Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith, today posted an intense condemnation of the western practice of censoring itself in regards to Islam and the terrorists who operate with its theocratic permission. What’s most interesting about Harris’ article are his personal anecdotes about censorship by the mainstream American press. Highly recommended reading.
As for infringements of my own speech, my first book, The End of Faith, almost did not get published for fear of offending the sensibilities of (probably non-reading) religious fanatics. W.W. Norton, which did publish the book, was widely seen as taking a risk–one probably attenuated by the fact that I am an equal-opportunity offender critical of all religious faith. However, when it came time to make final edits to the galleys of The End of Faith, many of the people I had thanked by name in my acknowledgments (including my agent at the time and my editor at Norton) independently asked to have their names removed from the book. Their concerns were explicitly for their personal safety.
Nature, arguably the most influential scientific journal on the planet, recently published a lengthy whitewash of Islam (Z. Sardar "Beyond the troubled relationship." Nature 448, 131-133; 2007). The author began, as though atop a minaret, by simply declaring the religion of Islam to be "intrinsically rational." He then went on to argue, amid a highly idiosyncratic reading of history and theology, that this rational religion’s current wallowing in the violent depths of unreason can be fully ascribed to the legacy of colonialism. After some negotiation, Nature also agreed to publish a brief response from me. What readers of my letter to the editor could not know, however, was that it was only published after perfectly factual sentences deemed offensive to Islam were expunged. I understood the editors’ concerns at the time: not only did they have Britain’s suffocating libel laws to worry about, but Muslim physicians and engineers in the UK had just revealed a penchant for suicide bombing. I was grateful that Nature published my letter at all.
In a thrillingly ironic turn of events, a shorter version of the very essay you are now reading was originally commissioned by the opinion page of Washington Post and then rejected because it was deemed too critical of Islam. Please note, this essay was destined for the opinion page of the paper, which had solicited my response to the controversy over Wilders’ film. The irony of its rejection seemed entirely lost on the Post, which responded to my subsequent expression of amazement by offering to pay me a "kill fee." I declined.
I could list other examples of encounters with editors and publishers, as can many writers, all illustrating a single fact: While it remains taboo to criticize religious faith in general, it is considered especially unwise to criticize Islam.
There is a reason for this, of course, which Harris identifies quite clearly – physical safety. Those who view the world with open eyes will not be surprised by his words.
Only Muslims hound and hunt and murder their apostates, infidels, and critics in the 21st century. There are, to be sure, reasons why this is so. Some of these reasons have to do with accidents of history and geopolitics, but others can be directly traced to doctrines sanctifying violence which are unique to Islam.
There are those who disagree, of course. Some point out episodes in the Jewish and Christian religions as evidence of a general religious hypocrisy. Others parrot the "Islam is Peace" line while desperately wishing it were so. Still others claim that Harris is racist and that I, by writing this post, am as well. Untrue. And yet…
And if anyone in this debate can be credibly accused of racism, it is the western apologists and "multiculturalists" who deem Arabs and Muslims too immature to shoulder the responsibilities of civil discourse. As Ayaan Hirsi Ali has pointed out, there is a calamitous form of "affirmative action" at work, especially in western Europe, where Muslim immigrants are systematically exempted from western standards of moral order in the name of paying "respect" to the glaring pathologies in their culture. Hirsi Ali has also observed that there is a quasi-racist double-think on display whenever western powers trumpet that "Islam is peace," all the while taking heroic measures to guard against the next occasion when the barbarians run amok in response to a film, cartoon, opera, novel, beauty pageant–or the mere naming of a teddy bear.
What is true is that actions speak louder than words. When western government and media institutions capitulate to terrorists by censoring the press and the citizenry, western societies are in effect admitting that they have neither the will nor the ability to counter Islamic terrorism’s corrosive effect on freedom and liberty.
Thomas Jefferson is quoted as saying, "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants." As unpleasant as this may be to bear it is the truth. As such it must be written about and repeated, regardless of who claims to be injured by the words. Denial, after all, is a personal choice.