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Canada's Largest Retail Bookstore Bows To Fear of Anti-Cartoon Demonstrations,

and removes from its shelves the current issue of Harper's Magazine — the issue that reprints the cartoons in the context of an article by Art Spiegelman, the author of Maus and other graphic novels.

The cartoons are at the center of one of the most important censorship debates of this decade. Seeing them is necessary to evaluate the debate. Harper's is one of the leading general-interest magazines in North America. Art Spiegelman is one of the top cartoonists now living. And yet the fear of demonstrations — which presumably refers to the fear of violent demonstrations — apparently led Canada's largest retail bookstore to buckle. Sad.

From The Toronto Globe and Mail:

Canada's largest retail bookseller has removed all copies of the June issue of Harper's Magazine from its 260 stores, claiming an article by New York cartoonist Art Spiegelman could foment protests similar to those that occurred this year in reaction to the publication in a Danish newspaper of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed.

Indigo Books and Music took the action this week when its executives noticed that the 10-page Harper's article, titled Drawing Blood, reproduced all 12 cartoons first published last September by Jyllands-Posten (The Morning Newspaper).

The article also contains five cartoons, including one by Mr. Spiegelman and two by Israelis, "inspired" by an Iranian newspaper's call in February for an international Holocaust cartoon contest "to test the limits of Western tolerance of free speech."

It's unclear what part, if any, the five cartoons played in the Indigo ban; phone calls to its Toronto headquarters were not returned yesterday. In 2001, Indigo founder and CEO Heather Reisman ordered all copies of Adolph Hitler's Mein Kampf pulled from stores, describing the book as "hate literature." Two years later, she helped found the powerful lobby group the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy.

In a memo obtained by The Globe and Mail that was e-mailed to Indigo managers yesterday about "what to do if customers question Indigo's censorship" of Harper's, employees are told to say that "the decision was made based on the fact that the content about to be published has been known to ignite demonstrations around the world. Indigo [and its subsidiaries] Chapters and Coles will not carry this particular issue of the magazine but will continue to carry other issues of this publication in the future." ...

If you have more information on this story, please post it in the comments. Thanks to reader John Thacker for the pointer.

PersonFromPorlock:
When western civil society increasingly acts out of fear of Islamic fundamentalists, I think we have to say that the War on Terror has been lost, regardless of the outcome of the battle for Iraq.
5.27.2006 2:13pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
Given the previous acts by this same bookstore I am far from convinced that the real explanation is fear of demonstrations. It is quite possible the founder just finds these publications offensive, doesn't want to carry them and the demonstration gives a good excuse.

I don't like private entities behaving in this matter and will make a point of never buying anything form Indigo (though I would likely never have done so anyway) but I think it is a little overboard to suggest that this is a result of intimidation.
5.27.2006 2:26pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
LogicNazi: So the theory that you describe it is that:

(1) Indigo's founders just personally disapprove of any publication of the Mohammed cartoons -- even in the context of serious discussion and criticism by one of North America's foremost experts on the genre.

(2) They then turn around and lie to their customers about their motivations, rather than admitting the truth (as you suspect it might be).

Why is that explanation more plausible than taking the store at its word?
5.27.2006 3:00pm
Michael B (mail):
One can make a prudential argument in support of this self-censoring Canadian bookstore, it's not over yet, as this piece from Nigeria all too pointedly reveals. Excerpt:

"The religious violence first broke out last Saturday in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, when a Muslim protest against Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad ran out of control and 28 mostly Christian people were killed.

"But the violence has taken on a logic of its own in Africa's most populous country, which is divided roughly equally between Muslims in the north and Christians in the south. Religious violence has killed thousands over the past six years."

On the other hand forwarding a "Hear no evil, See no evil, Speak no evil" defense of those in the MSM and peripheral outlets - who are in fact taking a self-censoring course - cannot be taken seriously. Realities remain relevant.

(And the move, in the referenced article, to "religious violence" is telling of a common, even ubiquitous, editorial mindset wherein editors deem themselves to be the gatekeepers of knowledge itself. It might more aptly be labeled "existential violence" given the fact that people in general - whether anti-religious, religious or areligious - tend to dislike mayhem and murder committed against their persons. Or, from a different angle, when did editors ever refer to violence and terror initiated by Soviet and Chinese sponsored forces during the Cold War as being atheistic violence or anti-theistic violence or secular violence? Intended rhetorically only since the answer is obvious enough, but it pointedly reflects the self-authorizing and self-regarding mindset of editors and other "intellectuals" and guardians of "the true," "the good" and all epistemic reference points in general, and not only as pertains to the social/political sphere.)
5.27.2006 6:19pm
Michael B (mail):
5.27.2006 6:22pm
Ian G. (mail):
Although I don't agree with them at least they are being consistent. They didn't carry the issue of The Western Standard magazine that had the cartoons in it either.

A poll is being taken on the CTV website right now (11pm EST) and so far most people seem to disagree with Indigo's actions.
5.28.2006 12:47am
Lev:
Doesn't Canadanistan have a law that makes it illegal to offend anyone?
5.28.2006 12:50am
Ken Arromdee (mail):
Eugene, I don't think you should dismiss the possibility that Indigo was just offended and used the danger as an excuse. As the newspaper article points out, Indigo had already taken Mein Kampf off the shelves on the grounds of offense. I think that such actions make it more plausible that offense is the true reason for removal of other items.
5.28.2006 3:46am
Porkchop (mail):
Here's an interesting discussion (to me, at least) from the Pew Forum of Islam and the West, the Danish cartoons, Islamic Law, Wahabbism, Iraq, Iran, and more by Bernard Lewis, Professor Emeritus, Princeton University: Lewis puts matters in historical perspective, as well as discussing the traditional application to Islamic law to something like the Danish cartoons.
5.28.2006 11:19am
Porkchop (mail):
For some reason the URL didn't post. It is: http://pewforum.org/events/index.php?EventID=107
5.28.2006 11:20am
Eugene Volokh (www):
Ken Arromdee: So they're lying to their customers about their true motivation, and dishonestly blaming hypothetical rampaging Muslims, even though they're not really worried about the prospect of extremist Muslim violence? All to avoid fessing up that they just find the cartoons offensive -- something they werequite willing to do as to Mein Kampf? That theory seems, if anything, even less flattering to the bookstore than is the bookstore's own explanation.
5.28.2006 5:45pm
Michael B (mail):
The talk by Bernard Lewis with an extended, followup discussion, recommended above, is superb, a lode of info and penetrating insight from beginning to end, wideranging as well. There's no single salient point, but the focus upon Iraq and democracy, after a question by Massimo Calabresi halfway into the piece, is worth an excerpt, emphases added:

"A lot of things are being said about Islam now. There is a view, for example, that could be summed up this way: These people are incapable of decent, civilized, open government. Whatever we do, they will be ruled by corrupt tyrants, therefore, the only aim of foreign policy should be to ensure that they are friendly tyrants rather than hostile tyrants. ...

"I would say that this is a totally false approach because to say that they are incapable of anything else is simply a falsification of history. What we have now come to regard as typical of Middle Eastern regimes is not typical of the past. The regime of Saddam Hussein, the regime of Hafiz al Assad, this kind of government, this kind of society, has no roots either in the Arab or in the Islamic past. It is due — and let me be quite specific and explicit — it is due to an importation from Europe, which comes in two phases."

...

"... even more deadly, in the traditional society there were many, many limits on the autocracy, the ruler. The whole Islamic political tradition is strongly against despotism. Traditional Islamic government is authoritarian, yes, but it is not despotic. On the contrary, there is a quite explicit rejection of despotism. And this wasn't just in theory; it was in practice too because in Islamic society, there were all sorts of established orders in society that acted as a restraining factor. ...

"There is a wonderful quote I like to use; it is the letter written in 1786 by the French ambassador in Istanbul — three years before the French revolution — He is trying to explain why he is not making good progress with his assignment. And he says, here things are not as in France where the king is sole master and does as he pleases; here the sultan has to consult with all kinds of people, with all kinds of holders of office, and even with retired, former holders of office. And it's true; that is how it was. All of that disappeared with the process of modernization, which, as I say, strengthened the government and weakened or eliminated the previous limiting factors.

"The second, really deadly phase came — and here I can date it precisely in the year 1940. In 1940, the government of France decided to surrender and, in effect, changed sides in the war. The greater part of the colonial empire was beyond the reach of the Axis, and the governors therefore had a free choice: Vichy or de Gaulle. The overwhelming majority chose Vichy, including — and this is what concerns us specifically — the governor, high commissioner, he was called, of the French-mandated territory of Syria-Lebanon. So, Syria-Lebanon was wide open to the Nazis, and they moved in on a large scale, not with troops, because that would have been too noticeable, but with propaganda of every kind. It was then the roots of Ba'athism were laid and the first organizations were formed, which ultimately developed into the Ba'ath Party.

"It was then that the Nazi style of ideology and government became known, eagerly embraced simply because it was anti-Western rather than because of inherent attraction. From Syria, they succeeded in spreading it to Iraq, where they even set up a Nazi-style government for a while, headed by Rashid Ali. It was possible to deal with that, and they were driven out of the Middle East. But after the war, the Western allies also left and the Soviets moved in, taking the place of the Nazis as a champion against the West. To switch from the Nazi to the communist model required only minor adjustments."

Also, Fleming Rose of Jyllands-Posten on the cartoons and Europe's response. h/t Atlas
5.28.2006 9:58pm