Index on Censorship Meets the Enemy Within

Muhammad cartoons - AFP Getty.jpgJytte Klausen's excellent analysis of the Muhammad cartoon controversy, "The Cartoons that Shook the World," has once again fallen victim to myths about the cartoons -- and the dangers of publishing them  -- that Klausen so incisively debunks.  First her publisher, Yale University Press, refused to print the cartoons or any images of Muhammad.  Then, in a startling act of cognitive dissonance, Index on Censorship declined to include the cartoons alongside an interview with Klausen in its magazine.  The interview focused critically on Yale's decision to censor the cartoons - but that's a decision Index, "Britain's leading organisation promoting freedom of expression," has now effectively endorsed.

   
In doing so, Index on Censorship has signaled its unwillingness to defend free speech when it is most endangered - by fear of reprisals from governments or mobs.  In this case, Klausen believes, the fears are unfounded: "A reasonable risk assessment would take into consideration that (a) the silly things have been reprinted many more times with no consequences than the opposite, and (b) the bad guys cited as the reason for not printing them already are already in prison," she remarked in an email.  "The presumption that there is an endless supply of combustible Muslim terrorists ready to pounce on publishers is both false and malignant."  Klausen is "flabbergasted that the board of Index on Censorship has convinced itself that our society is permeated by terrorism and we are compelled to sacrifice core values to an uncertain and ill-defined threshold of toleration set by the terrorist."
   
Precisely what dangers were posed by publication of the cartoons, dissenting Index board member Kenan Malik wondered: "(W)here was the threat? Index certainly received none because no one knew that we were going to publish. Nor is there any reason to believe that there would have been danger had the cartoons not been pre-emptively censored."  By surrendering to unsubstantiated fears, Index has surrendered its credibility as a free speech advocate, Malik lamented: "We cannot in good conscience criticise others for taking decisions that we ourselves have taken and for the same reasons ... in refusing to publish the cartoons, Index is not only helping strengthen the culture of censorship, it is also weakening its authority to challenge that culture."  
   
Index could also learn a lot from cartoons:  As Pogo said, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

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Wendy Kaminer is an author, lawyer, and civil libertarian. She is the author of I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional.

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