Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Banning a Book-Banner

In a piece for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Aslan Doukaev notes a truly ironic development: One of the works of the late mass murdering book banning despot Ayatollah Khomeini is itself being banned, in Russia. Khomeini's most infamous act of censorship was, of course, his 1989 call for the murder of Satanic Verses' author Salman Rushdie. The regime he founded continues to ban books till this day:

This month, in an ironic twist that came on the 19th anniversary of the ayatollah's death on June 3, the late Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini's "Testament" was found subversive and banned in Russia. According to Russia's Islamic Committee, two young court experts concluded that the work, "addressed almost 30 years ago by a dying leader to the Iranian people" and translated into many languages and studied by Iranians and Iran specialists around the world, amounts to "an incitement to violence and reprisals, dangerous now for Russian citizens." On the basis of that ruling, "Testament" was added to the federal list of publications considered extremist and illegal under Russian law.

Leaving aside the quirks of fate, the ban is likely to infuriate many in Iran. The figure of Ayatollah Khomeini still commands respect across a wide spectrum of Iranian society. But more crucially, perhaps, the banning of "Testament" -- alongside some 150 other publications -- speaks volumes about the Russian state today. For years, the Kremlin has been accused of backsliding on democracy, resorting to indiscriminate violence in its domestic conflicts, rolling back the fundamental human rights of the Russian people. The list of banned materials is more tangible and irrefutable evidence of Russia's increasing encroachment on fundamental principles of democracy.

The growing list, moreover, reveals the innate fears and insecurity of the present leadership in Russia. Truly free and democratic states don't resort easily to restrictions on expression, however distasteful the material might seem to certain individuals, young or old, expert or layman.

Doukaev weakens his case by arguing that banning Khomeini's Testament is "likely to infuriate many in Iran". Frankly, so what. Those most likely to be infuriated are Islamist fanatics who are themselves censors and book banners. Plus, I think he exaggerates the degree to which Khomeini "still commands respect across a wide spectrum of Iranian society", considering the number of Iranians who wish to rid themselves of the Islamist autocracy he created. However, Doukaev is completely correct about both the futility of book banning and the dangerously authoritarian direction Russia is taking. You do not defeat censorship with more censorship.


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