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A dangerous precedent

By Elizabeth Held
Monday, May 17, 2010

A few months ago, I was fortunate enough to hear Chris Hitchens speak. Hitchens writes for a ton of publications, including a weekly column for slate.com

Hitchens' speech that night focused on the dangers of Islamic fundamentalism. He discussed not terrorism, but censorship. His speech centered on the controversy surrounding the cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed, and the resulting murder of the artist.

The repercussions went beyond those immediate results; it struck fear in publishers across the world who are now afraid of publishing anything that may offend Islamic extremists.

Yale University Press printed a book “The Cartoons That Shook the World,” on the Danish cartoon controversy. Noticeably missing from the book were images of the cartoons. Why did they self-censor? The publishing company acted on the advice of two dozen authorities, including diplomats and experts on Islam and counterterrorism, who said printing the images could be dangerous.

I thought a lot about this during the flare-up surrounding "South Park’s" depiction of the prophet. Comedy Central made the same decision that Yale University Press did: that it would be dangerous to include these images in their show.

I’m clearly behind the times. This happened almost a month ago, but I’ve been focused on final papers.

But it all came rushing back to me when I read Hitchens’ latest column (Click HERE). It’s about the French burqa ban. He uses the burqa as a jumping off point to discuss issues of using religious convictions as cover for immoral behavior, like abuse or honor killings.

The two issues are linked. But I’m more comfortable talking about the "South Park"/book issue. We’re living in a time when a small minority of radicals have so terrified those in media that they’re self-censoring. It’s a dangerous precedent.

College final papers


That’s some of what I’ve been thinking about lately. Mainly, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the Lady of Guadalupe, the Schenectady Museum and Christian missionaries and the opium trade. Those were my three final paper topics. The last one was, far and above, the most difficult paper I’ve ever written.

Every once in a while, you stumble upon a topic that really affects you. For whatever reason, the Protestant missionaries' opinions on opium took over my life. I honestly went to bed and woke up each morning thinking about opium. My friends started joking that I looked strung out.

I wrote six different versions of it. Finally, in a teary phone call with my mom, she said, “Just choose one and hand it in.”

And I did. I’m a perfectionist by nature. So I edited and proofed it, and then handed it in. But a few days later, I’m fairly certain that it would have been just as good of a paper had I not pulled my hair out over it.

Sometimes, you just need a little perspective.

 
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