Suppose there were a worldwide movement which openly proclaimed its goal of taking over in your country and every country with the purpose of imposing its system on every human being on earth. Also suppose that this movement had carried out murders and terrorist attacks in your own country, that members of this group promoted violence while gaining political influence. Suppose also that is was highly unfashionable and politically incorrect to speak out against them.
I am not speaking of Islam here, but of Communism. The current wave of censorship and denial toward Islam is not a new development. It is rather a very old one. Islamophobia, like Red-Baiting, is a political term that serves the function of cutting off any discussion of the subject. It precludes any listing of the facts or debates on the issue, by declaring it to be off-limits. To raise the issue is to expose yourself as a bad person whose ideas are unacceptable for public distribution.
When George Orwell was struggling to find a publisher for Animal Farm, he was repeatedly turned down on the grounds that the book would offend the Soviet Union. One publisher wrote to Orwell that he had been dissuaded from publishing the book by an important official in the Ministry of Information (an agency that would become the Ministry of Truth in his novel, 1984) who had told him that publishing such a book would be ill-advised at this time. That official was, incidentally, a Soviet spy.
The publisher went on to say that the book might be acceptable if it applied generally to dictators, but not specifically to the USSR. Finally the publisher added, “It would be less offensive if the predominant caste in the fable were not pigs. I think the choice of pigs as the ruling caste will no doubt give offence to many people, and particularly to anyone who is a bit touchy, as undoubtedly the Russians are.”
Change around a few names and this is exactly the rejection letters that courageous books critical of Islam have received. It’s fine to make general criticisms of religious fanaticism, so long as those criticisms are universally applied, and do not offend those touchy people who religious fanaticism occasionally expresses itself in dangerous ways.
In a generally deleted preface to Animal Farm, Orwell wrote, “The sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is largely voluntary. Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban. Anyone who has lived long in a foreign country will know of instances of sensational items of news — being kept right out of the British press, not because the Government intervened but because of a general tacit agreement that ‘it wouldn’t do’ to mention that particular fact.”
There are quite a few sensational facts and news items that are kept out or minimized in our own media because it would not do to mention them. There are rarely any government officials dictating this censorship, certainly in the United States there are no legal codes that make it mandatory, but this censorship is voluntary. It consists of people censoring themselves, of publications censoring people out of fear of violence, of publishers who feel that this is an ill-advised time to stir up tensions and of a larger body of liberal thinkers who feel that we should sympathize with Islam and ignore any of its violent and supremacist activities.
“At this moment what is demanded by the prevailing orthodoxy is an uncritical admiration of Soviet Russia. Everyone knows this, nearly everyone acts on it. Any serious criticism of the Soviet régime, any disclosure of facts which the Soviet government would prefer to keep hidden, is next door to unprintable,” Orwell wrote in his Animal Farm preface titled, Freedom of the Press.
“Hardly anyone will print an attack on Stalin, but it is quite safe to attack Churchill… throughout five years of war, during two or three of which we were fighting for national survival, countless books, pamphlets and articles advocating a compromise peace have been published without interference… So long as the prestige of the USSR is not involved, the principle of free speech has been reasonably well upheld.”
So too we still have freedom of the speech. We are encouraged to attack our own government, though not the liberal wings of it, but it is still a safer thing to do, so long as the prestige of Islam is not involved. Only when Islam is offended, does the principle of free speech come apart.
It was always safe to attack Bush, but an attack, even on Bin Laden, was considered tacky at best. And an attack on more “moderate” figures, like Tariq Ramadan, was borderline unprintable. While it was ridiculously easy to publish an essay depicting Bush as a war-crazed chimp invading Iraq for oil, Haliburton and Christian fundamentalism, the cultural elites insisted that doing so was an act of great political courage. Meanwhile publishing an essay critical of Islamic figures was next to impossible and dangerously perilous. And those same elites treated it as a despicable abuse of freedom of speech.
The poisonous vein here goes deeper. With the rise of the Bolsheviks there was a vigorous debate over whether or not to recognize the Soviet Union. Two administrations, Wilson and Hoover, chose not to do so. Their reasoning was fairly straightforward and is best expressed in the words of Bainbridge Colby, the Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson.
Colby was a liberal who had co-founded Roosevelt’s Progressive Party and befriended Mark Twain, nevertheless he laid out a clear rationale for extending no diplomatic recognition to the Bolshevik terrorists. “We cannot recognize, hold official relations with or give friendly reception to the agents of a government which is determined and bound to conspire against our institutions, whose diplomats will be agitators of dangerous revolt, whose spokesmen say they sign agreements with no intention of keeping them.”
That policy persisted under two administrations, including that of President Hoover, who had personal experience with the Soviet Union during the Russian relief effort which bailed out the Communists at a crucial time. It was the FDR Administration which was stuffed full of Communists that abrogated it. FDR became the first American president to directly communicate with a Soviet leader and in his first year of office he invited the Soviet Foreign Minister to Washington D.C. and recognized the Soviet Union.
To achieve that recognition, the Soviet Union pledged not to promote or harbor any groups with the aim of “the overthrow or the preparation for the overthrow of, or bringing about by force of, a change in the political or social order of the whole or any part of the United States, its territories or possessions.” This agreement was never honored in any way, shape or form.
Colby went on defending his policy until his death in 1950 as the right thing to do. And the pace of events only proved him right. The USSR used diplomatic recognition to extract aid, plant saboteurs and conduct espionage. It kept agreements only for so long as they suited it.
The pro-recognition lobby backed of diplomats, businessmen and politicians exploiting argued that only engagement would reform the Soviet Union. That same argument was still being made during the Reagan Administration which was berated for its warmongering obstructionism every time it refused to give in to Soviet demands.
We are back to that same debate today between engaging our enemies or accepting their hostility as a fact. The modern diplomatic corps is full of advocates of engagement with the Muslim Brotherhood, with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. There isn’t anyone they won’t engage with so long as they hate the United States and seek to destroy it.
Four years of Obama has shown once again that engagement does not work. Not only doesn’t it work, it actually emboldens the enemy and allows the enemy to infiltrate deep within our societies and to corrupt our institutions. That very engagement leads to censorship in the name of friendship. It leads to news articles and books that cannot be printed because they might sabotage the chances for peace.
The hope for peace is the greatest force of censorship there is. Once engagement is passed off as a fairy that you must believe in lest she will die, then censorship becomes absolutely mandatory to keep peace alive. If a book critical of Communism might offend the USSR then it is best not to print it or to water it down. If Muslims riot over cartoons of Mohammed, then it is a civic duty not to print them in the name of peace and understanding.
When we marvel at the Dhimmism in modern cultural life, at the extent to which Islamic viewpoints are presented unchallenged as the establishment devotes its fullest efforts to inveighing against any opposing views, this too has its red precedents.
“The servility with which the greater part of the English intelligentsia have swallowed and repeated Russian propaganda from 1941 onwards would be quite astounding,” Orwell wrote. “On one controversial issue after another the Russian viewpoint has been accepted without examination and then publicised with complete disregard to historical truth or intellectual decency.”
Modern day examples of this surround us on all sides and as a doctor of totalitarianism, Orwell aptly diagnosed the corruption of the elites and their descent into totalitarian expediency.
“If the intellectual liberty which without a doubt has been one of the distinguishing marks of western civilisation means anything at all, it means that everyone shall have the right to say and to print what he believes to be the truth… It is only, or at any rate it is chiefly, the literary and scientific intelligentsia, the very people who ought to be the guardians of liberty, who are beginning to despise it, in theory as well as in practice.
“The word ancient emphasises the fact that intellectual freedom is a deep-rooted tradition without which our characteristic western culture could only doubtfully exist. From that tradition many of our intellectuals arc visibly turning away. They have accepted the principle that a book should be published or suppressed, praised or damned, not on its merits but according to political expediency.”
That principle is now the primary one on the left. This totalitarian cowardice that Orwell inveighed against has been elevated to an unchallenged moral standard. Animal Farm is widely reprinted, but without Orwell’s preface. Like 1984, a book whose composition effectively killed him, it has been treated according to the original plan of that publisher, stripping away most acknowledgements that it is a vicious satire of Soviet Communism, rather than a generic commentary on tyranny.
Orwell’s preface, so rarely published, concludes with his motivation for writing it, “It is the liberals who fear liberty and the intellectuals who want to do dirt on the intellect.”
Daniel Greenfield is a New York City writer and columnist. He is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and his articles appears at its Front Page Magazine site.
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