Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Free Speech? What's that?

There has been a lot of outrage, all of it justified, in recent weeks, about Muslim terrorist attacks against free speech in Europe. What is less justified is the smugness that has accompanied this outrage, as though such a thing could never happen in the civilized West.

Not so fast. It was just last week that right-wing Holocaust denier David Irving was convicted and sentenced to prison for lying about the Holocaust. Odious and contemptible to be sure, but not, in the United States, considered grounds for imprisonment.

And now today we see that the New York Theater Workshop has decided to postpone the off-Boradway opening of a play about Rachel Corrie, a peace demonstrator who was crushed by an Israeli government bulldozerin 2003, after polling local Jewish religious and community leaders as to their feelings about the work. The artistic director of the workshop reported that the recent electoral upset by Hamas, the militant Palestinian group, and the sickness of Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, had made "this community very defensive and very edgy," Mr. Nicola said, "and that seemed reasonable to me."

Of course, both of these issues relate to important political issues, and both can be expected to provoke political criticism. Nevertheless, one of the things that makes government censorship so dangerous is that it leads to self-censorship, and then what do we have? A country where people are afraid to criticize the government or be branded as traitors?

Oh yeah.


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