Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Texting Against Censorship

The BBC reports that a Zimbabwean radio station in exile has found an unusual yet effective method for evading government censorship:

A private radio station broadcasting to Zimbabwe from the UK says it using text messages to beat the country's censors.

Broadcasts from SW Radio Africa, started by a Zimbabwean journalist in London to avoid the media crackdown, have been jammed for nearly two years.

SW Radio Africa founder Gerry Jackson says the daily SMS headline service is proving popular with 100 requests a day from those wanting to join the service.

Banning Cartoons in the Maritimes

About a year ago, the Danish Mohammed Cartoons controversy was at its height. As my long-time readers know, I was otherwise occupied at the time. So, I've been playing catchup as far as the truly global impact of these events.

One incident that has previously escaped my attention occurred in the most unlikely of places: Prince Edward Island, located in the heart of Canada's Maritime Provinces.

Last February, the student newspaper at the University of Prince Edward Island decided to run the Danish Mohammed Cartoons. The CBC explains what happened next:

The University of Prince Edward Island's student newspaper has published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that have sparked violent protests in other parts of the world.

Two thousand copies of The Cadre were distributed on campus Wednesday, but university administration ordered them removed. Officials say the cartoons have already caused enough violence around the world.

(Emphasis added-DD)

Here is how UPEI's president justified his decision to ban the cartoon issue of the newspaper:

But university president Wade MacLaughlan says publishing the cartoons is "an invitation to trouble.

"We still run the property," MacLaughlan says, "and we're not in the business of deliberately inviting people to be insulted to the point of causing an outrage."

This has to be one of the most pathetic examples of craven capitulation I have ever heard of. What a great way to tell Islamists that rioting and murder get results. Unbelievable!

The only reason I'm aware of this blatant instance of fear induced censorship is because of an anonymous blog named DontAxe. The site contains a number of readings and background documents on the UPEI cartoon issue, and is well worth a look. My thanks to DontAxe's proprietor for e-mailing me to let me know about the site, and about this incident.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

American Thinker on ALA and Cuba

Thanks to Jack Stephens for sending me the link to this American Thinker post about ALA and Cuba:

But what is particularly shameful about the American response to Castro's treatment of librarians is that the American Library Association refuses to lift a finger in protest, much less do something to save their Cuban counterparts.

While I think Thomas Lifson gets a bit carried away at the end, he does point out the bizarre, alternate reality nature of this June 2001 ALA resolution, which states that:

The American Library Association oppose all efforts, including those of the U.S. government, to limit access to informational materials by Cuba's libraries and Cuba's library users;

Yes, I really wish the U.S. would stop locking up independent Cuban librarians and burning their collections.

Actually, as I look at it again, this resolution includes another interesting passage:

The American Library Association urge the U.S. government to share information materials widely in Cuba, especially with Cuba's libraries, and not just with individuals and independent nongovernmental organizations;

(Emphasis added-DD)

So, in 2001, ALA Council passed a resolution calling on the U.S. government to "share information materials widely in Cuba", including with "individuals and independent nongovernmental organizations". Yet, when Castro then responded to such efforts by imprisoning independent librarians and destroying their collections, ALA Council did virtually nothing. In fact, some councilors even argued that American assistance to the independent library movement justified Castro's repression.

Good to know that moral and logical consistency is valued so highly at ALA Council.

Censoring the Quran?

There are many appropriate responses to radical Islamism's assault on intellectual freedom. This is NOT one of them:

A political party named SIAD (Stop Islamiseringen af Danmark-Stop Islamisation of Denmark) has demanded a censorship for parts of Quran, stating that that certain parts 'encourage violence.'

(Link courtesy of Dhimmi Watch)

The answer to Islamist efforts at censorship is to resolutely defend free expression, not to resort to censorship of our own. In particular, the notion of censoring one of the world's great religious texts is patently absurd.

Nat Hentoff on Cuba

In his latest column for the Washington Times, Nat Hentoff takes on the issue of book burning in Cuba:

From kangaroo-court records I have seen, when independent librarians are sent to the gulags, certain confiscated books and sometimes all books in their libraries are ordered incinerated by the presiding judge. A biography of Martin Luther King was sent to the flames because, said the judge, it "is based on ideas that could be used to promote social disorder and civil disobedience." And the nonviolent King's own books have been burned.

Even works by Jose Marti, the 19th-century organizer of Cuban independence, have been incinerated. Maybe because of the pamphlet he wrote during his exile in Spain, planning the liberation of his homeland. Marti's pamphlet was about the horrors of political imprisonment in Cuba under a pre-Castro dictator.

Among thousands of other incinerated "subversive" books and pamphlets are those books by George Orwell, Pope John Paul II, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (particularly dangerous) and reports by Human Rights Watch.

Hentoff goes on to give Freadom's Read a Burned Book campaign a ringing endorsement:

Now, like the resisters in Mr. Bradbury's novel, who were determined to preserve the freedom to read, a group of American and international librarians, authors and human-rights activists have started a liberating Read A Burned Book campaign including a curriculum aimed at high school and college students. The campaign is also encouraging people in the United States and around the world to read the books that dictators, not only Castro, burned.

The independent American librarian members of FREADOM -- the generators of this project -- have created, among other classroom and research activities, a discussion inquiry on the history of book burning in ancient and modern times. There will also be a classroom inquiry on what made the books burned by Castro so "dangerous" to the dictator and officials who will remain in power after Castro dies. He has famously said that "history will absolve me!" But as long as these condemned books keep rising from the ashes, they will bear witness to his reign of fear and destruction, not only of books but of so many Cubans who believe in their right to be free.

Mr. Hentoff has been among the most prominent critics of ALA's inaction on Cuba. While he has undoubtedly extended his persona non grata status with that organization, his support for Freadom is to be welcomed.

Monday, February 26, 2007

A Look at Cyberjihad

MEMRI has produced a valuable analysis of how Islamists use the web to wage "cyberjihad" against their enemies. As the following passage explains, one of the goals of cyberjihad is to attack web sites that criticize Islam:

The Objectives of Electronic Jihad

One objective of electronic jihad which is frequently evoked by the mujahideen is assisting Islam by attacking websites that slander Islam or launch attacks against Islamic websites, or by attacking websites that interfere with the goal of rendering Islam supreme (e.g. Christian websites). More recently, however, the mujahideen have begun to cite additional objectives: avenging the death of Muslim martyrs and the suffering of Muslims worldwide (including imprisoned jihad fighters); inflicting damage on Western economy; affecting the morale of the West; and even bringing about the total collapse of the West.

The following excerpts from Arabic messages posted by Islamist hackers exemplify each of these objectives.

Eliminating Websites That Harm Islam

"The administration wishes to inform you of the following so that you understand our operational methods and our jihad strategy. My brothers, our operational methods are not only to assault… and target any website that stands in the way of our victory… We are indeed victorious when we disable such [harmful] websites, but the matter is not so simple. We target... websites that wage intensive war [against us]… We target them because they are the foremost enemies of jihad in cyberspace; their existence threatens Islamic and religious websites throughout the Internet..." [14]

Cyberspace as a Combat Zone: The Phenomenon of Electronic Jihad

Laying Down the Party Line

Apparently, ALA Councilor Rory Litwin thinks that having ALA censure librarians who criticized The Higher Power of Lucky is an idea worth considering. (Be sure to scroll down for Mark Rosenzweig's delightfully hysterical screed)

Link courtesy of Jack Stephens, who offers one possible way of implementing such a proposal:

Perhaps those expressing retrograde views could be required to issue a self-criticism.

Personally, I think a good old fashioned struggle session before ALA Council would work.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Meaning of Kareem Amer's Conviction

I have been incredibly negligent in not commenting previously on the case of Egyptian blogger Abdel-Karim Nabil Suleiman, also known as Kareem Amer. After writing posts that vehemently criticized both Egypt's Mubarak regime and its leading Islamic authority, Al-Azhar University, Amer was arrested last November and tried for insulting Islam. On Thursday, Kareem Amer was convicted and sentenced to four years in prison.

I hope to post much more on the case of Kareem Amer and the climate of censorship imposed by both the Mubarak regime and Al-Azhar. In the meantime, Nick Cohen has some very pessimistic thoughts from today's Observer on what Kareem's conviction means for free expression on the Internet:

I have a book out, What's Left?, on the disastrous turning of the European liberal mainstream from their allies in the poor world and the gruesome alliances between pseudo-leftists and ultra-reactionaries. The Nabil case backs it up. With the honourable exceptions of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and, naturally, British bloggers, there have been no protests here.

As disconcerting as the silence from those who should know better is what the persecution of bloggers, not only in Egypt but in Iran and China, says about the net. As the dotcom boom and bust fades into history, the business press is again celebrating the revolutionary potential of a wired world. The discomfort of the mainstream media is just the start of it, they argue. The net is humbling big business as consumers compare the price of everything from gas to bank interest rates and take their custom to the corporations offering the best value. Meanwhile, doctors face patients who can find out if the NHS's treatments they are offered are the best available and politicians must cope with an electorate that can investigate the claims of soundbites and manifestos with a click of a mouse.

The cheerleaders are right in many respects. The net is changing the world, but not all of it. Contrary to the optimism of the Nineties, that it would allow oppressed peoples to escape censors and read forbidden opinions, the net is proving surprisingly easy for dictatorships to control.

I have usually been an optimist regarding the possibilities of the Internet as a tool for free expression, but I'm afraid Mr. Cohen may have a point.

The Hollywood Redlist

Much has been made over the years of the 1950s practice of "blacklisting" Hollywood screenwriters and directors linked to the Communist Party. While these events have been greatly exaggerated, not least by Hollywood itself, blacklisting was still immoral and wrong. However, one very important fact has been lost amid the mythology, which is that many of those victimized by blacklisting had themselves previously worked to suppress the free speech of others as members of the Communist Party. Before there was a Hollywood Blacklist, there was a Hollywood Redlist.

Kenneth Lloyd Billingsley has thoroughly described the Communist Party USA's (CPUSA's) role in 1930s and 40s Hollywood, in particular its ideological manipulation of art and intolerance of dissenting views, in a June 2000 piece for Reason Magazine. He summarizes it as follows:

Communist cultural doctrine cast writers as "artists in uniform," producing works whose function was to transmit political messages and raise the consciousness of their audiences. Otherwise, movies were mere bourgeois decadence, a tool of capitalist distraction, and therefore subjugation. Party bosses V.J. Jerome and John Howard Lawson (a co-founder of the Screen Writers Guild and screenwriter of Algiers and Action in the North Atlantic) enforced this art-is-a-weapon creed in Hollywood, as they had done earlier among New York dramatists. Albert Maltz (Destination Tokyo) was to challenge the doctrine in a 1946 New Masses article, arguing that doctrinaire politics often resulted in poor writing. Responding to the notion that "art is a weapon," Maltz suggested, "An artist can be a great artist without being an integrated or logical or a progressive thinker on all matters."

As a result of such heresy, the party dragged him through a series of humiliating inquisitions and forced him to publish a retraction. Maltz trashed his original article as "a one-sided, nondialectical treatment of complex issues" that was "distinguished for its omissions" and which "succeeded in merging my comments with the unprincipled attacks upon the left that I have always repudiated and combated." Maltz was to defend that retraction until he died in 1985.

Billingsley goes on to discuss how Hollywood Communists sought to keep anti-communist viewpoints off the silver screen in the 1930s and 1940s:

But if Comintern fantasies of a Soviet Hollywood were never realized, party functionaries nevertheless played a significant role: They were sometimes able to prevent the production of movies they opposed. The party had not only helped organize the Screen Writers Guild, it had organized the Story Analysts Guild as well. Story analysts judge scripts and film treatments early in the decision making process. A dismissive report often means that a studio will pass on a proposed production. The party was thus well positioned to quash scripts and treatments with anti-Soviet content, along with stories that portrayed business and religion in a favorable light. In The Worker, Dalton Trumbo openly bragged that the following works had not reached the screen: Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon and The Yogi and the Commissar; Victor Kravchenko's I Chose Freedom; and Bernard Clare by James T. Farrell, also author of Studs Lonigan and vilified by party enforcer Mike Gold as "a vicious, voluble Trotskyite."

Even talent agents sometimes answered to Moscow. Party organizer Robert Weber landed with the William Morris agency, where he represented Communist writers and directors such as Ring Lardner Jr. and Bernard Gordon. Weber carried considerable clout regarding who worked and who didn't. So did George Willner, a Communist agent representing screenwriters, who sold out his noncommunist clients by deliberately neglecting to shop their stories. On a wider scale, the party launched smear campaigns and blacklists against noncommunists, targeting such figures as Barbara Stanwyck, Lana Turner, and Bette Davis.

(Emphasis added-DD)

Art Eckstein, in a June 2005 essay for Frontpage Magazine, describes just how far the CPUSA was prepared to go in attempting to impose ideological conformity on its members. In particular, he mentions the example of Robert Rossen, director of All the King's Men, a film that the CPUSA interpreted as a veiled attack on Stalin:

But unlike Maltz, Rossen refused to submit either intellectually or morally: his outraged response to the interrogation of his art was “Stick the whole Party up your ass!” A noble sentiment. The terrible fact, however, is that most Hollywood Party-members--artists though they were--DID submit to intellectual discipline, and usually voluntarily and without even the necessity of a gruesome “trial.” The intellectual discipline included lists of books which Party-members were forbidden to read.[6] It appears, in fact, that those who had once been suspect were the most eager to serve on the inquisition-boards. This was a way both of demonstrating their (suspect) purity and—one imagines—a way of passing on the deep personal shame of the “trial” experience by inflicting it on and abusing others. Whatever it was, the whole process strikes one as psychologically sick. But then, the Party forbade its members to consult psychiatrists.[7]

(Emphasis added-DD)

Even the most famous victim of the blacklist, author and CPUSA member Dalton Trumbo, was more than willing to help suppress "anti-party" views. In fact, Trumbo's actions even extended to informing on his own readers. His 1939 anti-war novel Johnny Got his Gun was quietly taken out of print after Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, in accordance with the new party line. Apparently, being horrifically maimed on the battlefield was a small price to pay if it was in defense of Stalin and the Socialist Motherland. By 1944, Trumbo had embraced the CPUSA's pro-war position so completely that when some individuals wrote him to ask for copies of Johnny, he responded by turning their names over to the FBI as potential subversives.

Ironically, Trumbo himself would eventually run afoul of the party's ideological strictures, being accused of "white chauvinism" in 1952. Ultimately, he would leave the CPUSA by the late 1950s.

In short, blacklisting was reprehensible and worthy of condemnation. However, as the actual record of the CPUSA in Hollywood shows, it was far from the beginning of political censorship in Hollywood. In the words of Ron Capshaw, "Hollywood in both the New Deal and Blacklist era restricted free speech. Only the victims of it changed."

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Double Standard at YouTube

A funny thing happened recently when YouTube user Nick Gisburne posted a video critical of Islam. Jason Lee Miller explains:

Gisburne is a self-described atheist with, at least from the one video, a deep questioning of Muslim claims about the Koran. To express his doubts about Islam being a religion of peace, Gisburne created a 10-minute video, entitled "Islamic Teachings" that was nothing but violent quotations taken from the Koran instructing followers to kill nonbelievers and speed their way to Hell where Allah will torture them forever.

It would seem quoting the holy book in a sort of testament against itself was over the line for someone working at Google-owned YouTube. Not only was the video deleted without any type of warning to the uploader, but the uploader's account was also deleted with only the explanation (or accusation) of submitting inappropriate content, a category usually reserved for nudity or video violence.

(Emphasis added-DD; Link courtesy of Dhimmi Watch)

Meanwhile, the Jerusalem Post looks at another group of YouTube users who are seemingly allowed to post videos unhindered:

Over the past few weeks, those who track the use of media by terror groups have noted a strong trend among Iraqi insurgents to distribute their propaganda movies and violence footage not through fringe, hard-to-find websites, but by uploading them directly to popular video sharing sites such as YouTube.

Many of the videos have been seen by tens of thousands of viewers, and some by hundreds of thousands, on YouTube, Google Video and Some show footage from terror attacks, including close-ups of badly burned children. Propaganda videos give a slide show of photographs depicting exploded military vehicles and dead American soldiers, while Arabic victory songs play in the background.

(Emphasis added-DD)

Apparently, then, YouTube considers videos of jihadists killing American soldiers acceptable content, while videos that condemn Islam are not. Something is seriously wrong in Google-land.

Friday, February 23, 2007

ATTN: Oxford English Dictionary

2007 has already spawned a new word: Beclowned.

Go forth and use it judiciously.

Murdered for "leading an un-Islamic life"

On Tuesday, a female provincial government minister was murdered in Pakistan. The minister, Zilla Huma Usman, was an advocate for women's rights who refused to wear a veil. For the Islamist fanatic who murdered her, these were reasons enough to take her life. According to the Times of London:

Zilla Huma Usman, the minister for social welfare in Punjab province and an ally of President Pervez Musharraf, was killed as she was about to deliver a speech to dozens of party activists, by a “fanatic”, who believed that she was dressed inappropriately and that women should not be involved in politics, officials said.

Usman, 35, was wearing the shalwar kameez worn by many professional women in Pakistan, but did not cover her head.

Agence France Presse's account of the murder offers some further details:

Officials said Huma was known for promoting women's rights.

"He killed her because she was not observing the Islamic code of dress. She was also campaigning for emancipation of women," local police officer Nazir Ahmad said.

"The suspect is an extremist and he has a history of targeting women whom he believed to be immoral."

The Times of India has a chilling quote from Huma Usman's murderer:

Muhammad Sarwar, the killer of Pakistani Punjab's woman minister Zil-e-Huma, believes that women cannot rule over men.

“I have no regrets. I killed her out of the conviction that she was leading an un-Islamic life and spreading an evil influence on other women,” Sarwar told interrogators in custody, according to a police source.

(Emphasis added-DD)

Yet another tragic manifestation of Islamist totalitarianism.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Higher Power of Lucky: An Agnostic View

I could well be the last library related blogger to address the controversy over The Higher Power of Lucky. To briefly recap, a number of children's librarians have refused to purchase an award-winning children's book because it uses the word "scrotum". LISNews and SHUSH have additional links and background.

As you might expect, this news has caused much wailing and gnashing of teeth amongst librarians and others, with cries of "censorship" and the like. So what is my view on this burning question? Frankly, that this whole issue is an overhyped pseudo-controversy. On the one hand, I'm not sure that a book mentioning the word "scrotum" necessarily spells the end of Western civilization. If parents have no problem with their kids reading it, then neither do I. At the same time, the idea that certain school librarians choosing not to purchase this book is a manifestation of the mailed fist of censorship is ridiculous.

For example, take the comments of Higher Power author Susan Patron, who was "shocked and horrified" to find out that some librarians decided not to add her book to their collections. This is exactly the sort of overheated rhetoric that I have found so frustrating to listen to over the last 5 years. The Patriot Act represents "the death of civil liberties". School librarians who feel that a certain book is inappropriate for their users are iron-fisted censors. No, there's clearly no shortage of hyperbole in our profession.

I mean, is it a bad thing that there are differences of opinion among librarians on this issue? Some librarians, acting in good faith and using their best professional judgment, have chosen to select Higher Power for their children's collections. Others, also acting in good faith and following their considered professional opinion, have chosen not to. Isn't that how it's supposed to work? Aren't we as librarians supposed to enjoy some degree of professional autonomy?

People are free to agree or disagree with either viewpoint. However, those crying censorship over this issue might first want to consult with Taslima Nasreen or Ayaan Hirsi Ali and find out what the standard for censorship really is.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Web Censorship Intensifies in Iran

The Guardian reports that the Iranian regime has shut down a web site that was "fiercely critical of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad":

Baztab, a fundamentalist site that has previously accused Mr Ahmadinejad of betraying the Islamic revolution by attending a female dance show, has been closed for acting against the constitution and undermining national unity.

The order coincided with the confirmation of Gholamhossein Elham, who has voiced support for legal restraints on press freedom, as Iran's new minister of justice. Mr Elham, previously the government's official spokesman, last year urged prosecutors to pursue news outlets that printed "lies" about Mr Ahmadinejad's government.

His appointment came as the government disclosed new measures to monitor and restrict unofficial news websites.

According to Reporters Sans Frontieres, this was the first time that a November decree requiring all Iranian web sites to register with the government has been used by the regime. Their press release on the banning of Baztab provides some additional details on this development:

The press freedom organisation also confirmed that the photo-sharing site is not accessible in Iran, while several Internet Service Providers are still blocking and access to the Farsi-language pages of the Reporters Without Borders website ( is being blocked with increasing frequency.

"We condemned the November decree for various reasons," Reporters Without Borders said. "The first reason was the requirement for website editors to register with the authorities. Although impossible to implement, it provides grounds for arbitrarily closing online publications which the authorities do not like. The second reason was its creation of an ’Internet surveillance body’ under the control of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Orientation that is supposed, inter alia, to combat the publication of ’false information’."

If there is a silver lining to this story, it is that the banning of Baztab isn't so much a crushing of broader societal dissent as it is a reflection of a struggle within the Iranian regime itself. RSF explains:

The organisation added: "The authorities are making open use of the decree for the first time, and we see that the target is a website that supports Ayatollah Khamenei, in what is a war within the conservative camp. The regulations are almost certainly also being used to block access to ’immoral’ sites such as Flickr or YouTube."

With the Iranian regime banning a web site that supports that country's supreme ruler, Ayatollah Khamenei, it can truly be said that the revolution is now censoring its own.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Cuban Dissident Watch

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the health of imprisoned Cuban dissident Alfredo Pulido López continues to deteriorate:

Pulido López, director of the Camagüey-based independent news agency El Mayor, was imprisoned during a massive March 2003 crackdown against the Cuban independent press. He was tried under Article 91 of the Cuban penal code for “acting against the independence or the territorial integrity of the state,” and sentenced in April 2003 to 14 years in prison.

Rodríguez Souto told CPJ she has repeatedly requested Cuban authorities to release her husband on medical parole but has not yet received a response. She said her husband is severely depressed with a complete loss of appetite that has resulted in the loss of at least 20 lbs. since his incarceration.

“We hold the Cuban government responsible for the welfare of Pulido López and urge it to release him along with all the other journalists who should never have been imprisoned in the first place,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon.

Cuba continues to be one of the world’s leading jailers of journalists—second only to China—with 24 independent journalists currently imprisoned. Twenty two of these journalists were jailed in the March 2003 crackdown.

Burned Books in the Media

Freadom's Cuban Burned Books campaign is the object of a really good article in the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel:

Spurred by events in South Florida, a national group is urging students to read books that have been burned in Cuba.

The organization, FREADOM, launched the project last month to bring attention to documents and books, such as the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights and George Orwell's Animal Farm, that the Cuban government has banned and set afire. The project is a takeoff on campaigns encouraging people to read banned books.

"Banning a book is the intent to kill," said Walter Skold, co-chairman of FREADOM, a group of librarians, authors and human rights activists. "Burning it is the crime of murder."

(Link courtesy of LISNews)

The article offers a great overview of the burned books controversy, so please read it all. The Freadom blog, as usual, has more on this topic.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Islamist Censorship Comes to India

Taslima Nasreen, a Bangladeshi writer, was forced to flee her native land in 1994 after a mass campaign by Islamists demanding her death. She has since settled in India. Recently, however, an article she wrote condemning the veiling of women has led a Muslim organization to demand Ms. Nasreen's expulsion from that country. Rediff has the details:

Controversial Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen's article in a weekly criticising the wearing of the veil by women has drawn the ire of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, which on Thursday said that she should be thrown out of the country.

"The article written by Taslima in Outlook magazine was derogatory and outrageous." AIMPLB member Kamal Farooqi said, adding: "She should be thrown out of the country."

Farooqi said the AIMPLB will soon approach the external affairs ministry to seek Taslima's expulsion from the country where she has been living since she fled Bangladesh in 1994 after receiving death threats for her novel Lajja.

Actually, the only outrageous thing here is Mr. Farooqi's demand that someone be deported just because they wrote an article that offended him. Hopefully, the Indian authorities will dismiss this ridiculous complaint out of hand.

Link courtesy of Dhimmi Watch.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Islam and Self-Censorship

Youssef Ibrahim analyzes the tendency towards self-censorship when discussing Islam in a piece for today's New York Sun:

Bottom line: You can't talk about Islam, not really. Those transgressing are hounded like hunted animals.

The persecuted British-Indian author of the 1988 book "The Satanic Verses," Salman Rushdie, is a refugee here in America. Nearly two decades later, he's still living under a death edict issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini the year after the book came out.

A more recent refugee is the Dutch-Somali writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who is facing death threats of her own in the Netherlands after collaborating on a film about the oppression of women in Islam. One of her collaborators, the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, was assassinated in Amsterdam in November 2004; a knife pinned a note to his body that said Ms. Hirsi Ali was next. Islamic history is served up airbrushed in academia, and the result is a public denied knowledge. The reason many in the West are so surprised by the Sunni-Shiite split now tearing apart the Persian Gulf is that few know the history of early Islam, when a bloody succession to the Prophet Muhammad yielded that split 13 centuries ago. The storm around the cartoons of Prophet Muhammad last year was a perfect example of what happens when willful ignorance and self-censorship come together.

To this day, self-censorship about Islam is the norm. The only works that study, analyze, and teach Islam are those by politically correct Arabs, Muslims, or a few "vetted" Westerner scholars who know where not to go.

Thanks to incidents such as the Rushdie affair and Van Gogh murder, Islamists have succeeded in curtailing what can and can't be said about Islam, even in the West.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Banning Piglet

A blog posted at a site called Qatar Living relates a silly yet telling example of Islamist censorship:

In Qatar there is only one decent bookshop (that happens to be a Saudi chain) that has a few shelves of English books. Shopping there is hit or miss - you don't go there to look for a title. You go there in the hope of stumbling upon something interesting.

The kids selection is not bad though. The other night we saw Disney's "My Very First Encyclopedia with Winnie the Pooh and friends". We grabbed it and thought it was exactly what we needed for our daughter - not only does she love Winnie the Pooh but she's also started taking a keen interest in nature.

We flipped it open and noticed that some of the pages had been vandalised with a black marker. We figured it must have been bought and returned after some kids had got there hands on it. Further inspection made us realise that this was actually systematic. Someone had deliberately "censored" out each and every picture of Piglet from hundreds of pages in the book with a black marker (my guess is that the book got caught by Saudi Censors enroute to Doha).

(Emphasis added-DD)

The original post includes images of the book sans Piglet, if you're curious.

The blogger in question, Camper, offers some further thoughts worth reading:

Now I've got a feeling that this isn't the result of Qatari censors. They are pretty good when it comes to these sorts of things (they did abolish the "Ministry of Information" a decade ago). I have a feeling that this book came via Saudi Arabia, since the book chain is a Saudi franchise. Of course, such craziness can be expected from the Saudi censors.

Which brings us to the question of censorship in the first place. We often here the big stories about journalists being arrested or killed.

It isn't often that we here about the little things like poor Piglet.

(Link courtesy of Dhimmi Watch)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Manifesto of 12

About a year ago, at the height of the Danish cartoon controversy, 12 intellectuals published a manifesto calling for a full defense of free thought and expression in the face of Islamist threats and violence. On this anniversary of radical Islamism's most infamous assault on intellectual freedom, it is worth posting in full. Fittingly enough, Salman Rushdie is one of the signatories:

After having overcome fascism, Nazism, and Stalinism, the world now faces a new global totalitarian threat: Islamism.

We -- writers, journalists and public intellectuals -- call for resistance to religious totalitarianism.

Instead, we call for the promotion of freedom, equal opportunity and secular values worldwide.

The necessity of these universal values has been revealed by events since the publication of the Muhammad drawings in European newspapers. This struggle will not be won by arms, but in the arena of ideas. What we are witnessing is not a clash of civilizations, nor an antagonism of West versus East, but a global struggle between democrats and theocrats.

Like all totalitarianisms, Islamism is nurtured by fears and frustrations. The preachers of hate bet on these feelings in order to form battalions destined to impose a world of inequality. But we clearly and firmly state: nothing, not even despair, justifies the choice of obscurantism, totalitarianism and hatred.

Islamism is a reactionary ideology which kills equality, freedom and secularism wherever it is present. Its success can only lead to a world of greater power imbalances: man’s domination of woman, the Islamists’ domination of all others.

To counter this, we must assure universal rights to oppressed people. For that reason, we reject “cultural relativism,” which consists of accepting that Muslim men and women should be deprived of their right to equality and freedom in the name of their cultural traditions.

We refuse to renounce our critical spirit out of fear of being accused of “Islamophobia,” an unfortunate concept that confuses criticism of Islamic practices with the stigmatization of Muslims themselves.

We plead for the universality of free expression, so that a critical spirit may be exercised on every continent, against every abuse and dogma.

We appeal to democrats and free spirits of all countries that our century should be one of enlightenment, not of obscurantism.


Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Chahla Chafiq , Caroline Fourest, Bernard-Henri Lévy, Irshad Manji , Mehdi Mozaffari, Maryam Namazie, Taslima Nasreen, Salman Rushdie, Antoine Sfeir, Philippe Val, Ibn Warraq

As a result of signing this document, all 12 signatories were subjected to a death threat on an Islamist web site. Irshad Manji has posted a petition where you can express your support for these individuals.

Islamist Intolerance

Courtesy of MEMRI, Iraqi reformist 'Abd Al-Khaliq Hussein speaks out against the brutality of Islamist intolerance and censorship. His comments are especially apropos on today's 18th anniversary of Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa calling for the murder of Salman Rushdie:

"Political Islamists raise a huge hubbub, saying that Islam is a religion of tolerance, but at the same time they threaten to decapitate anyone who directs the least bit of criticism at them - even if it is just a question, or a doubt concerning religious thought, or the writing of an article, or the publishing of a book… to the point where fatwas are issued that make it licit to kill the asker of the question or the writer [of the article].

"For this reason, the Islamic countries are considered the greatest crematorium for books and the greatest slaughterhouse for freethinkers in history, and we see that the majority of freethinkers in Arab and Islamic countries are either expatriates or have chosen to keep silent in order to remain safe.

"A few months ago, Pope Benedict XVI cited, in a lecture before academics at a German university, what a 14th century emperor had said about the Muslims' reliance on the sword in spreading Islam, and that it was better to employ the mind and persuasion instead of force in spreading a religion. [In saying this, the Pope] angered the political Islamists and Islamic sheikhs, who demanded that he kneel down and apologize! As usual, they resorted to instigating riots in the streets, and there were attacks on Christians in Islamic countries… and churches were burned"…

(Emphasis added-DD)

Please read the rest.

Debunking Cuba Myths

Freadom reproduces the text of an email by Steve Marquardt in which he refutes numerous bizarre and factually challenged remarks made during the recent Cuba deliberations of ALA's Intellectual Freedom Committee. It is frankly mind-boggling that people who are supposed to be committed to defending intellectual freedom could have said such things.

UK Reading Habits

An interesting piece by Kathryn Hughes in the Guardian on the reading habits of UK library patrons reveals that they are quite similar to those on this side of the Atlantic:

The latest figures released from the Public Lending Right (PLR) show that, despite all the hectic johnny-come-lately excitement of Dan Brown and Ian Rankin, the three queens of the library service - Josephine Cox, Danielle Steel and Catherine Cookson - are still pretty much as popular as ever. These stately ladies do not do crossover titles, nor do they chase the holy grail of the children's market, so admirably catered to by those other library high-fliers Jacqueline Wilson and JK Rowling. In fact, they don't do much in the way of marketing at all. Cookson died in 1998 at the age of 92, and Cox and Steel, who are 69 and 60 respectively, prefer to pour their energies into their writing rather than hauling themselves around on sapping promotional tours.

"The wild colt of new technologies can and must be controlled,"

The Associated Press reports the following effort by a senior Cuban official to justify the Castro regime's censorship of the Internet:

Communications Minister Ramiro Valdes opened an international conference on communication technologies Monday by complaining that Washington is choking Cuba's access to the Internet even as U.S. military and intelligence services use it to undermine the communist government.

Internet technologies "constitute one of the tools for global extermination," he said, referring to U.S. policies, but they "are also necessary to continue to advance down the path of development."

He defended Cuba's "rational and efficient" use of the Internet, which puts computers in schools and government computer clubs while prohibiting home connections for most citizens and blocking many sites with anti-government material.

"The wild colt of new technologies can and must be controlled," he said.

(Emphasis added-DD)

Reporters Sans Frontieres has shown exactly what the Castro dictatorship's "rational and efficient" policy towards the Internet looks like. They offered this response to Minister Valdes' comments:

“The US embargo prevents Cuba from connecting to the Internet by underwater cable and this obviously does not favour development of the Internet, but we published a report in October that shows that the authorities deliberately restrict online access,” the press freedom organisation said.

“It would anyway have been astonishing if a country that has no independent radio or TV station or newspaper did allow unrestricted access to the Internet,” Reporters Without Borders continued. “We await the creation of a better Internet connection via Venezuela, as the minister announced, and we will then see if the government finally allows its citizens access to an uncensored Internet.”

Somehow, I doubt ordinary Cubans will experience uncensored Internet access anytime soon.

Totalitarian Valentines

Valentine's Day conjures up happy images, at least for some. For two world famous authors, however, February 14th marks the date their lives were officially threatened by totalitarian regimes:

-In 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini issued his infamous fatwa calling for the murder of Salman Rushdie and anyone involved in the publication of The Satanic Verses. (Expect to see more on this later today)

-In 1974, Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was charged with treason by the Soviet state, just one day after his expulsion from the USSR. Under Soviet law, treason was punishable by death.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Santa-Phobia in Algeria

On December 24th, the Algerian newspaper El-Shourouq El-Yawmi published a horror stricken editorial on a subject of great concern. Courtesy of MEMRI, here are some excerpts:

"We couldn’t believe what our eyes saw as we roamed the streets of Tizi Ouzo. If it were not for this photo caught by our camera, we would have said we were lying, and you would have said we were lying as well - and rightfully so.

What could have possibly inspired such shock and outrage? The appearance of a certain jolly old infidel in a red suit:

"'Santa Claus' came down to the streets of Tizi Ouzo, without asking permission, and here he is… making the rounds gleefully in his carriage full of bells, attracting people who are weak in their faith and distributing 'presents' to them in the name of the Lord 'Jesus.' All this happens without anyone saying anything or raising any objection, from the Ministry of Religious Affairs to the last of those authorities who are zealous for Islam.

"Whoever walks through the streets of the Tizi Ouzo district these days will run up against the strange cultural turning away from Islamic principles, in that the city's streets show the distinctive signs of the Christian New Year holiday. This phenomenon is not limited to the Tizi Ouzo district, but [also] encompasses some of the country's major districts, and is expressed in what we see - namely, that the preparations for celebrating this occasion are comparable [in scope] to the preparations for [Islamic] religious or national celebrations, sometimes even outdoing them.

Needless to say, the editors of El-Shourouq El-Yawmi are not fans of St. Nick, and they want action taken to prevent his return in future:

"It appears that the fears… concerning the Christianization of the Kabylie region have in effect come true this time, and it has become clear that President Bouteflika's admonition to the region's population to uphold Islam and not to surrender to the lures of Christianization… stemmed from knowledge of what is going on there. 'Santa Claus' appearing there, overtly this time, is a sure sign of the swiftly descending danger that has come into [our] Algerian home. Will the relevant authorities - and first and foremost the Ministry of Religious Affairs - seize the initiative, or will [Algeria] be left to its own devices, in confronting the death arriving from the West?"

Much is made of "Islamophobia": the allegedly irrational fear of Islam and its spread. Yet, this newspaper's reaction to Santa Claus as a harbinger of "death arriving from the West" is just a small example of the intolerance towards Western values and belief systems that permeates much of the Muslim world.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Banning a Book in Egypt

The latest book written by an Egyptian feminist author has been recalled by the publisher. The Gulf Times explains:

"We decided to remove the book, titled God Resigns in the Summit Meeting by writer Nawal Al Saadawi, from the shelves once we learnt it offends religion," said Mahmoud Madbouli, who runs a publishing house in Cairo.

He denied the withdrawal had been carried out upon orders from authorities. "We would not allow such literature onto our shelves," he told Gulf News.

Madbouli, who has already published a dozen books penned by Saadawi, said apologetically: "We do not normally read all the books we publish. But on learning that Saadawi's book, which takes the form of a play, offended readers' religious sensitivities, we decided to withdraw it."

As one would expect, Ms. Saadawi is outraged by this decision:

"My book contains nothing offensive to religion. This confiscation is a violation of the reader's right to choose and judge the worth of a book for themselves. These people want to stifle our imagination. If my ideas are questioned and suspected, they should be debated, not suppressed. A work of art should be judged by the critics, not religious clerics or government bureaucrats."

God Resigns in the Summit Meeting looks into current socio-economic and religious issues in Egypt, according to Saadawi.

The article points out that Ms. Saadawi has had many of her books banned in the Arab world, and that she has been the subject of death threats from radical Islamists. In light of her personal history, Ms. Saadawi understands better than anyone how the limitations on intellectual freedom in the Muslim Middle East have enabled the spread of Islamism:

"I feel worried about the future of Egypt whose young people are denied a real chance to be educated and exercise their minds. Confiscation provides a breeding ground for extremism," she said.

(Emphasis added-DD)

This is just one instance of how free speech and expression are being stifled in Egypt. The best known current example, of course, is that of blogger Kareem Amer. The Mubarak regime justifies such policies by arguing that it is the only bulwark against radical Islamists taking power in Egypt. This is nonsense. By suppressing liberal voices such as Saadawi and Kareem Amer, it ensures that there is no credible alternative to its rule other than
the Islamists. Yet again, government censorship in the Middle East simply aids the Islamists by silencing their critics for them.

(Link courtesy of Dhimmi Watch)

Wikipedia Not Welcome

An interesting new development at Middlebury College regarding the great Wikipedia debate. Inside Higher Ed has the details:

While plenty of professors have complained about the lack of accuracy or completeness of entries, and some have discouraged or tried to bar students from using it, the history department at Middlebury College is trying to take a stronger, collective stand. It voted this month to bar students from citing the Web site as a source in papers or other academic work. All faculty members will be telling students about the policy and explaining why material on Wikipedia — while convenient — may not be trustworthy.

“As educators, we are in the business of reducing the dissemination of misinformation,” said Don Wyatt, chair of the department. “Even though Wikipedia may have some value, particularly from the value of leading students to citable sources, it is not itself an appropriate source for citation,” he said.

The department made what Wyatt termed a consensus decision on the issue after discussing problems professors were seeing as students cited incorrect information from Wikipedia in papers and on tests. In one instance, Wyatt said, a professor noticed several students offering the same incorrect information, from Wikipedia.

There was some discussion in the department of trying to ban students from using Wikipedia, but Wyatt said that didn’t seem appropriate. Many Wikipedia entries have good bibliographies, Wyatt said. And any absolute ban would just be ignored. “There’s the issue of freedom of access,” he said. “And I’m not in the business of promulgating unenforceable edicts.”

(Link courtesy of Phi Beta Cons)

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Iran's War on Dissent: An Update

Writing in the February 9th New York Sun, Steven Stalinsky of MEMRI provides an overview of the Iranian regime's war on internal dissent:

Iranian opposition to President Ahmadinejad is on the rise following a series of recent setbacks, including election losses for his candidates and criticism of his handling of the nuclear crisis. As discontent increases, however, Mr. Ahmadinejad's regime is going to spectacular lengths to purge and silence its opposition, much as Nazi Germany did in consolidating its power.

This purge includes the banning of books, reformist papers, Web logs, and satellite TV channels, as well as working against groups such as labor unions and student and women's organizations.

In the first week of December, Iran cut off its citizens' access to YouTube and; it had earlier blocked Wikipedia and the New York Times. The Iranian authorities did this, they said, to "purge the country of Western cultural influences."

In the reformist daily Rooz of January 25, Nooshabeh Amiri discussed the attacks on freedom in Iran and warned that the country will "become a sanctuary for devils and beasts."

In a February 1st interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Hajar Smouni from Reporters Sans Frontieres discusses how the Iranian autocracy has cracked down on press freedom in particular:

Iran is one of the repressive regimes against journalists and against the media. What we have noticed in 2006 is that there was a new form of pressure. If you look at the statistics, you're going to see that [fewer] journalists have been jailed in 2006. You're going to see that [fewer] of them have been [convicted].

But there is a new form of pressure that they are facing that is not less dangerous or less repressive. What we've noticed is that journalists are being arrested, they are being questioned by prosecutors and then they are being released on bail, without having a date for a trial set, or without having the possibility to express themselves or to defend their case. And so this threat, this trial stays as a menace in case they write something that will displease the regime again.

In light of all this, you would think that American liberals and leftists would be adamant about the need to stand up for free expression in Iran. You would be mistaken, as this piece by Scott McLemee from Inside Higher Ed illustrates (link courtesy of Phi Beta Cons):

“In hundreds of conversations I’ve had with Iranian intellectuals, journalists, and human rights activists in recent years, I invariably encounter exasperation,” writes Danny Postel in Reading “Legitimation Crisis” in Tehran: Iran and the Future of Liberalism, a recent addition to the Prickly Paradigm pamphlet series distributed by the University of Chicago Press. “Why, they ask, is the American Left so indifferent to the struggle taking place in Iran? Why can’t the Iranian movement get the attention of so-called progressives and solidarity activists here? Why is it mainly neoconservatives who express interest in the Iranian struggle?”

Postel, a senior editor of the online magazine openDemocracy, sees the Iranian situation as a crucial test of whether soi-disant American “progressives” can think outside the logic that treats solidarity as something one extends only to people being hurt by client-states of the U.S. government.

“Of course we should be steadfast in opposition to any U.S. military intervention in Iran,” he writes; “that’s the easy part. But it’s not the end of the discussion. Iran is, as the Iranian anthropologist Ziba Mir-Hosseini puts it, ‘a state at war with itself.’ Progressives everywhere should take sides in that war and actively support the forces of democracy, feminism, pluralism, human rights, and freedom of expression.”

To be fair, the McLemee article is full is hysterical pronouncements about "neocons". Still, it's nice to know that there are at least a few on the left who are willing to support Iranian dissidents even if it means being on the same side of an issue as the US government. I just wish more of their compatriots would do the same. To quote Stalinsky:

As Iran takes another page from Nazi Germany, one must ask where the Western student groups, women's right activists, union members, journalists, and other freedom-seeking individuals are, when their Iranian counterparts desperately need support. Many things are possible through the Internet and e-mail.

Saturday, February 10, 2007


As you may have noticed, I have changed the site description. The new one is a more accurate reflection of my current focus. I don't really care to discuss partisan politics that much anymore, and you can keep up with war news and analysis far better at sites such as Bill Roggio's or the Counterterrorism Blog.

There any plenty of anti-Islamist web sites, but few that focus specifically on the issue of the threat Islamist movements pose to intellectual freedom. Plus, the current ideological climate in American librarianship is such that the majority of my colleagues worry far more about the Patriot Act or parents who don't want their kids to read Heather Has Two Mommies, than they do the existence of a global totalitarian movement that burns books and intimidates and murders authors.

I will still blog about topics such as Cuba, other intellectual freedom issues, other library-related subjects, and anything else that strikes my interest. Basically, I'll be doing what I've been doing for the past few months. Hopefully, you'll continue to find it worth reading.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Miscellaneous Library Links

Here a couple brief but interesting items related to libraries that I've come across recently:

-Ms. Iyna Bort Caruso makes a startling admission in the Christian Science Monitor:

It's Saturday morning, and I'm standing under a thick, damp sky waiting for the doors to open. If only it was something as practical as, say, a Macy's shoe sale. But here I am, alone, waiting for the doors to open – to the library.

Librarius nerdus. I am a library nerd.

-While I was looking for news about Real Salt Lake's success in getting a soccer stadium approved, I came across this item in the Salt Lake Tribune:

Salt Lake City's Main Library has been ranked as one of the nation's favorite buildings.

In a poll commissioned by the American Institute of Architects, the library was ranked 69th out of 150.

"This is wonderful," Library Director Nancy Tessman said Thursday.

“I used to be very optimistic. But, the security situation is getting worse daily.”

Wednesday's New York Times has a good article about the online diary of Iraqi National Library Director Dr. Saad Eskander. The Times piece adds some additional background on the dangers confronting Dr. Eskander and his staff. This passage in particular shows the gravity of the situation:

In the e-mail exchange, Dr. Eskander wrote: “I used to be very optimistic. But, the security situation is getting worse daily.”

Although all available resources have been directed to keeping the collections safe, “terrorists attacks, especially mortars shelling represent a considerable threat,” he wrote. “It is extremely difficult for my staff, including me, to work in a normal way. Many roads and bridges are often blocked. Hundreds of checkpoints are responsible for the daily heavy traffic. There is always the possibility of daily car-bomb attacks, assassinations, kidnapping and so on. Sometimes our drivers refuse to go to dangerous districts. All these ‘tiny things’ affect our works on daily basis.”

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Common Sense Comes to ALA Council

In her usual inimitable way, Annoyed Librarian notes the triumph of common sense over ideology at ALA Council's recent Midwinter meetings in Seattle:

At Library Juice, you can find the SRRT's own report about the success of their shenanigans at ALA Council in Seattle. The two resolutions totally unrelated to librarianship were defeated, I knew, but I hadn't realized just how soundly. I hadn't noticed the actual numbers when reading about the ALA Council votes regarding defunding the Iraq War and lobbying to have President Bush impeached, but considering the vote count the SRRT report should have been called "We Got Our Collectivist and Collective Ass Kicked."

The resolution on the Iraq War was defeated 98-48. That's a pretty good ass-kicking by anyone's standards. According to the balanced and objective author of the SRRT report, "Almost everyone we talked with was in favor on a personal level, but there is a disconnect between their personal views and their professional lives. We just have to work harder to connect our issues and break down these barriers to fundamentally change our society."

Or, maybe the SRRT/PLG types could just do their political activism on their own time? An outrageous demand, I know.

Greg McClay was there, and has recorded all the gory details. Talk about taking one for the team.

Anyway, this seems to continue a welcome trend from last summer's ALA Annual in New Orleans, where the PLG/SRRT bloc threw a hissy fit over Laura Bush's appearance, to no avail. For now at least, it looks like the radical fringe who are openly bent on politicizing our profession are being marginalized.

Jack Stephens also has a post on this topic. In the meantime, I leave you again with the words of Annoyed Librarian:

The SRRT folk who are so dedicated to "diversity" are still going after the poor little Boy Scouts. This is despite the fact that the majority of Scout Leaders are allegedly pedophiles, which should endear them to the open-minded SRRT radicals. Fortunately, their latest jab has been stalled until Annual. Maybe for the SRRT, diversity means that the ALA has room for both Stalinists and Trotskyites. At Annual they'll probably introduce a resolution that anyone who is a Boy Scout isn't even allowed to use libraries. Because you know the motto of the SRRT: Intellectual Freedom is the Freedom to Think Like Us!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Cuban Library Update

From a February 2nd press release by Reporters Sans Frontieres:

The editor of the La Voz de Oriente independent news agency, Haydee Rodríguez, also began a hunger strike after a heavy-handed raid on her home in the southeastern city of Santiago de Cuba on 20 January in which the State Security confiscated books, magazines and pencils that she had been planning to deliver to an independent library. Capt. Giovanis Durán also took away recording equipment, two radio sets and European Union documents which Rodríguez, who has Spanish nationality, regularly receives.

Correction: the RSF press release is dated February 5th.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Cairo Book Fair

Agence France Presse has an enlightening story on the 2007 Cairo Book Fair. The 39th edition of this event ended on Sunday, and drew an estimated 2 million visitors. The Cairo Book Fair is the Arab world's largest literary event. Unfortunately, as the AFP article makes clear, the book fair also reflects some of the major problems besetting intellectual life in the Muslim Middle East.

One of these, of course, is official censorship:

Partly this could be because certain books did not make it to the fair. As Lebanese publisher Dar Al Adab discovered when the boxes containing works by Milan Kundera, Nikos Kazantzakis, and noted Egyptian authors Nawal Al Saadawi and Edward Al Kharrat were missing.

"We knew from previous experience that the censor had banned them," said Nabil Nofal, a member of the sales team, adding that they never receive official notification or explanation for why the books were not allowed.

According to literary observers, subject matters involving sex, controversial politics, and attacks on religion set off alarms among the censors.

Another issue lies in the dominant position held by Islamist literature at the festival:

Of the 700 Egyptian and Arab publishers at the fair, the vast majority stock religious books on their shelves. "Even we reserve about one-quarter of our catalog for them," said publisher Ansari.

Korans of all styles, from the simple to the leather-bound, share shelf space with collections of religious sayings and fatwas as well as their more modern incarnations on cassettes and compact disks.


"It's become a real business, but this fundamentalism comes from Saudi Arabia and stays with the cynical encouragement of the powers that be," said best-selling Egyptian author Aswani whose social satire the Yacoubian Building has achieved fame far beyond Egypt's borders.

The popularity of one book in particular, pardon the pun, speaks volumes about the ideological climate in Egypt:

The fair also has its darker sides, with anti-Christian polemics advocating conversion to Islam as the only solution to a flawed religion and, of course, plenty of editions of Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf for sale.

"It makes up a big part of our success, especially among the 18 to 25 crowd," said Mahmoud Abdullah of the Syrian-Egyptian Dar Al Kitab Al Arabi publishing house.

(Emphasis added-DD)

To be fair, the article also points out the popularity of the works of Naguib Mahfouz, the late Egyptian novelist and Nobel Prize winner. Still, one has to be alarmed by the fact that Islamist tracts and Mein Kampf are among the best sellers at the Muslim Middle East's biggest literary festival.

RSF on Cuba

Last week, Reporters Sans Frontieres released its annual survey of press freedom worldwide. The section of the report dealing with Cuba is especially interesting, if depressing:

Will defence minister and army commander Raúl Castro allow more basic freedoms after taking over from his ailing brother as acting president on 31 July 2006. So far the regime has continued hounding dissidents, especially independent journalists. Cuba is still the world’s second biggest prison for journalists. Two were freed in 2006 but this was quickly made up for by the jailing of two others, making a total of 24 being held.

(Emphasis added-DD)

Unfortunately, the number has since risen to 25.

The report also mentions two of Cuba's independent librarians. One of these men is José Ubaldo Izquierdo Hernández:

José Ubaldo Izquierdo Hernández, of the Grupo de Trabajo Decoro, was declared “unfit for detention” by a prison doctor because of his very poor health, but was not released. Normando Hernández González, head of the Colegio de Periodistas Independientes de Camagüey, was taken to hospital on 5 December with cellular tuberculosis and sent back to jail three weeks after. Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta, of APLO, and Fabio Prieto Llorente were repeatedly beaten by their guards. Alberto Gil Triay Casales, of the La Estrella Solitaria agency, who was given a seven-year prison sentence in November 2005 for “subversive propaganda,” went on hunger-strike in September.

Guillermo Farinas Hernandez is the other independent librarian cited by RSF.

Guillermo Fariñas Hernández, head of the Cubanacán Press agency in Santa Clara, staged several hunger-strikes to support his demand for all Cubans to be allowed free access to the Internet. He was awarded the Reporters Without Borders - Fondation de France Cyber-freedom Prize on 12 December.

The analysis of the Internet in Cuba is particularly revealing:

With less than 2 per cent of its population online, Cuba is one of the most backward Internet countries. An investigation carried out by Reporters Without Borders in October revealed that the Cuban government uses several levers to ensure that this medium is not used in a “counter-revolutionary” way. Firstly, it has more or less banned private Internet connections. To surf the Internet or check their e-mail, Cubans have to go to public access points such as Internet cafes, universities and “youth computer clubs” where their activity is more easily monitored. Secondly, the computers in all the Internet cafes and leading hotels contain software installed by the Cuban police that triggers an alert message whenever “subversive” key-words are spotted. The regime also ensures that there is no Internet access for dissidents and independent journalists, for whom communicating with people abroad is an ordeal. Finally, the government also relies on self-censorship. You can get 20 years in prison for writing “counter-revolutionary” articles for foreign websites. You can even get five years just for connecting to the Internet illegally. Few Internet users dare to run the risk of defying the regime’s censorship.

(Emphasis added-DD)

In short, there can be no doubt of the utter lack of intellectual freedom in Cuba today.

Link and background information courtesy of Steve Marquardt.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Cartoon Capitulation

In a recent essay for the German magazine Der Spiegel, Henryk M. Broder addresses the frequent unwillingness of Europeans to stand up to Islamist intimidation, and the chilling effect this has had on free expression in Europe. Broder sees this phenomenon as merely a symptom of a broader European lack of will in defending their societies and their values. In my view, he makes a compelling case:

One had to look very closely to recognize the first signs of a brewing crisis. In Berlin, the Rote Grütze theater group was performing an enlightening piece called "Who Said Anything About Love?" To advertise the play, posters depicting a young man and a young woman, naked and full of innocence, were handed out in schools.

The schools had no qualms about displaying the posters, until a school official from Berlin's Tiergarten district requested a permit from the city's education authority. The agency turned down the request, arguing that the poster could hurt "the feelings of non-Christian pupils." The education authority was acting preventively and with what amounted to exaggerated concern for a cultural minority that had yet to be integrated into permissive German society. No Muslim pupils had complained about hurt feelings, nor had their parents expressed concerns about immoral harassment.

That was 10 years ago. Today everything has changed, except the resolve not to hurt the feelings of Muslims. The issue today no longer revolves around a group of Berlin pupils with an "immigration background," but around 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide -- many of whom are thin-skinned and unpredictable. At issue is freedom of opinion, one of the central tenets of the Enlightenment and democracy. And whether respect, consideration and tolerance are the right approach to dealing with cultures that, for their part, behave without respect, consideration or tolerance when it comes to anything they view as decadent, provocative and unworthy -- from women in short skirts to cartoons they deem provocative without even having seen them.

The controversy over the 12 Muhammad cartoons that were published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in September 2005 and led to worldwide protests and unrest among Muslims was merely a taste of what is to come, a dress rehearsal for the kinds of disputes Europe can expect to face in the future if it does not rethink its current policy of appeasement. As was the case in the 1930s, when Czechoslovakia was sacrificed in the interest of peace under the Munich Agreement -- a move that ultimately did nothing to prevent World War II -- Europeans today also believe that an adversary, seemingly invincible due to a preference for death over life, can be mollified by good behavior, concessions and submission. All the Europeans can hope to gain in this asymmetric conflict is a temporary reprieve, a honeymoon period that could last 10, 20, or maybe even 50 years. Anyone on death row breathes a sigh of relief when his execution is postponed to some indefinite time in the future.

The uproar over the Muhammad cartoons was symptomatic precisely because what triggered it was so insignificant. The drawings themselves were unbelievably harmless.

"Hurray! We're Capitulating!"

Saturday, February 03, 2007

"I do not believe in gallows of ideology"

Courtesy of MEMRI, excerpts from a fascinating interview with Bahraini intellectual Dhiyaa Al-Musawi. In his comments, Al-Musawi describes the open hostility towards intellectual freedom that permeates much of the Muslim Middle East:

"I do not believe in gallows of ideology. Our problem in the Arab world is that we have many gallows of ideology and of accusations of social betrayal, on which we try to hang an intellectual, a thinker, or a poet every day, just like in the case of Naguib Mahfouz and others. We, I'm sad to say, are against creativity and civilization, and against any language that seeks common ground in society."


"We must have the courage to get rid of the 'backward' cholesterol of ideology, accumulating in the arteries of Arab awareness and the Arab mind. We suffer from backwardness. This is not masochism - the kind psychologists talk about - acts of self-flagellation. This is the truth. We have not developed even to the point of admitting defeat. We [have to] admit our cultural defeat. In the past, we had a civilization in Andalusia and in many other places, but today we are regressing - we export violence, we terrorize whole countries, we threaten national security, and many other things."


"We need to reform and to reshape religious thinking, because, in all honesty, the pulpits of our mosques have begun to 'booby trap' the people."

Please read the rest.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Bangladesh Update

On January 30th, the New York Sun's "It Shines For All" blog published an alarming update on the situation in Bangladesh from Irfan Malik. Malik, a friend of dissident journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, paints a worrisome portrait of the spread of radical Islamism that Choudhury has so eloquently warned about:

In recent weeks, Bangladesh is experiencing re-emergence of the Islamist radical forces with several arrests of jihadists with huge explosives and arms. Members of banned Jamaatul Mujahedin Bangladesh (JMB) are reportedly targeting the former State Minister for Home Affairs Lutfozzaman Babar, members of his family and other secular forces in Bangladesh, when top six notorious kingpins of this militant group are awaiting death penalty. According to several reports, all of these six jihadist masterminds will be hanged to death by the end of February.

On 21st January 2007, former State Minister Babar wrote a letter to the Chief Advisor of the Caretaker Government, Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed seeking full time police protection for the safety of his life. Earlier, government withdrew police protection from the residence of the entire former minister’s of the recent past government. In his letter, Babar said, during his term in the home ministry, he took several massive steps in combating terrorism and radical forces and were successful in nabbing large number of notorious criminals as well as most of the kingpins of banned Jamaatul Mujahedin Bangladesh (JMB). He had also successfully combating so-called communist and leftist terror groups in the southern part of the country. Such actions have restored peace, security and safety in Bangladesh. Development partners of this country have always been highly appreciative of government’s anti-terrorism and anti-radical drive, which remains as the most significant point of credits for the recent past government. Global media has also appreciated Babar’s tireless efforts in combating terrorism as well as radical-terror groups.

Unfortunately, Minister Babar's forthright stand against jihadists and other thugs has placed his life in grave danger. Men such as him and Choudhury represent Bangladesh's best chance of avoiding the Islamist abyss.

Meanwhile, the Sun's Daniel Freedman notes a frightening development that he has discovered from his communications with Choudhury:

During our phone conversations with Shoaib we often heard clicks, and Shoaib informed us that his phone is regularly tapped. It now turns out that the Islamists are pretending to be me in emails, in order to entrap Shoaib and his friends. Shoaib suspects that the Islamists may be intercepting his friends' e-mails through a local server (Shoaib uses a secure server).

Finally, to end on a positive note, an excellent pro-Choudhury web site has been created. Interfaith Strength offers a wealth of links and readings on Choudhury and Bangladesh, as well as information on how you can help. Click here to pay it a visit.

Zimbabwe: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

On January 25th, the BBC reported a rare bit of good news from Zimbabwe: the country's High Court ordered the Mugabe regime to restore the passport of independent newspaper publisher Trevor Ncube:

His passport was seized last year under new laws tightening rules on those with foreign parents gaining citizenship.

Mr Ncube was born in Zimbabwe but his father was Zambian. He owns two weekly papers in Zimbabwe and South Africa's weekly Mail and Guardian.

"My faith in the Zimbabwean judiciary has been vindicated," Mr Ncube said.

Unfortunately, for every step forward in Zimbabwe, there are at least two steps backward. As the BBC again reports, the editor of one of Mr. Ncube's newspapers, the Zimbabwe Standard, has found this out the hard way:

Zimbabwean newspaper editor Bill Saidi has been sent a bullet in the post with a note warning: "Watch Your Step".

Enclosed with the bullet was a copy of a cartoon from last Sunday's edition of The Standard showing three baboons laughing over an army salary slip.

The week before a story claimed that many soldiers are deserting the army and moving to South Africa to work as security guards for better pay.

Meanwhile, an effort designed to reduce the Mugabe regime's control over the media has been halted. The IWPR provides the details:

Zimbabwe’s embattled ZANU PF regime has demonstrated once again that it is in no hurry to loosen its iron grip on the media.

Just when a major reform was scheduled with the launch of an independent media regulator, comprising journalists and civil society representatives, Information Minister Paul Mangwana moved to wreck the initiative.

The official launch of the self-regulating Media Council of Zimbabwe, MCZ, was scheduled for January 26, but at the last minute Mangwana, who had said he would support such a body, performed a u-turn.

The minister told executive members of MAZ, the Media Association of Zimbabwe, that final approval of the MAZ-designed media council, would only be approved by President Robert Mugabe’s government once amendments had been made to the draconian Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, Aippa, to incorporate a voluntary and independent media council. This amounts to a near-permanent postponement since there are no current moves in government to amend Aippa.

Considering that silencing free expression has been essential in allowing Robert Mugabe to establish his autocratic rule, I doubt these circumstances will change anytime soon.

RSF Annual Press Survey

Reporters Sans Frontieres yesterday published their worldwide survey of press freedom in 2006. Here are some key passages from the summary:

“The report lists the worst violations in repressive countries, including major culprits North Korea, Eritrea, Cuba and Turkmenistan, but also looks at democracies, where progress needs to be made too,” the organisation says.

“A disturbingly record number of journalists and media workers were killed or thrown in prison around the world in 2006 and we are already concerned about 2007, as six journalists and four media assistants have been killed in January alone,” the report’s introduction says.

“But beyond these figures is the alarming lack of interest (and sometimes even failure) by democratic countries in defending the values they are supposed to incarnate."

“Almost everyone believes in human rights these days but amid the silences and behaviour on all sides, we wonder who now has the necessary moral authority to make a principled stand in favour of these freedoms.”

The publication by a Danish newspaper of cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed focused the world’s attention in 2006 on the issue of freedom of expression and respect for religious beliefs. Democratic countries did not defend Denmark, whose embassies were attacked, or the journalists who were threatened and arrested. Europe especially seemed to choose silence for fear of offending Arab or Muslims regimes.

(Emphasis added-DD)

Click here to access the full report (in PDF).

A Death Threat Down Under

Sadly, there are few places in the world where moderate and reformist Muslims are safe from the Islamist practice of censorship by death threat. As this January 31st press release from Reporters Sans Frontieres shows, the phenomenon extents even to Australia:

Yesterday, Reporters Without Borders wrote to attorney-general Philip Ruddock calling for urgent action in response to death threats against Al-Furat, a weekly serving Australia’s Iraqi community, by an anonymous caller claiming to belong to Al Qaeda. The letter asked Ruddock to take the threats seriously and to provide protection for the editor, Hussein Khoshnow, and his staff.

“We believe it is important that the Australian authorities should find out who is responsible for these threats as quickly as possible so that Khoshnow is able to carry on working without any problem,” the letter said.

An Iraqi of Kurdish origin who has lived in Australia since 1995, Khoshnow produces an Arabic and English-language secular newspaper with a circulation of about 20,000.

On 14 January, a man claiming to belong to the terrorist organisation Al-Qaeda left messages on Khoshnow’s answering machine in which he threatened to destroy the newspaper’s offices in Sydney and Melbourne, and to “massacre” Khoshnow and “all the Kurdish and Shiite Iraqis in Australia.”

After listening to the messages, Khoshnow reported the matter to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), which, he said, did not show much interest. Thereafter, the ASIO has not informed him of any progress with the case.

Khoshnow suspects the death threats were made because of his editorial support for Saddam Hussein’s execution and for keeping Australian troops in Iraq.

(Emphasis added-DD)

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Free Expression Under Threat on Campus

The Winter 2007 issue of City Journal has a brilliant essay by John Leo on the campus left's struggle against free speech:

Remember when the Right had a near-monopoly on censorship? If so, you must be in your sixties, or older. Now the champions of censorship are mostly on the left. And they are thickest on the ground in our colleges and universities. Since the late 1980s, what should be the most open, debate-driven, and tolerant sector of society has been in thrall to the diversity and political correctness that now form the aggressive secular religion of America’s elites.

The censors have only grown in power, elevating antidiscrimination rules above “absolutist” free-speech principles, silencing dissent with antiharassment policies, and looking away when students bar or disrupt conservative speakers or steal conservative newspapers. Operating under the tacit principle that “error has no rights,” an ancient Catholic theological rule, the new censors aren’t interested in debates or open forums. They want to shut up dissenters.

Leo provides a great overview of the issue, even noting how similar campus speech codes are to the European "hate speech" laws that have paved the way for Islamists to censor their critics on that continent. Please give it a read:

Free Inquiry? Not on Campus