The ranks of the defenders of free speech continue to thin:
BUFFALO, N.Y. - Borders and Waldenbooks stores will not stock the April-May issue of Free Inquiry magazine because it contains cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that provoked deadly protests among Muslims in several countries.
"For us, the safety and security of our customers and employees is a top priority, and we believe that carrying this issue could challenge that priority," Borders Group Inc. spokeswoman Beth Bingham said Wednesday.
The magazine, published by the Council for Secular Humanism in suburban Amherst, includes four of the drawings that originally appeared in a Danish newspaper in September, including one depicting Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban with a lit fuse.
"What is at stake is the precious right of freedom of expression," said Paul Kurtz, editor-in-chief of Free Inquiry. "Cartoons often provide an important form of political satire ... To refuse to distribute a publication because of fear of vigilante violence is to undermine freedom of press - so vital for our democracy."
Bingham said the decision was made before the magazine arrived at the company's stores. Borders Group, based in Ann Arbor, Mich., operates more than 475 Borders and 650 Waldenbooks stores in the United States, though not all regularly carry the magazine.
"We absolutely respect our customers' right to choose what they wish to read and buy and we support the First Amendment," Bingham said. "And we absolutely support the rights of Free Inquiry to publish the cartoons. We've just chosen not to carry this particular issue in our stores."
There's something very odd about this. Borders would not hesitate to carry a magazine which contained content offensive to Christians because they don't fear Christian violence, but because they are afraid of Muslims, they won't do anything to offend them. The very least they can do, given their capitulation to the Islamic Mau Maus, is to acknowledge the cowardice of their decision and atone for it by agreeing not to carry material offensive to any religion. If they're not willing to do that, however, then they shouldn't privilege one religion over another, and they especially shouldn't do it out of fear of the consequences of standing on a principle enshrined in the First Amendment.
It's funny in a macabre sort of way, but ever since the Danish cartoons precipitated the paroxysms of Muslim violence, we haven't heard many liberals recite the refrain about hating what you say but being willing to fight to the death for your right to say it. All of a sudden many of the formerly pious crusaders for freedom of speech have grown strangely silent. To paraphrase Machiavelli in The Prince, in quiet times every one is full of promises and each one is ready to die for the First Amendment, when death is far off; but in adversity, when death is near and the freedom of speech has need of defenders, then it will find but few.
Yes, but let the speech be obscene or pornographic and the heroic knights of the First Amendment suddenly reemerge onto the field astride their white steeds, acclaiming with their battle cry their willingness to die for your right to to be as disgusting as you want to be.