Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

March 30, 2006

No Free Inquiry at Borders

Filed under: — Different River @ 6:33 pm

A book banned at Borders? Well, actually it’s a bimonthly magazine called Free Inquiry, published by the Council for Secular Humanism, and avowedly atheist organization. (I am tempted to say — OK, I will say — it is a non-prophet organization. :-) )

Why would Borders ban an atheist magazine?

Because it violates the tenets of Islam, of course.

Reports the Buffalo News:

Borders Books and Music, one of the country’s largest bookstore chains, has refused to stock the latest edition of Free Inquiry magazine because the issue includes controversial cartoons that spurred violent and sometimes deadly protests in parts of Europe, the Middle East, Africa and South Asia.

Mind you, it’s not that Borders believes — or at least, admits to believing — in Islam. It’s that they’re afraid of what Muslims might do to them if they carry it:

A Borders spokeswoman said the company declined to sell the Amherst-based publication this month out of concern for the safety of employees and customers.

The cartoons, originally published in a Danish newspaper then in several other European publications, feature unflattering depictions of the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

Muslim demonstrators responded in February by burning Danish and Norwegian embassies in Syria, and scores of people have been killed in protests over several weeks.

Beth Bingham, a company spokeswoman, confirmed that Wednesday.

“We feel strongly for the safety and security of our employees and customers,” Bingham said.

She said the company operates more than 475 Borders and 650 Waldenbooks stores in the United States, though not all regularly carry the magazine.

The Borders stores usually stock as many as 1,000 copies of Free Inquiry, and the chain typically is the magazine’s largest newsstand retailer, said Tom Flynn, editor.

Yeah, well, I strongly believe in freedom of the press — and in “free inquiry,” if you will (though probably not in most of what is printed in Free Inquiry).

And this is just the sort of cowardice that encourages violent behavior in people with an axe to grind — like, extremist Muslims, for example.

It would be nice if this could be regarded as an admission that they know Islam is prone to produce violence, but of course they wouldn’t say that out loud either — they might be attacked by Muslims if they said Muslims were violent!

I never expected to be on the same side of a debate as an atheist group, but it’s hard to disagree with this:

Paul Kurtz, Free Inquiry’s editor in chief, said Borders’ decision was a disservice to free speech.

“Cartoons often provide an important form of political satire,” Kurtz said. “To refuse to distribute a publication because of fear of vigilante violence is to undermine freedom of press – so vital for our democracy.”

I wonder what Borders would do if the atheists threated to bomb their stores for not carrying the magazine. They would probably get the police involved — which they aren’t doing when the threat is from Muslims.

By they way, I heard this story from Clayton Cramer, who has had other issues with Amazon in the past. I wonder which offense he thinks is worse.

2 Responses to “No Free Inquiry at Borders”

  1. ollie Says:

    I don’t like that decision either. But then there is always the good old “free market” argument: we won’t do this or that because our customers won’t like it and that customers who don’t like that decision will take their business elsewhere.

    That argument has cut several ways in the past, needless to say.

  2. Different River Says:

    I don’t question the right of Borders to refuse to carry anything they don’t want to carry — whether it’s because it doesn’t sell, or because they want to censor it, or because they are cowards.

    But bookstores are normally on the front lines of the battle against censorship, since the freedom of the press is their bread-and-butter. So there is a certain hypocrisy involved in a bookstore refusing to carry a book because some religious group wants its contents censored.

    I am certainly inclined to take my business elsewhere — just as much as I’d be if they decided to ban books by African-Americans or books critical of one political side or the other.

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