Posts Tagged ‘Molly Norris’

Free-speech champion Timothy Garton Ash: Are we in a “post-truth media world”?

Saturday, October 8th, 2016

He’s rather “robustly civil” himself. (Photo: Christine Baker-Parrish)

Last week, Timothy Garton Ash called for a “robust civility” – he added “that’s the gamble of liberal democracy.” But how does that play out in a social media avalanche of images, tweets, and hit-and-run postings?

Tim was here at Stanford in-between lectures, readings, discussions, and book-signings for his newest, Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World, and that lauded 480-page volume was the subject of his talk at Cubberley Auditorium Wednesday night.


Nix the “heckler’s veto.” (Photo: Christine Baker-Parrish)

We live in an age, he noted, where 1.7 billion people are on Facebook. “Facebook is the empire on which the sun never sets,” he said. In today’s world, “one sleazy little video uploaded by a convicted fraudster in southern California” can cause dozens of deaths in demonstrations half a world away – and also result in the offer a $100,000 bounty for killing the filmmaker who exercised his freedom of expression. Such are the asymmetries of our global society, where “a Youtube video is as mighty as a fleet,” he said.

In 2000, president Bill Clinton had scoffed that China’s attempts to control internet freedom within its borders would be like trying to “nail Jell-O to a wall.” China’s reply: “Just watch us.” Today, Tim said, China runs “the largest apparatus of censorship in world history. It’s not true for the long-term, but it’s true for now.”

In the West, we’re living “a market failure in the marketplace of democracy.” Political coverage has become polarized, creating two echo chambers in the “post-truth media world.”

Online shouting earns “eyeballs, ears, clicks,” he said. “If it bleeds it leads, if it roars it scores … reality has overtaken satire …truthiness made flesh.” The sheer scale, intensity, and repetition of a 24/7 news cycle presents us with daunting challenges. He recommended George Orwell‘s essay, “Politics and the English Language” (it’s here) as a counterbalance to cant and a way “to purify the language of the tribe” (which is of course T.S. Eliot).

We’ve already written about his recent words on the cult of “safe spaces” and banning campus speakers in our previous post. (Sample quote: “It is an abuse of language to suggest that anyone can seriously be ‘unsafe’ because someone whose views they find offensive or upsetting is speaking in a room on the other side of campus.”)

This presentation was a more systematic and comprehensive presentation of his thought on the issue of free speech. He outlined ten guiding principles, also on his free speech website here (it’s been translated into thirteen languages to date).

  1. A discussion seminar featuring Timothy Garton Ash (Professor of European Studies at the University of Oxford, Isaiah Berlin Professorial Fellow at St. Antony’s College, Oxford, and a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution), Joshua Cohen, Faculty, Apple University, and Jennifer Granick, Director of Civil Liberties, The Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School on October 6 2016 at Encina Hall. The discussion revolved around Garton Ash's most recent book Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World (Yale University Press, 2016). Photography by: Christine Baker-Parrish

    “Eyeballs, ears, clicks” (Photo: Christine Baker-Parrish)

    Lifeblood: We – all human beings – must be free and able to express ourselves, and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas, regardless of frontiers. He put particular emphasis on “and able” – many in the world are illiterate, or without internet access, which can be as effective as censorship.

  2. Violence: We neither make threats of violence nor accept violent intimidation. “We don’t accept the heckler’s veto,” he said, nor the “assassin’s veto.” The Charlie Hebdo massacre and the murder of Theo van Gogh have a massive chilling effect of on free speech. Anyone remember Molly Norris? Read about her here.
  3. Knowledge: We allow no taboos against and seize every chance for the spread of knowledge. This includes considerations of the currently fashionable discussions of safe spaces, microaggressions, hate speech, and so on.
  4. Journalism: We require uncensored, diverse, trustworthy media so we can make well-informed decisions and participate fully in political life.
  5. Diversity: We express ourselves openly and with robust civility about all kinds of human difference.
  6. Religion: We respect the believer but not necessarily the content of the belief.
  7. Privacy: We must be able to protect our privacy and to counter slurs on our reputations, but not prevent scrutiny that is in the public interest.
  8. Secrecy: We must be empowered to challenge all limits to freedom of information justified on such grounds as national security.
  9. Icebergs: We defend the internet and other systems of communication against illegitimate encroachments by both public and private powers.
  10. Courage: We decide for ourselves and face the consequences. He cited Pericles: “The secret of happiness is liberty, and the secret of liberty is courage.”

Watch the video below. He wants to hear from you.

The bounty on Salman Rushdie’s head has gone up – to $3.3 million.

Sunday, September 16th, 2012

The price has gone up (Photo: Mae Ryan)

The bounty on Salman Rushdie‘s head has been raised, from $2.8 million to $3.3 million, thanks to a generous offer from the semi-official Iranian religious organization, the 15 Khordad Foundation.  According to newspapers in the area, the foundation is capitalizing on recent regional interest in murder and mayhem.

Hardliners say that the fatwa, issued on Valentine’s Day in 1989, is irrevocable, since it can only be rescinded by the person who issued it. That would be the Ayatollah Khomeini, who died a few months after pronouncing it, in June 1989.

The hardline Jomhoori Eslami daily said the decision to boost the original reward came from 15 Khordad Foundation’s head, Ayatollah Hassan Saneii.  “As long as the exalted Imam Khomeini’s historical fatwa against apostate Rushdie is not carried out, it won’t be the last insult. If the fatwa had been carried out, later insults in the form of caricature, articles and films that have continued would have not happened,” he said.

Coincidentally, in this week’s New Yorker, Salman Rushdie reflects on life under a fatwa, “The Disappeared: How the Fatwa Changed a Writer’s Life” – it’s here. He describes his early years of hiding, and shifting from residence to residence.  A sample:

As he crouched there, listening to Michael try to get rid of the man as quickly as possible, he felt a deep sense of shame. To hide in this way was to be stripped of all self-respect. Maybe, he thought, to live like this would be worse than death. In his novel “Shame,” he had written about the workings of Muslim “honor culture,” at the poles of whose moral axis were honor and shame, very different from the Christian narrative of guilt and redemption. He came from that culture, even though he was not religious. To skulk and hide was to lead a dishonorable life. He felt, very often in those years, profoundly ashamed. Both shamed and ashamed.

Midnight's child

Some years ago, Rushdie began to live more openly.  He even appeared at Stanford and Menlo Park’s Kepler’s Books (I wrote about the latter visit here).  In the New Yorker article, he concludes:

But as well as fighting the fight, which I will surely go on doing, I have grown determined to prove that the art of literature is more resilient than what menaces it. The best defense of literary freedoms lies in their exercise, in continuing to make untrammelled, uncowed books. So, beyond grief, bewilderment, and despair, I have rededicated myself to our high calling.

Remember her?

Suzannah Lessard wrote a piece in the March 6, 1989, issue of the New Yorker, shortly after Rushdie’s famous Valentine’s Day card:  “The terror we feel when we put ourselves in Salman Rushdie’s shoes is a new kind. As far as we know, never before has an international lynch mob of millions called for the blood of someone like him—someone who is not a leader or an official, someone who until now was probably unknown to most of the people calling for his death and of whom they still know little…”

What can we add the illustrious New Yorker?

A far less talented artist, the man who made the film that is getting so much attention of late, The Innocence of Muslims, was visited by the authorities at his Southern California home in Cerritos.  They paid their visit after midnight, and invited the filmmaker off location somewhere for a friendly chat.  He left with his face heavily covered.  “For shame,” said the Daily Mail.  Actually, he probably didn’t wish to have a photo of himself online for target practice.  Many are crying out that this heavy-handed government action bespeaks 1984 and the thought police – after all, freedom of artistic expression is guaranteed under the First Amendment.

I have a very different take.  It’s said he won’t be returning to his home.  But I don’t think he’ll be going to any gulag or penitentiary.  I suspect the authorities arrived under cloak of darkness to give him a few friendly tips for his own safety.  He’s probably going to the same kind of black hole that Molly Norris disappeared into, after her cartoons garnered her death threats, international hatred, and other signs of ruffled feathers two years ago.  If the filmmaker suddenly “disappears,” it’s a win-win.

But hey, I’m an optimist.

Peace Train? The Atlantic revisits Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam, Salman Rushdie

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

The paparazzi haven’t caught on yet, but I’m famous, kind of.  I’m in the cyberpages of The Atlantic this weekend, a feature item in “Atlantic Wire’s The Long War Between Salman Rushdie and Cat Stevens” by Max Fisher.  The “war” refers to the “still-running and extremely bitter war of words between the two men.”

However, the words from the crooner were not merely “bitter” — as I described in my post, Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam was supporting murder, however much he may (or may not) have changed his position since, in carefully crafted ambiguous statements, such as the one here. Stevens clearly wishes to move beyond the controversy, yet fails to show the slightest remorse or concern for the well-being for those whose lives he has further endangered (the list has grown much longer since Rushdie’s 1989 fatwa, including the murder of several people).

Fisher notes:

The conflict reignited most recently when a reporter asked Rushdie for his thoughts on Stevens’s performance at the Washington, D.C., rally held by Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert.

Actually, Rushdie was text messaging a friend in the media, not responding to a reporter’s questions.

Fisher noted in my follow-up post I was “reporting more of Rushdie’s unhappiness.”  Well… yes… I guess “unhappiness” describes it.  I’d be pretty unhappy too if someone endorsed nutters who were putting a bounty on my head.  (He also says Rushdie was telling “another Stanford blogger” — nope, it was still Nick Cohen, a Standpoint blogger.  )

It sounds like Fisher was writing on the trot, like most bloggers.  I plead guilty to the same charge.

Although I was aware that Salman Rushdie was making more and more public appearances (in fact, I covered one here), I wasn’t aware that he has no longer considers himself officially in “hiding.” Brave man.  I understand that a fatwa can only be repealed by those issuing them, and Khomeini is dead.  That means any nutcase who wants to make a name for himself can pick off Rushdie during his guest stint at Emory University or during one of his lectures on contemporary literature.

Fisher comments: “Havens [sic]  concludes by lamenting the state of free speech, although it’s not clear if she’s criticizing Rushdie’s objection that Stevens would appear at the rally or Stevens’s possible support for killing Rushdie.”

Got me again — writing on the trot.  My free-speech comments may have appeared to come out of the blue, so apologies for that.  Here’s where I was coming from:  When I raise topics like these, I get objections that, for example, Rushdie isn’t such a red-hot writer anymore. I must nowadays reaffirm that I support a writer’s right to write even a bad book without being stabbed, gunned down, or beheaded.  Similarly, when I defend Ayaan Hirsi Ali‘s right to exist, even when she’s offensive, I’m told that she’s received support from the right-wingers.  I support non-violent free speech for the left and right.  Similarly, with Molly Norris, I’m told what a bad idea it was to launch a “Everybody Draw Mohammed” day, and that she was “asking for it” by doing so (even though she later withdrew her suggestion and apologized for it) — but the whole point of being a cartoonist is to be edgy, and nobody “asks for” a fatwa.

I will even support Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam’s right to sing Golden Oldies at a rally for “sanity” — but I also reserve the right to call it out — and I will call out the lazy, ironic, faux-sophistication of Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, & co., as they sit on the sidelines on important moral issues, as if the issues do not have anything to do with them.

In the words of Jeff Sypeck:

“As far as I’m concerned, if you’re breaking no other laws, then you can say whatever you want, draw whatever you want, and deface or defile anything that’s your own property, be it a flag, a holy symbol, an effigy, you name it. However, in return, I reserve the right to judge you, denounce you, lobby against you, tell others how wrong you are, and speak vociferously in reply.”

My comments on this issue are becoming boilerplate.  I guess this isn’t covered in 9th grade civics anymore.  Witness this witless comment on the Standpoint article:

… The point is that Jon Stewart didn’t say he was “fine with it,” Salman Rushdie interpreted Jon Stewart’s apology as such. Who cares what Rushdie thinks anyway. Khomeini is dead and Salman Rushdie, well, he’s yesterday’s man too… indeed if it wasn’t for the dated Fatwa no-one would even be talking about him anymore.

Rest in Peace: Theo van Gogh

It’s hard to believe we’ve arrived at a juncture where we have to explain all this stuff.  Again and again and again.

Peace is more than dreaming and singing songs.  Sometimes it requires courage.  In fact, it doesn’t mean much unless it does.  Otherwise, it’s just the easy pacifism of the non-combatant.

Some people “get it.”  Last March, Michael Gordon-Smith wrote for Australian Broadcasting wrote:

Ultimately, however, it’s not something to be made light of. It’s not a yawn. It mattered then and it matters now. Yusuf supported killing a man because someone took offence at what he had written.  …

But 20 years on Yusuf seems to think all the wrongs were done by others. Journalists asked him loaded questions. His replies were misinterpreted. It was the book, not the call for violence that “destroyed the harmony between peoples and created an unnecessary international crisis”.   At worst, his remarks were silly but they were dry English humour. …
He will probably sing Peace Train at his concerts:

Now I’ve been crying lately,
thinking about the world as it is
Why must we go on hating,
why can’t we live in bliss?

It’s time he stopped singing the question and answered it. He had an opportunity to stand for peace and tolerance when the need for such a voice was critical. Instead, when Geoffrey Robertson asked the question, he found no room for tolerance or doubt, but with dogmatic certainty took the side of violence and tyranny.

For me, it remains the most important thing he ever did. Unless he revisits the issue and finds room for difference, in my mind he’s forever defined by the choice he made in those weeks in 1989. The only message I hear from him is the echo of Khomeini’s threat not just to Salman Rushdie but to every free thinker in the world: If you speak your mind we may kill you.

More on Molly Norris: Writer, medievalist speaks out

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

Before she was erased

I’m grateful that yesterday’s post on Molly Norris, the cartoonist irrevocably linked with the Facebook “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” project that she repudiated, was at least part of the inspiration for this eminently sane rumination, from a guy I never heard of before, an erstwhile cartoonist and current author, Jeff Sypeck.   (PostscriptNew York Times article just posted an hour ago here.)

An excerpt, that doesn’t quite do Sypeck’s whole piece justice (again, read the whole mini-essay here):

As far as I’m concerned, if you’re breaking no other laws, then you can say whatever you want, draw whatever you want, and deface or defile anything that’s your own property, be it a flag, a holy symbol, an effigy, you name it. However, in return, I reserve the right to judge you, denounce you, lobby against you, tell others how wrong you are, and speak vociferously in reply. Speech invites consequences, and I’m open to arguments about responsible, voluntary limits. That said, I’ll always put threats and violence on the far side of that line, and I’ll never suggest that in a free society, an artist or writer was asking to be forced to erase herself from existence.

So yes, despite being a pretty inoffensive writer, I took the news about Molly Norris personally, just as I did in 2008 when I read that Sherry Jones’s publisher was firebombed. I’ve written a book in which Muslims guzzle wine, Jews own slaves, and Christians kill in the name of religion. While nothing about my take on the early Middle Ages is all that wild, what’s to stop some hateful, publicity-seeking pastor from hagriding me, or some Islamic fanatic from registering his disapproval via DaggerGram? If doodles can incite worldwide riots, how can I know that my 20-page depiction of a liberal, even libertine, Baghdad won’t light a madman’s fuse?

Guy I never heard of

The book (we might as well give it a plug, as a hat tip) is 2006’s  Becoming Charlesmagne: Europe, Baghdad, and the Empires of A.D. 800 (HarperCollins).  Kirkus Reviews said:

“Debunking the myths that surround legendary figures is a tricky business, but Sypeck acknowledges the allure of the ways in which Charlemagne and his era have been romanticized …  Illuminates the shadowy corners of an era shrouded in the mists of legend.”

The author has the distinction of growing up  in a central New Jersey town known for  the nation’s only cat leash law.  Now that’s whacko.

Talented artist goes into hiding: Molly Norris & “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day”

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

No more Molly

It’s official.

An hour ago, the Seattle Weekly announced:  “You may have noticed that Molly Norris‘ comic is not in the paper this week. That’s because there is no more Molly.”

The talented cartoonist who launched the “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” on Facebook, and then regretted and withdrew her proposal, has nevertheless had to go into hiding – moving, changing her name, washing out her identity – at the suggestion of the FBI. It’s just like the witness protection program. The government, however, will not be picking up the tab.  She will.

Norris viewed the situation with characteristic humor: “When FBI agents, on a recent visit, instructed her to always keep watch for anyone following her, she responded, ‘Well, at least it’ll keep me from being so self-involved!'”

She joins a growing class of writers, filmmakers, cartoonists, political activists, beginning with Salman Rushdie in 1989 who must be guarded 24/7.  As Paul Berman wrote in The Flight of the Intellectuals:

“And so, Salman Rushdie has metastisized into an entire social class. … who survive only because of bodyguards and police investigations and because of their own precautions. This is unprecedented in Western Europe since the fall of the Axis.  Fear — mortal fear, the fear of getting murdered by fanatics in the grip of a bizarre ideology — has become, for a significant number of intellectuals and artists, a simple fact of modern life.”

Murdered: Theo van Gogh

We’ve written before about Molly, and also urged people to sign the petition backed by cartoonists Oliphant and Garry Trudeau.

Almost more troubling than the announcement is the American reaction — in particular, the youngsters who seem to feel it is incumbent upon us to avoid expressing opinions that distress others, and that Norris herself is at fault for the fatwa that has been brought upon her.  (Yes, yes, I know.  It’s not technically a fatwa.  I don’t care.)  At some point, to have any kind of character at all, one has to decide not to be a coward.

The last time I suggested at a gathering that maybe it was time to reintroduce some old-fashioned First Amendment values into our educational system, I was attending a dinner party with liberal academics.  They acted almost as if I’d burped at the table. Isn’t that a Sarah Palin kind of thing, they asked.

Maybe. But I remember the day when it was a left-wing kind of thing, and I spent a portion of my university years signing letters for Amnesty International, and working in London for Michael Scammell‘s Index on Censorship.

God knows I hear enough offensive things towards my own values, beliefs, religion, etc. – and on a daily basis, too. But freedom of speech begins at the point where you offend me.  Otherwise it has no meaning at all.

Postscript: Medievalist Jeff Sypeck speaks out on the affair here.

Postscript on June 14, 2018: It appears that Dutch politico wants to start his own “Draw Muhammed” day. Perhaps he’s never heard of Molly Norris. Read about that here.

Join Oliphant, Garry Trudeau in petition

Saturday, July 17th, 2010

Since we wrote about cartoonist Molly Norris being added to an execution hit list a few days ago here, there’s been an article in the Huffington Post here, and an article in the Washington Post here.  (Nothing from the New York Times.)

It’s a spit in the bucket, I know, but Pulitzer Prizewinning cartoonists are circulating a petition protesting politically and religiously based attacks on cartoonists around the world.  Please join Oliphant, Garry Trudeau, and others by signing the petition here.  The petition is sponsored by Cartoonists Rights Network International, a sort of Amnesty International for cartoonists.

The organization last month gave its Annual Award for Courage in Editorial Cartooning to Iranian cartoonist Mana Neyestani.  Sandya Eknaligoda also accepted a Special Recognition award for her spirited challenge to the Sri Lankan government to account for her disappeared husband, writer and cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda.

Back to Norris.  CNN spoke to FBI Special Agent Marty Prewett:

“Prewitt declined to comment on where Norris is and whether she is receiving protection from law enforcement. Al-Awlaki also threatened eight other cartoonists, journalists and writers from Britain, Sweden and Holland.”

Colleague David Horsey, a Seattle cartoonist, blogs about Norris here.

Mark Zuckerberg

Meanwhile, BBC Urdu reports that Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is being investigated by Pakistani authorities under a section of the penal code that makes blasphemy against Muhammad punishable by death:

“According to the paper, Section 295-C of the penal code reads: ‘Use of derogatory remark etc, in respect of the Holy Prophet, whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable for fine.’

Molly Norris

So, peace be unto Muhammad. But not unto Mark Zuckerberg.”

As the daughter and the mother of cartoonist, this cause has a special resonance.  However, one doesn’t seem to be able to address this issue without offering the politically correct proviso, so here goes:  I respect Islam.  But I also respect freedom of speech, and protecting those whose exercise of such freedom has been entirely non-violent. Freedom of speech can only begin when you say something that I find offensive.

Mollie Norris’s website, which disappeared when she did, is reported to be under construction.  We wish her well.