Saturday, October 14, 2006

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In Germany, France and Britain numerous illuminated manuscripts of Persian poetry and prose have been withdrawn because they contained images of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) and other historic figures of Islam.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


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