Borders bookstores have announced that they will not stock the April/May edition of Free Inquiry magazine – because it contains four of the Muhammed cartoons. They’ve cited the safety of their customers and staff as their primary concern, which has caused outrage from the magazine’s editors.
What is at stake is the precious right of freedom of expression,” said Paul Kurtz, editor-in-chief of Free Inquiry. “Cartoons often provide an important form of political satire … To refuse to distribute a publication because of fear of vigilante violence is to undermine freedom of press — so vital for our democracy.”
He’s right. Borders have caved in here, albiet with the best of intentions. They’ve tried to protect their customers, but they’ve tried to protect them by responding disproportionately to the level of threat.
Of course Borders should do their utmost to protect the security of their customers. But any decision such as this should be made on a the basis of a rational risk assessment. Borders, instead, have based theirs on an irrational fear.
How many bookshop patrons or employees in the United States have actually been violently assaulted as a result of their decision to stock a newspaper, book or magazine that some Muslims consider offensive? Not a lot (possibly even none).
How many bookshop patrons or employees in the United States have actually been violently assaulted as a result of their decision to stock a newspaper, book or magazine that anybody considers offensive? Again, not a lot.
And have Borders received a specific threat that would make them fear for the safety of their patrons or employees? Well, they haven’t mentioned it, so I very much doubt it.
So, given that the level of risk is ridiculously low, the response should proportionate. If we don’t nip this in the bud, it won’t be long before we see bookstores adopting a nuclear deterrent, on the off chance the Soviet Union reforms.
Update: Dale Amon at Samizdata has tracked down Borders’ customer care email address, and urges you to write.