Last week I had a post observing that high school reading lists were much less likely to contain feminist critiques if those critiques were of non-Western societies, such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel.
Later last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Random House had cancelled the imminent publication of a book that it had under contract that was a fictionalized history of one of Mohammed’s wives. Random House engaged in this self-censorship out of “fear of a possible terrorist threat from extremist Muslims.”
Once again we see a double standard in the treatment of non-Western subjects. Where is the American Library Association (ALA) to denounce this self-censorship? The ALA rightly advocates against efforts to restrict the kinds of books that are available and maintains a list of the most frequently “challenged” books. They preface that list with a quotation from Judy Blume: “[I]t’s not just the books under fire now that worry me. It is the books that will never be written. The books that will never be read. And all due to the fear of censorship. As always, young readers will be the real losers.”
The ALA saw the need to issue a statement to denounce censorship in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. When will they release a statement denouncing Random House’s decision not to publish a book that they had deemed worthy of a $100,000 contract because they were bullied by threats of violence?
In what sense is Muhammad anymore non-Western than Jesus or Moses? Muhammad has at least as many followers in Europe and North America as Jesus has in Latin America and the East.
As for Ayaan Hirsi Ali, conservatives should be careful supporting her. Recently she was exposed for holding extreme views on some subjects close to the hearts of many conservatives and libertarians.
1) Obviously a lot depends on how we define “western.” I think that when Jay said the ALA had a double standard between western and non-western subjects, he meant that it had a double standard between subjects that have a longstanding and organic connection to western civilization and those that do not. In this sort of context, “western” is not generally used as a geographic designation.
2) Jay isn’t saying he agrees with everything Ali thinks, he’s saying that feminist critiques of a society shouldn’t be held to a double standard based on whether the society being critiqued is western or non-western. He’s expressing opposition to an odious form of discrimination. So the most charitable interpretation I can give your remark is that you think we should approve of Ali being subject to illegitimate discrimination because she holds beliefs that we disagree with. All I can say to that is that conservatives and libertarians are only human and have many faults, but we’re not as bad as that.
And for the record, I did follow the link, and I wasn’t impressed. I strongly doubt that Ali really opposes free speech for religious believers. But even if she did, that would be irrelevant to Jay’s point. Even people who don’t support free speech have a right not to be subject to illegitimate discrimination.