see what book banning looks like.