Sony Could Learn an Important Lesson From Salman Rushdie.

It is a sad day…

Apparently, North Korean cyber-hacker terrorists have inspired Sony Pictures to self-censor the release of the upcoming movie, “The Interview,” due to threats of violence and the leaks of proprietary Sony emails and movies.  At the risk of oversimplification, Sony Pictures caved in to the threats and demands of cyber-terrorists. As there are few issues that I am more passionate about than freedom of speech and artistic expression, this situation troubles me.

We are living in a day and age when a person or group being “offended” about something said or written by another person creates an implicit social necessity for the offender to cease and desist their expression.  Such a social ethic will ultimately work against the society which embraces it. When a person’s words or art can be stuffed and silenced by the offended, there is no longer a reason to think about, debate over, and educate one’s self regarding the issue at hand. A lack of such intellectual, ethical, and/or dogmatic tension in a society causes its culture to atrophy like an unused muscle.

Over recent decades, there have been several fails and wins as it pertains to the censorship of a work of literature, art, or the creator himself (or herself.) One of the best examples of a fail of many in media and governments to support free expression and publishing was the scandal over the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in the Danish newspaper, “Jyllands-Posten,” in 2005. For more information on that situation, see the video (including worthy polemics by Christopher Hitchens) directly below:

One of the greatest wins that has occurred in modern history regarding the refusal to self-censor was in the case of Salman Rushdie and his book, “The Satanic Verses.” The book not only drew fire from a portion of the Islamic community worldwide, but a real and direct Fatwa death sentence for Rushdie via the former leader of Iran, the Ayatollah Khomeini. Yet, the book continued to be published and Salman Rushdie, under threat of assassination, lived nine years under police protection. Through much struggle, the would-be censors did not win and free expression ruled the day. See the news clip below from 1990 regarding the Fatwa:

As Sony has acquiesced to the cyber-terrorists’ demands not to release, “The Interview,” a dangerous precedent has been set that takes the practical reality of free expression back decades. As long as some nation or group is willing to make threats, a major film company can be brought to its knees. Some have said that this really isn’t a big deal and at the end of the day, it’s just a movie. I beg to disagree. If we are willing to give up our voice, our freedom of expression, our art, or our literature due to the whims of tyrants, seen or unseen, what WOULD be worth fighting for? If we, in this country, would not tolerate censorship of our free expression from within, then damn censorship from without.

I can understand the apprehension that Sony executives are feeling. I am sure they are fearful to buck this North Korean tiger. But, we are behind you Sony, as well as the writers, directors, producers, and actors in the movie. Don’t let these cyber-terrorists pull your card. Release the film. We will come see it, threats or no threats. We are Americans and free expression is our business. This is not just about the film any more. It is about something much bigger…

“So in a democracy no one, however powerful or impotent, can have a right not to be insulted or offended. That principle is of particular importance in a nation that strives for racial and ethnic fairness.” – Ronald Dworkin

2 thoughts on “Sony Could Learn an Important Lesson From Salman Rushdie.

  1. The only thing I’d take issue with is your claim that The Satanic Verses was a victory? Salman Rushdie had to sacrifice 10 years of his life, thousands of western liberals revealed their complete cowardice in the face of anything that can be construed as “cultural sensitivity” and it marked the beginning of this whole culture of offense that’s since been imposed on the western world en masse.
    It wasn’t a victory. If it had met with courage and a principled stance, it could’ve been used to send a very strong message to the rest of the world that you don’t fuck with our right to freedom of speech.

    • Thanks for your thoughts. I don’t allege that the publication of the Satanic Verses was a victory for the media or society at large. It was a victory for Mr. Rushdie, in that he persevered great difficulty and personal hazard to publish his work. If, as you say, the media and faux-liberals would have supported him en masse, it would have been a victory at large, rather than personal. Have a good day!

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