Tuesday, January 20, 2015



In the 11th century, the English King, Aethelred, paid the Vikings to go away and not plunder his kingdom. They went away but kept coming back for more. I wonder if he bribed his children to not pester him?

A few years ago, Salman Rushdie, the author of a book published in the UK, was sentenced to death by a Muslim cleric for blasphemy. Later, a publication in Denmark (no connection to Vikings) published what became known as the Danish cartoons, images of Mohammed with a bomb for a hat. Some Islamists threatened to kill all concerned including any who reprinted the cartoons. The New York Times, and others, notably Yale University Press, decided, out of consideration for Muslims, not to publish said cartoons. Some student newspapers (Harvard included) published them, and they were widely available on line.

Now, we have the killings in Paris and the publication's decision, the next day, to publish an edition featuring a cartoon of Mohammed holding a "Je suis Charlie" sign. Again, more threats of violence, and the New York Times, PBS, and others have refused to publish or show the cover.

But, let's not skip over the hacking of Sony, ostensibly by North Korea in retaliation for the movie mocking Kim Jong-Un. They threatened more hacking if the picture was distributed. Our president said this was outrageous. What would they be telling us not to do next?

The argument swings back and forth over limits on free speech. It should not incite violence, among other things. I can agree with not inciting violence and not shouting 'Fire!' in a theater. But in Europe, you can go to jail for denying the Holocaust, and here, on many campuses, you can't hurt anyone's feelings which are, in some cases, incredibly sensitive.

You already have your own opinion on all this, and I will not try to dissuade you. However, there is another question: How do we know that we're not actually encouraging violence with our seeming compliance, in the eyes of terrorists, with their demands coupled with threats?

"How do I know what I think until I see what I say?"--E.M. Forster.

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