We ALL need to fight Facebook / Instagram
This blog post I wrote over a dozen years ago holds up well, I think. I was writing about Borders bookstore taking a particular magazine off its shelves, but I think it applies equally to the latest censorship by Facebook / Instagram. I just now edited it a tiny bit for clarity, but I did leave in the evidence of the obsession I had with South Park at the time. Let me know what you think.
Why we should boycott Borders
Borders Group Inc., the company that operates the Borders and Waldenbooks chains, has gone into the book banning business. Actually, the company is only banning a single issue of a rarely read magazine, Free Inquiry. (Never heard of it? Neither had I until this past week.) The magazine is readily available in other companies’ bookstores and online, and it will no doubt attract more readers because of this kerfuffle.
Borders will not stock the upcoming issue of this magazine, which some of its stores regularly carry, because it contains four cartoons. That’s right, cartoons. Are these cartoons the filthiest, sleaziest depictions of Betty and Veronica you’ve ever seen? Do they contain the seven words George Carlin told us we could never say on television, plus a few dozen more that Matt Stone and Trey Parker invented for one of their movies? Do these cartoons contain vicious, gut-spilling, murderous scenes that would sear your eyes and scar your soul if you so much as glanced at them? No, no and no. The four cartoons depict the prophet Mohammed, and the religion Islam forbids all such depictions.
Wait a second, you say. If Islam forbids depiction of the prophet, then surely the practitioners of that religion can honor the prohibition by refraining from buying the magazine in question. Why does that necessitate keeping the cartoons out of the hands of others? Roman Catholics never insisted that Protestants eat fish on Fridays. None of my Jewish friends have ever begrudged me my BLT. No matter. Islamic law apparently applies to all of us, whether we believe in the religion or not. In fact, these four cartoons and eight others commissioned by Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten newspaper were used to spark a wave of deadly protests by Muslims in a number of countries, with violent behavior aimed at non-Muslims.
Having seen the 12 cartoons, I can see how a follower of Mohammed would consider them blasphemous. For instance, one of the drawings depicts Mohammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban with a lit fuse. On the other hand, I’ve seen plenty of South Park episodes that were more offensive to organized religion than all 12 of these cartoons combined. Word in the blogosphere is that the Danish Imams “juiced up” the Danish cartoons with a few of their own to rally their followers to riot level.
A spokesperson for Borders made it quite clear (at least as clear as corporate spokespeople ever make anything) that the magazines were not being stocked in an effort to ward off violent attacks by angry Muslims. “For us, the safety and security of our customers and employees is a top priority, and we believe that carrying this issue could challenge that priority,” is the money quote from Borders spokeswoman Beth Bingham
There are over 475 Borders stores and 650 Waldenbooks stores in the United States. The citizens of this nation should launch a loud, long, and effective boycott of each and every one of them. But not for the reasons you might think. Let’s get a few things out of the way immediately:
- This is NOT a First Amendment issue. The First Amendment restricts the government’s ability to abridge free speech and freedom of the press. Borders is not the government. It has no obligation to stock or sell any products and, besides, it is doing nothing to prevent you from buying those products somewhere else
- Borders has every right (and some degree of responsibility) to take appropriate steps to protect its stores, its employees and its customers from physical harm
- In our capitalist system, we should not expect corporations to be heroes.
So why the call for a boycott? Here’s why:
- America will die if we do not take a stand against intimidation. The bully that is Fascism will grow stronger on appeasement. As a nation, we must stand up for ourselves and refuse to live in fear. The only way to do this effectively is to stare down the intimidators and be ready and willing to take the consequences.
- Government can only do so much. The citizenry must lead on a moral basis. Remember the scene in Casablanca when the French expatriates in Rick’s Café could have gone either way – allow the Nazis to drown out their culture or sing La Marseillaise at the top of their lungs? Do you recall watching the movie and knowing that the free French would win the day, not because somebody had spoiled the ending by telling you how World War II came out but because you could see their courage in the face of possible imprisonment, torture and death? Those patrons of Rick’s could have easily become cheese-eating, surrender monkey Vichy French (as their sons and daughters have proven), but instead they prevailed over their oppressors. We Americans are at a similar fork in the road. Will it be mandatory burkhas for the ladies and prayer rugs for the men or will we stand up and sing the Star Spangled Banner at the top of our Velveeta-eating lungs?
- Borders Group Inc. is a New York Stock Exchange-listed company. The corporation, its employees, its executives and its shareholders have all reaped benefits from the American legal system and the moral underpinnings that keep that system working. They may have the legal right (hell, I’ll even concede them the moral right) to leave that dopey magazine off their shelves and issue a statement that signals to Muslims around the globe that Borders is deathly afraid of them and will back down in the face of intimidation. That’s what the musicians in Rick’s Cafe did when the German soldiers began singing their volksongs. But the American people, like the free French, have legal and moral rights of our own. We have the right to stand up and start singing La Marseillaise if we choose. The question is whether we will choose to do so.
Rumor has it that Borders Group is up for sale. If the company sells for a premium price after what it has just done, then America will have lost a golden opportunity to send a strong message to the fascists of our time. If, on the other hand, Borders is dealt a serious economic blow by a full-bore, placard-waving, bumper sticker-sticking, button wearing boycott, then the prospective buyers of Borders Group may come to the public hat in hand, promising to change the company’s tune once they purchase it. If we can make that happen, we will have shown ourselves and the rest of the world something important about Americans. Like Rick Blaine in Casablanca, we will have advised the Nazis that there are some parts of America that they would be ill-advised to try to invade.
April 3, 2006