Well, that’s nice, but it’s all beside the point. It doesn’t matter a damn what the Koran says or whether the novel is offensive to Muslims or not. The very need for such apologias and the very fear felt by Random House condemn the violent principles of the gangsters they’re appeasing. No one defended Dan Brown’s massive bestseller The Da Vinci Code by saying, “Oh, Dan was trying to build bridges to the Christian community.” The Da Vinci Code spends its nearly five hundred pages trashing the central beliefs of the Christian community. But for all the hysteria in intellectual circles over fundamentalist Christians, no one had to cower before them or make mealy-mouthed excuses.
That’s exactly as it should be. Listen, Christianity is central to my life, but if you want to write a novel attacking it or dump a crucifix in urine and call it art, my feeling is: knock yourself out, you brave thing, you. I’ll argue with you here, and again at the gates of heaven, in perfect faith that the truth will win out in a free market of ideas.
Because I am not a citizen of the world. I’m a citizen of the United States of America. And one of the big advantages to that citizenship is the Constitution and its protections of free speech and freedom of the press. That Constitution and those protections did not waft down to earth on a shaft of light as a result of God’s special love for us. Men, in perilous mental fight, wrested them out of specific intellectual traditions, classical and Judeo-Christian both. Many have defended those rights on the battlefield and many have died in their name. Many are defending and dying for them this very day.
Publishers — whether of books, newspapers, blogs, or anything else — are among the chief protectors and exercisers of our free discourse. When they bow to bullying gangsters — whether those gangsters have some sort of religious motivation or not — they are ceding intellectual ground made sacred by the blood of patriots.
Random House and the New York Times and all the rest have every right to be afraid. I’m afraid too. How can we not be? We’re artists and intellectuals under threat from violent thugs. But in this ongoing jihad against our rights to publish and speak, it is the life of the mind that is the battleground. Unlikely soldiers though we are, we have to make a stand.