February 8, 2012


The grand posture of writers in liberal democracies is that they are the moral equivalents of dissidents in repressive regimes. Loud-mouthed newspaper columnists claim to ‘speak truth to power’. Novelists, artists, playwrights and comedians announce their willingness to transgress boundaries. Their publishers look for controversy like boozers look for brawls because they know that few marketing strategies beat the claim that a courageous iconoclast is challenging establishments and shattering taboos.

To maintain the illusion that they are part of some kind of radical underground, intellectuals must practise a deceit. They can never admit to their audience that fear of violent reprisals, ostracism or crippling financial penalties keeps them away from subjects that ought to concern them – and their fellow citizens.

Although it is impossible to count the books authors have abandoned, radical Islam is probably the greatest cause of self-censorship in the West today. When Ayatollah Khomeini proclaimed a fatwa against Salman Rushdie in 1989, censorship took the form of outright bans. Frightened publishers would not touch David Caute’s novel satirising the Islamist reaction to The Satanic Verses, for instance. They ran away from histories and plays about the crisis as well because they did not want a repeat of the terror Rushdie and his publishers at Penguin had experienced.

Such overt censorship continues.

Read the whole thing. And note that when you cave to such threats, you encourage more of the same.

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