THIS POST HAS BEEN UPDATED TO REFLECT THE FACT THAT INDIGO DID NOT INTEND TO BLOCK THIS ISSUE:
The June-July issue of Free Inquiry mag was removed from the shelves at Indigo, Chapters and Coles stores across Canada. The editors are mystified as to the reason. I think they're being naive. (The boldface and link are mine.) Here's their letter to Indigo CEO Heather Reisman, as released to the media late this afternoon.
We have been informed by our distributor that Indigo, Chapters, and Coles stores across Canada declined to shelve the June-July 2006 issue of Free Inquiry magazine. This came at about the same time that the June issue of Harper’s Magazine - containing reproductions of the twelve Danish “Muhammad Cartoons” and commentary upon them by Pulitzer Prizer-winning cartoonist Art Spiegelman - was likewise barred from your shelves. Oddly, it came after our previous, April-May issue of Free Inquiry - which reproduced four of the twelve Danish cartoons - was, as best we can determine, shelved normally. We are also given to understand that Free Inquiry is now being inspected in advance on an issue-by-issue basis to determine its suitability to be shelved.
First, we are dismayed when a distinguished bookselling organization such as yours - an organization that is, quite literally, in the business of facilitating free speech - stoops to censorship, whether before or after the fact. Whatever their potential to offend, the Danish cartoons had such important cultural and political consequences that all North Americans deserved the opportunity to examine the cartoons and judge for themselves. That many North American media quailed from republishing them is regrettable; that Indigo and its subsidiaries have refused their customers the opportunity to view them - at least, in the June Harper’s - is lamentable.
In addition, we are dismayed when a major retailer behaves in a way that sends incoherent messages in the marketplace. Indigo and its subsidiaries refused their customers the opportunity to view the Danish cartoons in the June Harper’s, having previously permitted them to purchase the issue of Free Inquiry including some of the cartoons. Then customers were denied the opportunity to purchase the next issue of Free Inquiry. We are left to wonder whether the censorship of our June-July issue was in retaliation for our having published the cartoons in our previous issue, or whether it was motivated by some controversial content in the June-July issue itself. Presumably the controversial item was not Edward O. Wilson and Arthur C. Clarke, among others, congratulating one of us on attaining his eightieth year. Was it scholar Eileen McDonagh’s presentation of a novel defense of abortion rights? Or perhaps the article by controversial ethicist Peter Singer defending the cartoons and condeming the jailing of David Irving for Holocaust denial?
Ms. Reisman, we find your organization’s behavior in regard to Free Inquiry most disappointing - not just because we abhor arbitrary restrictions on the free exchange of ideas, but also because we are perplexed by restrictions whose purpose seems incomprehensible. We would be most intrigued to know the reason why the June-July Free Inquiry was blocked from your shelves, and why our publication is now subject to issue-by-issue review. Free Inquiry has never retreated from controversy; if the things your organization objects to in our content turn out to engage the core values our organization exists to promote, we will simply have to content ourselves with reaching our Canadian readers through other venues. At present, however, we can do little more than scratch our heads over what your organization’s course of conduct in regard to Harper’s and our magazine might signify.
We eagerly await your reply.
Founder and chair, the Council for Secular Humanism
Editor-in-Chief, Free Inquiry
Editor, Free Inquiry
(Note that the Borders chain in the U.S. banned the issue with the cartoons in it.)
Anyway, I read Singer's piece about David Irving and noted this:
Yet, the outcome of the publication of the Danish cartoons ridiculing Muhammad was a tragedy. More than a hundred people died in Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Libya, Nigeria, and other Islamic countries during the ensuing protests and riots. In hindsight, it would have been wiser not to publish the cartoons. The benefits were not worth the costs. But that judgment is, as I say, made with the benefit of hindsight, and it is not intended as a criticism of the actual decisions taken by the editors who published them and could not reasonably be expected to foresee the consequences.
To restrict freedom of expression because we fear such consequences would not be the right response. It would only provide an incentive for those who do not want to see their views criticized to engage in violent protests in future. Instead, we should forcefully defend the right of newspaper editors to publish such cartoons, if they choose to do so, and hope that respect for freedom of expression will eventually spread to countries where it does not yet exist.
Unfortunately, even while the protests about the cartoons were still underway, a new problem about convincing Muslims of the genuineness of our respect for freedom of expression has arisen because of Austria's conviction and imprisonment of David Irving for denying the existence of the Holocaust. We cannot consistently hold that it should be a criminal offense to deny the existence of the Holocaust and that cartoonists have a right to mock religious figures. David Irving should be freed.
It's tough to argue with that logic. But those who gleefully published the offending cartoons will find a way, no doubt.
Now before some of you jump down my throat, as I know you will, note that I most definitely acknowledge that six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, along with six million other Europeans, whether Roma, gays and lesbians, political prisoners or people the Nazis simply didn't like. I am friends with Holocaust survivors. I have seen the numbers tattooed on their arms and the haunted looks that remain still in the eys of many of them. I am friends with the children of Holocaust survivors. I know what it's like for them.
And I take second place to nobody on the history of the Holocaust.
Finally, a deeply personal admission: I called the diary I kept as a young girl -- I have it still -- Anne, as an homage to Anne Frank's Kitty.
So please stick to the facts of the case here: If indeed Free Inquiry was banned by Reisman because of that Singer article, was it a justified banning? If so, why?
UPDATE (July 8): Today's Globe and Mail reports that the blocking of the magazine was inadvertent.
Joel Silver, senior vice-president of print procurement for Toronto-based Indigo Books and Music, telephoned Tom Flynn, the editor of Free Inquiry, with the news late yesterday afternoon.
According to Mr. Flynn, the Indigo executive "gave me a sort of a stammering apology, said that the June-July issue was blocked by accident, and that they have contacted [Ajax, Ont.-based Disticor Magazine Distribution Services] to send it through again."
Calls by The Globe and Mail to four Indigo executives, including Mr. Silver, were not returned yesterday.
Mr. Flynn said from his office in Amherst, N.Y., that the June-July Free Inquiry will be available at Indigo for only about two weeks because the August-September edition already has been printed.
Indigo's Mr. Silver told him the issue would be sold "as normal." The retailer usually takes between 300 and 500 copies of each issue.
Mr. Flynn speculated that Indigo's apparent ban may have been prompted by a Free Inquiry editorial by the Princeton bioethicist and animal-rights activist Peter Singer titled "The Freedom to Ridicule Religion -- and Deny the Holocaust."
Mr. Flynn also suggested the apparent censorship may have been "in retaliation" for Free Inquiry's reproduction, in its April-May issue, of four of the 12 hotly contested cartoons that a Danish newspaper published last year satirizing the Prophet Mohammed. Their appearance in Free Inquiry went undetected by Indigo until late May when the retailer unleashed a storm of controversy by banning the June issue of another U.S. publication, Harper's, which had published all 12 Danish cartoons.