Saturday, February 25, 2006

"The fascists of free speech"

Catherine Seipp writes in an LA Times Opinion piece

A FRIEND OF MINE took his young daughter to visit the famous City Lights bookstore in San Francisco, explaining to her that the place is important because years ago it sold books no other store would — even, perhaps especially, books whose ideas many people found offensive.

So, although my friend is no fan of Ward Churchill, the faux Indian and discredited professor who notoriously called 9/11 victims "little Eichmanns," he didn't really mind seeing piles of Churchill's books prominently displayed on a table as he walked in.

However, it did occur to him that perhaps the long-delayed English translation of Oriana Fallaci's new book, "The Force of Reason," might finally be available, and that because Fallaci's militant stance against Islamic militants offends so many people, a store committed to selling banned books would be the perfect place to buy it. So he asked a clerk if the new Fallaci book was in yet.

"No," snapped the clerk. "We don't carry books by fascists.

.............I saw this sort of thinking for myself up close earlier this month when I spoke at USC about media bias a few days after the first cartoon riots had broken out. A student wearing a hijab came up to me afterward scoffing at the notion that violent demonstrations in response to the offensive drawings were even all that violent.

"Oh, how many people have died?" she asked, screwing up her face in disbelief. At the time, the death total was four or five. By now it's more than 100.

It isn't only Muslim women who are out there defending political Islam, though. Another young woman in the USC audience, after announcing that her father had been held in five Nazi concentration camps so she knows about the Holocaust, segued into a long, rambling position statement about just how little we understand the Muslim world.

...................Back to City Lights, which indeed has no plans to sell any books by the "fascist" free-speech defender Fallaci. The store's website proudly declares that the place is "known for our commitment to freedom of expression," in which case you might assume such commitment includes supporting those whose free expression puts them in real danger.

But, although "The Force of Reason" is expected to reach the U.S. this spring, a City Lights clerk said when I called that the store has no plans to carry anything by Fallaci.

"You're welcome to buy her book elsewhere, though," my friend was told helpfully when he visited. "Let's just say we don't have room for her here."

OK, let's just say that. But let's also say that one of the great paradoxes of our time is that two groups most endangered by political Islam, gays and women, somehow still find ways to defend it.

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