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« Don't You Hate It When | Main | Knee-Jerk Liberalism »

Who Protects Freedom Of Speech?

I've been meaning to post on this topic, but Tigerhawk beat me to what I was going to say:

Comedy Central has, at least, been forthcoming about its reason for censoring "South Park":
Comedy Central's belief in the First Amendment has not wavered, despite the decision not to air an image of Muhammad. Our decision was made not to mute the voices of Trey and Matt or because we value one religion over any other. This decision was based solely on concern for public safety in light of recent world events.

With the power of freedom of speech and expression also comes the obligation to use that power in a responsible way. Much as we wish it weren't the case, times have changed and, as witnessed by the intense and deadly reaction to the publication of the Danish cartoons, decisions cannot be made in a vacuum without considering what impact they may have on innocent individuals around the globe.

We appreciate the transparency, because it prevents us from having to imagine the reasons Comedy Central might have had. This admission clarifies the issue. Comedy Central censored "South Park" because it feared that Muslim extremists would do violence if it did not.

Now, businesses like Comedy Central and Border's Books and the major newspapers have every reason to want to avoid violence, so it is understandable that threatened or potential violence motivates them to censor themselves. They are fiduciaries. But they cannot also claim to stand for freedom of speech. That requires courage, and above all the willingness to stare down the threat of violence.

[Emphasis Tigerhawk's, but I agree]

Yes. The point is that Borders (and Comedy Central) had a perfect right to abide by their fiduciary responsibilities to their shareholders, in not putting themselves in a position of being sued by someone injured by violent muslims as a result of their book and magazine sales. But when they do that, they forfeit any right to claim to be upholders of free speech. I was upset less by Borders' actions, than by their unwillingness to be forthright about their reason for them, which would have provided more insight into the enemy that we face.

There are some other interesting points made in the comments to Tigerhawk's post. How much responsibility does Borders have to protect their own customers, versus the responsibility of the government to do so? Would a plaintiff have a legitimate (and more important, in these days of nonsensical and whimsical jury decisions in civil cases) case that Borders was irresponsible in selling magazines that published cartoons that some violent people would find offensive?

On this holiest day of the Christian calendar, these are useful questions to think about and ask. Will CAIR put up guards outside of Borders to protect freedom of expression in this country? If not, why not? And if not, what does that tell us about where their primary loyalty lies? What part of their name is more important to them, the American (the "A" part of the acronym) or the Islamic (the "I" part)? If the answer is the latter--that it is not allowed to depict Mohammed, let alone insult him--is more important than the right of free expression, this tells us much, I think.

If we are to be cowed against criticism of a religion (uniquely of Islam) by violent threats, but free to have "Piss Christ," and the Middle Eastern press (hardly a free one) can run cartoons reiterating over and over the blood libel against the Jews and compare them to Nazis, what does that tell us about Islam itself? Can we live with it, not as it purports to be, but (as revealed by this episode) it really is, and maintain our own values?

[Update on Monday morning]

There is some discussion in comments about the First Amendment, and whether or not Borders has a responsibility to enforce it. That's not what this is about. The First Amendment is an example of what's being discussed here, not the basis of it. What is at stake is not a constitutional right, but a fundamental principle of the Enlightenment.

Does, or does not, Borders stand for freedom of expression? If they don't, if they have been cowed by some combination of Islamic and legal threats, then they should forthrightly make a very public and loud statement to that effect, describing exactly what went into their decision. While it's true that, as one commenter noted, they have been transparent in this, in terms of email explanations, I want them to be more than that. If they purport to support this freedom, I expect them to be incandescent.

Posted by Rand Simberg at April 16, 2006 06:24 PM
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Help freedom stand taller
Excerpt: Transterrestrial Musings comments, "The point is that Borders (and Comedy Central) had a perfect right to abide by their fiduciary responsibilities to their shareholders, in not putting themselves in a position of being sued by someone injured by violent
Weblog: sbw
Tracked: April 17, 2006 08:55 AM

"Can we live with it, not as it purports to be, but (as revealed by this episode) it really is, and maintain our own values?"

No. And we have already seen our "leaders" and institutions betray those values.

The only way to save the west is to encourage Muslims who want to practice Islam to leave. Delegitimizing the religion (e.g., removing tax exemptions) is one way to start firmly but peacefully encouraging emmigration.

Posted by lmg at April 16, 2006 07:14 PM

Freedom of the Press only comes in when they're criticized for being too offensive. It doesn't require you to offend people who might blow you up.

If I were a Muslim I'd be as offended by what they did air as I would by a cartoon of the prophet, but maybe the angry imams only cared about intimidating us, not the dignity of the Prophet.

Posted by AST at April 16, 2006 08:36 PM

I just wonder when some of the unbalanced fringe fanatics that hang out on the far edge of just about every major religion start getting the message that the way to prevent "blasphemous" speech (as defined by the fringe nutcases, of course) is to make credible threats aginst thaose who publish them. To be credible, of course, you must carry out a few. Giving in to the jihadis is opening more than one Pandora's box.

Posted by Jim Bennett at April 16, 2006 08:48 PM

I went to Borders today. At the entrance a display at the front was filled with Gospel of Judas books and the Di Vinci Code, both of which question traditional Christianity. Happy Easter.

Then I went to the religion section and saw the top shelf cleared off and filled with copies of the Koran, just as the Muslims insist.

How then, shall we live?

Posted by john at April 16, 2006 09:02 PM

Concern for public safety never stopped Comedy Central from running the pre-9/11 episode of South Park, "Super Best Friends," that depicts Mohammed and other religious figures as super heroes fighting the evil forces of David Blaine. Nobody made a big deal about the "blasphemy" then.

I wonder if Comedy Central will ever play "Super Best Friends" again, or if it will run in syndication. I seriously doubt it.

Posted by Impossible Scissors at April 16, 2006 09:20 PM

This should be seen as a a major embarrassment for Muslims. Borders and Comedy Central didn't surrender out of respect for Muslims. They did so because they believe Muslims have a greater propensity to be foaming-at-the-mouth crazy.

It's rather pathetic when you think about it.

Posted by Ion at April 16, 2006 09:33 PM

"Freedom of the Press only comes in when they're criticized for being too offensive. It doesn't require you to offend people who might blow you up."

Yes, it DOES. Otherwise, you have abandoned free speech entirely -- because anyone can silence you by threatening violence.

I cannot stress this point too strongly. Western civilization MUST NOT back down in the face of these threats. If it does, we have told the barbarians that they can dictate terms to us whenever they like.

Do you really think this will end with a few cartoons being censored? The Islamic thugs will make the same threats the next time they want a concession from the West. They'll continue using this tactic for as long as it works. And it will work until the West says "NO!"

Posted by Pat at April 16, 2006 10:08 PM

When I first heard the Borders controversy, I was initially appalled at Borders. Later--and I think you bring it up in Border's obligations--I had to wonder what trouble Borders et all would get into from their own government.

Not that black heli's would come for the CEO of a bookstore, but look, over the past 15 years, our own government has not exactly stood arm in arm with American corporations. Indeed, the government has even sacrificed their own when offense was perceived (remember 'niggardly'?). If riots started from Borders, would the government, our government, start putting the wood to the rioters, or would they say Borders is to blame/partially to blame/insensitive? I know the Clinton WS answer, and I fear the GWB WS answer would be only slightly stronger.

Well, perhaps the MSM would rush to Borders defen--oh never mind...

Once I get a straight and demonstrable example by our government that it supports freedom of speech and will punish those who threaten it, not multiculti freedom to not be offended, then I'd feel more comfortable as a business.

Posted by jkrank at April 17, 2006 12:48 AM

Excuse me, but I'd like to inject some semblance of proportion into this "Cartoon" debate.

You don't have to show Mohammed or even get particularly specific about Islam to get the point over that many of the powerful despots in the middle east are dangerous facist fanatics. So I don't think not showing the cartoons is going to frame our foreign policy debate.

OTOH, the main point of the first amendment is that political speech bearing on our own government will not be infringed. McCain-Feingold does a h*ll of a lot more to put the kabosh on what we can say and do about our own government, and discussing it is a h*ll of a lot more relevant to freedom in this country than Borders and the Cartoon Network cowarice in the face of the Islamic pressure.

Posted by K at April 17, 2006 01:11 AM

Borders is perfectly transparent about why they are doing what they are doing. In response to an e-mail expressing my displeasure about the Free Inquiry suppression, they sent me the following:

Thank you for your expression of concern about our decision not to carry the issue of Free Inquiry magazine featuring cartoons depicting Muhammad. Borders is committed to our customers' right to choose what to read and what to buy and to the First Amendment right of Free Inquiry to publish the cartoons. In this particular case, we decided not to stock this issue in our stores because we place a priority on the safety and security of our customers and our employees.

We believe that carrying this issue presented a challenge to that priority.

We value your thoughts and sincerely appreciate that you invested your time to tell us how you feel about the issue. I can assure you that our management team gave careful deliberation to this decision and considered all sides of the issue before reaching this conclusion. As always, we are interested in customer
feedback about our choices and while we know you do not agree with our position, we hope you can understand the challenge of balancing the needs of our customers, employees and our communities.

At your request, we have canceled your Borders Rewards Membership. Your account and unused rewards will be canceled, and you will also be unsubscribed from all emails you currently receive from Borders and/or Waldenbooks. If this is a mistake, please contact Customer Care at 1-800-443-7359.


Borders Customer Care

Posted by KRB at April 17, 2006 04:16 AM

The hypocrisy shown by the Cowardly Channel was beyond outrageous. The don't show Mahommed but show Jesus defecating on the President. So they are scared of Muslims but not Christians. Where's St. George when you need him?

Posted by Bill Maron at April 17, 2006 04:35 AM

Believe it or not, one source of tremendous pride in being American has been walking visitors from places like China into an American book store, where they see an acre of books critical of the very government which is charged with protecting the freedom to write such books.

These days, even more so, when the front tables are stack with vicious anti-Bush jeremiads. I ask them to imagine a store in Bejing stacked with books accusing Hu Jintao of everything from incompetence to genocide.

I now wonder when books critical of anyone, any group or any country capable of threatening us will disappear -- making our bookstores more like the ones I see in Beijing.

Posted by cosmo at April 17, 2006 05:27 AM

Freedom of speech refers to the right to speak without government interference. This issue has nothing to do with freedom of speech.The government is not stopping Comedy Central or Borders from doing anything related to the cartoons.

It does have to do with courage. But since when do we look toward corporations for courage? The concept is silly.

Posted by brahma at April 17, 2006 05:32 AM

Bill said part of what I wanted to say just above. But maybe what we need is a little Christian Conservative rioting. So that we can count as worthy of not being offended. So any group, business, agency etc. will think about their content or product before they just put it out there. So someone somewhere will think of the possible hurt or offense which may be taken by the Christian Conservatives.

Seriously, lets all march into the local offending channel, business, agency etc. and turn over desks and break windows, burn some flags, burn some effigees all that "outraged group du jour" stuff.

Then and only then will the far left anti-American-pro-everyone-else crowd go, " Uh oh, they finally got pi$$ed off. I knew it would happen, I just thought they'd wait for their GOD to do their dirty work."

I expect God is busy watching the universe un-fold, so we should be able to get a couple of thousand of us together to raid the DVD factory where they are pressing out copies of Broke Back Mountain, Trans America, any Pauly Shore movies, you get the picture. Lets all go out to Ang Lee's house and make a big poop in his shrubs, kill his dogs, scare his wife and kids. Or maybe drive past Babs and Jimmy Brolands house and blow our dual air horns at 4:00 A.M. everyday for a week, or better blow up their house! Let's set fire to the Celebrity Scientology Center, they are offensive to my ethics and John Travolta said bad things about using prescription drugs, and I own pharmaceutical stocks!!

That's the kind of action the far left anti-American-pro-everyone-else crowd likes and understands, and will suppport. They willingly suppport and back any barely connected, totally uninformed, knee jerk bomber tactics every day, the morons.

Posted by Steve at April 17, 2006 05:39 AM

By giving in to threats from the islamofascists, Comedy Central, Borders, the NY Times, et al, are NOT preventing violence. They are perpetuating the power over free speech that the imams have bestowed upon themselves. Sure, YOU dodged the bullet, guys, but that doesn't mean it won't hit somebody. How principled and concerned for innocent life you are.

But by not facing the terrorists down, you have given them a blank check for censorship-by-threat. What's next: 'if you print articles denouncing the Darfur genocide, we will [do something to] your offices'? 'If you criticize the mad mullahs of Iran, your lobby will run red'? Because that's coming next, and it's weak-kneed media like you that have given them that power over yourselves.

I guess the blogosphere will have to take up the slack. Again.

Posted by Korla Pundit at April 17, 2006 05:50 AM

> Freedom of speech refers to the right to speak without government interference. This issue has nothing to do with freedom of speech.The government is not stopping Comedy Central or Borders from doing anything related to the cartoons.

This has everything to do with free speech. The government has to do more than "not stop" people from speaking. The government must "protect" your right to speak, from any hate group that wants to silence you.

Posted by Korla Pundit at April 17, 2006 07:13 AM

The government must "protect" your right to speak, from any hate group that wants to silence you.

Hear, hear!

The government went in with everything it had to protect the fundamental civil rights of black people during the 1960s, on this very principle.

Posted by McGehee at April 17, 2006 07:43 AM

"That's the kind of action the far left anti-American-pro-everyone-else crowd likes and understands, and will suppport. They willingly suppport and back any barely connected, totally uninformed, knee jerk bomber tactics every day, the morons."

Sorry, Steve: the incoherence of the far left stems from its principles being rooted primarily in hatred of Christianity. Sins committed by Christians are always evidence of our depravity; sins committed against Christians are always evidence that we deserved it.

Posted by craig at April 17, 2006 08:12 AM

> Sorry, Steve: the incoherence of the far left stems from its principles being rooted primarily in hatred of Christianity

And that's because their real beef is with their mean old Daddy, with whom they never could come to terms, even though he may be long dead. And it's George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Dick Cheney, Rudy Giuliani, Donald Rumsfeld and all those other "mean" people who remind them of Daddy.

Posted by Korla Pundit at April 17, 2006 08:43 AM

We wrote Borders and Comedy Central to challenge them to exercise that wonderful American freedom -- the freedom to change one's mind. That's what we did.

At first our local, family-owned daily newspaper came out strongly in favor of the freedom to print the Danish Mohammed cartoons -- but believed it unnecessary to publish them. Later on, Borders and then Comedy Central overlooked newspapers' stong editorial stand to see, instead, that newspapers like ours did not, themselves, print the cartoons. To correct any misunderstanding, we changed our mind and printed a new editorial with the Danish cartoons and others. See: Courage to stand up to thugs.

Democracy is powerful precisely because it allows continuous peaceful change -- so people can change their minds when they find a better way. Let's see Borders and Comedy Central change their minds and their unfortunate earlier decisions. Individual courageous decisions help freedom stand taller.

Posted by sbw at April 17, 2006 08:48 AM

I should mention that I have been to four Border's stores in the Detroit area in the last two weeks and in each of them the Koran is on a middle or lower shelf. In the two with which I am most familiar the Muslim interest section has not been moved and in no case is the Koran on a top shelf.

I've also been to a couple of local Barnes and Noble stores and the current issue of Free Inquiry is in stock, yet I saw no demonstrations or violence.

Posted by Alex Bensky at April 17, 2006 09:02 AM


My own local newspaper (The News-Press in Fort Myers) also published the cartoons (all of them), along with an excellent editorial about why they did so. Some of our people are still standing tall.

Posted by Kathy K at April 17, 2006 03:32 PM

Walmart is the worst censor on the planet, particularly music.

I have no problem with proffit institutions like CC, and Borders making a decision like this, as long as they are honest about the reasons. They are proffit institutions that want to make as much money as possible, it has nothing to do with ideology or social moores (spelling?) Walmart made that mistake after the Tipper Gore anti-music-speech carnival starring her husband. Walmart finaly admitted that they want to cater to the whole family, and feel that might be upset if they offend even a small portion of their customer base, and everything became okay.

However, Comedy Central is not just worried about public safety. They have pulled the Virgin Mary episode after the fact, they have pulled the Scieontology episode after the fact because some people were offended. That gives lie to the idea that CC is still about the practice of free speech, they just pulled the mohammed episode because of "safety."

While safety is a reasonable argument for the mohammed episode, it is not a reasonable argument for the Virgin Mary episode, or the Scientology episode. They should replay all three episodes, and include a disclaimer JUST for the mohammed episode saying "this episode is edited cuz muslims are friggen crazy" That would earn back their first ammendment credibility.

Posted by wickedpinto at April 17, 2006 04:30 PM

So Walmart and Borders and some dumbass TV guys won't publish the cartoons? Why don't all of you brave guys and dolls publish them? Download them, have them printed on nice big posters and post them on your front lawn. Risk your own lives and families and your wealth and honor.

Until you do that you're just another bunch of hot air artists, who should shut up.

Freedom flows from the individual up. Post the cartoons, load your gun and enforce your own freedom of speech.

Posted by Arminius at April 17, 2006 08:13 PM

abraham, moses and mohammed fought gods who had power.

Mohammed himself created these lies so he could become a king of sorts. abraham and moses wanted to be left alone.

If there is only ONE god? how does mohammed explain the miracles of other gods? The old testament IS a multi-theistic text, because every prophet opposed supernatural intervention, only mohammed CONQUERED them, without the assistance of god! AMAZING
is that cuz he was the last prophet, or because he was the best conquerer?

After all, Jesus denied his own miracles, and in his gospels, no other miracle was accomplished by anyone but jesus.

Who does mohammed hate? and who do you?

Posted by wickedpinto at April 17, 2006 10:43 PM

Risk your own lives and families and your wealth and honor.

At least you're not denying that cowardice is their reason for not standing up for freedom of speech. Sounds like it's also your reason.

Posted by McGehee at April 18, 2006 08:16 AM

I believe we're all missing a bigger picture here. South Park proved a point. For all the talk about intolerant Christians from every media source around, South Park made it clear that Christians are the MOST tolerant group of people anywhere. Comedy Central edited out the Muhammad section but ran the crapping Jesus section knowing full well that there would be no violence from Christians. Christians are a pretty quiet group, all in all, and are more prone to protest by releiving companies of the troublesome burden of counting their cash. Perhaps Christians are on to something. Perhaps Comedy Central's would get the point when their advertisers complain to them that we, the viewer, are not buying the products they advertise during that time slot.

I tip my hat to South Park though, proving that we have nothing to fear from Christians and everything to fear from Muslims and the "media". Two groups who have zero tolerance for the free expression of free thought.

Posted by SJR at April 18, 2006 07:38 PM

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