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On Censorship

Language Log’s Bill Poser posts about Salmon Rushdie, the definition of censorship, and The Jewel of Medina:

While it is true that Random House’s decision not to publish is not censorship, it is ridiculous to say that its decision in this case “has nothing whatsoever to do” with freedom of speech. By its own statement, Random House was not exercising its own judgment as to the literary or commercial value of The Jewel of Medina. Rather, Random House chose to give in to the threat of reprisal by Muslims. The Enlightenment value of freedom of expression does not lead only to restrictions on the powers of government: it requires that all of us tolerate expression that we may find offensive. A free society cannot permit anyone, government, corporation, church, or individual, to decide what may and what may not be published. That a publisher should cancel publication of a novel out of fear of violence by religious fanatics has everything to do with the Western tradition of free speech. It is a disturbing reminder that this tradition is not universal and that it is at present subject to very real threats.