When George Orwell was struggling to find a publisher for Animal Farm, he was repeatedly turned down on the grounds that the book would offend the Soviet Union. One publisher wrote to Orwell that he had been dissuaded from publishing the book by an important official in the Ministry of Information (an agency that would become the Ministry of Truth in his novel, 1984) who had told him that publishing such a book would be ill-advised at this time. That official was, incidentally, a Soviet spy.
The publisher went on to say that the book might be acceptable if it applied generally to dictators, but not specifically to the USSR. Finally the publisher added, “It would be less offensive if the predominant caste in the fable were not pigs. I think the choice of pigs as the ruling caste will no doubt give offence to many people, and particularly to anyone who is a bit touchy, as undoubtedly the Russians are.”
Change around a few names and this is exactly the rejection letters that courageous books critical of Islam have received. It’s fine to make general criticisms of religious fanaticism, so long as those criticisms are universally applied, and do not offend those touchy people who religious fanaticism occasionally expresses itself in dangerous ways.
In a generally deleted preface to Animal Farm, Orwell wrote, “The sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is largely voluntary. Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban. Anyone who has lived long in a foreign country will know of instances of sensational items of news — being kept right out of the British press, not because the Government intervened but because of a general tacit agreement that ‘it wouldn’t do’ to mention that particular fact.”
There are quite a few sensational facts and news items that are kept out or minimized in our own media because it would not do to mention them. There are rarely any government officials dictating this censorship, certainly in the United States there are no legal codes that make it mandatory, but this censorship is voluntary. It consists of people censoring themselves, of publications censoring people out of fear of violence, of publishers who feel that this is an ill-advised time to stir up tensions and of a larger body of liberal thinkers who feel that we should sympathize with Islam and ignore any of its violent and supremacist activities.
“At this moment what is demanded by the prevailing orthodoxy is an uncritical admiration of Soviet Russia. Everyone knows this, nearly everyone acts on it. Any serious criticism of the Soviet régime, any disclosure of facts which the Soviet government would prefer to keep hidden, is next door to unprintable,” Orwell wrote in his Animal Farm preface titled, Freedom of the Press.
“Hardly anyone will print an attack on Stalin, but it is quite safe to attack Churchill… throughout five years of war, during two or three of which we were fighting for national survival, countless books, pamphlets and articles advocating a compromise peace have been published without interference… So long as the prestige of the USSR is not involved, the principle of free speech has been reasonably well upheld.”
So too we still have freedom of the speech. We are encouraged to attack our own government, though not the liberal wings of it, but it is still a safer thing to do, so long as the prestige of Islam is not involved. Only when Islam is offended, does the principle of free speech come apart.
It was always safe to attack Bush, but an attack, even on Bin Laden, was considered tacky at best. And an attack on more “moderate” figures, like Tariq Ramadan, was borderline unprintable. While it was ridiculously easy to publish an essay depicting Bush as a war-crazed chimp invading Iraq for oil, Haliburton and Christian fundamentalism, the cultural elites insisted that doing so was an act of great political courage. Meanwhile publishing an essay critical of Islamic figures was next to impossible and dangerously perilous. And those same elites treated it as a despicable abuse of freedom of speech.