Thursday, March 30, 2006

Borders Indictment

Many commentators, including some whom I truly respect e.g. Tim Blair and Glenn Reynolds, have faulted Borders and Waldenbooks for their refusal to carry a magazine, the Free Inquiry, because it contains the cartoons of Mohammed. I personally disagree with the criticism. The role of maintaining a peaceful society and of protecting citizens from violence falls to the government (via its two enforcement agencies -- the police in domestic affairs and the military in foreign affairs) not to corporations. It is well known that until now all those who have carried depictions of Mohammed have been subject to threats by rabid Islamists and yet (as I argue more fully here) no government has properly stepped up to defend its citizens against these threats. Thus I think it’s ludicrous to demand that disarmed corporations shoulder the cost and burden of fighting militant Islamists when the agency to which they look to for protection (and to which they pay substantial taxes), viz. their own government, refuses to do so.

The Phoenix said it best when they explained why they wouldn’t publish the cartoons: “Out of fear of retaliation from the international brotherhood of radical and bloodthirsty Islamists who seek to impose their will on those who do not believe as they do. This is, frankly, our primary reason for not publishing any of the images in question. Simply stated, we are being terrorized, and as deeply as we believe in the principles of free speech and a free press, we could not in good conscience place the men and women who work at the Phoenix and its related companies in physical jeopardy.” Given the abject cowardice of Western governments, this reasoning is eminently logical -- and applies as validly to Borders, Waldenbooks, and any other bookstore as it does to the Phoenix.

On the other hand I do think that we as individuals can (and should) take on the risk of confronting Islam, in the full knowledge of the possible dangers. Given that our governments won’t do the job, there is no other choice, and we may as well start now since it will only prove more difficult as the Islamists become more entrenched and empowered. (As Mark Steyn puts it, we may as well fight in the first ditch.) Nonetheless it is much different for an individual to voluntarily assume this risk than it would be for a corporation to simply impose it on to all of its employees. Or to look at it another way, any bookstore whose employees and managers urge it to fight for freedom of speech by carrying "risky" books should be praised and admired, but I think it's unfair to criticize those who do not to do so.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Daniel said...

I'm curious, why is it reasonable for Borders to do this but unreasonable for NYU to bar the Objectivist Club from showing the cartoons at a public event?

I suppose you might argue that the actual (as opposed to the pretended) motivation is different in the two cases, but if so, I don't think the difference in motivation is obvious.

1:29 PM  
Blogger Amit Ghate said...

Hi Daniel,

That's a good question and one I even considered addressing in the post. I have to run right now, but I will put up a response either tonight or tomorrow by mid-day. Please check back.

1:51 PM  
Blogger Amit Ghate said...

Daniel, I replied as a separate post, you can find it here: http://amitghate.blogspot.com/2006/03/reconciling-nyu-and-borders.html

7:51 PM  

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