So there are limits to freedom of expression after all! Professor Memdani of Makarere University says it brilliantly:
“Power can instrumentalise free speech to frame a minority and present it for target practice”
This dossier provides examples where points of view have been suppressed for a variety of reasons including political pressure and cultural sensitivities. When in June 2022 there was a complaint by Muslims on a sacrilegious film, one prominent British advocate of ‘freedom of speech/expression with few boundaries’ wrote “the question rather is why the protesters’ view of Islamic history, and their sense of being offended, should be taken more seriously than the right of the film-makers to present their historical and theological views?” i.e. Muslim should put up and shut up. But why is this standard not applicable to others?
US Book banning
Martin Penghelly in the Guardian, 22 April 2023, ” Book bans are more common in Republican-run states. According to Pen, “seven districts in Texas were responsible for 438 instances of individual book bans, and 13 districts in Florida were responsible for 357 bans”. click here.
Gillian Tett in the Financial Times, 8 February 2023, ” According to PEN America, the literary free speech advocate, during the 2021-22 academic year there were more than 2,500 book bans in different US school districts and libraries, dramatically more than previously recorded.”
Oliver Milman in the Guardian, “. . . The push to ban certain books has prompted backlash in some states. Shortly after the Texas state lawmaker Matt Krause called for the state’s school libraries to consider 850 books for possible removal, a group of librarians created a broad online campaign to fight the bans, deluging state politicians with tweets and emails over the issue. In Wisconsin, meanwhile, a school district’s decision to ban the title When the Emperor Was Divine, a book by Julie Otsuka on the internment of Japanese-Americans in the second world war, provoked a furious response from local teachers, parents and students who organized protest rallies over the move. Such bans have continued unabated across the US . . .” click here.
Hindu sensitivities respected
Hannan Ellis-Petersen in the Guardian, “. . . The Indian high commission in Canada said it had received complaints from members of the Hindu community over the poster [Leena Manimekalai’s film depicting the Hindu diety Kaali in a disrespectful way] and it ‘urged Canadian authorities and the event organisers to withdraw all such provocative material’.” click here.
German art gallery censors artist’s work
Philip Oltermann in the Guardian, ” Organisers at the Documenta contemporary art exhibition in the German city of Kassel have covered up an artwork by a group of Indonesian artists . . . a sprawling banner by the Taring Padi collective previously shown at the South Australian Art Festival in Adelaide last year, includes images of soldiers in riot gear with pigs’ heads, one of them labelled as a member of Mossad, with a Star of David on his balaclava. ” click here.
Oxford University Press India and book on India’s politics
Asiatimes.com reports, ” In an apparent attempt to avoid offending the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Oxford University Press has declined to print the Indian release of To Kill a Democracy, a book whose international edition was favourably reviewed by Asia Times in June . . . [co-author] Chowdhury told Asia Times: ‘We have lost three precious months following the global launch and favorable media reviews. If OUP India had told us earlier that it was too afraid to print the book, we would have started looking for an Indian publisher early on and by now would have the book on the market. It’s disgraceful what OUP India has done to us . . . I n fact, OUPI may have developed cold feet after a scathing critique appeared in May in a publication called Organiser. That commentary strongly condemned articles by Chowdhury in Time magazine critical of Modi’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic . . . Organiser is the mouthpiece of the Hindu-nationalist organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).” click here
Facebook’s ban on the promotion of a book on the Palestinian resistance
Middle East Monitor (MEMO) and the Afro-Middle East Centre (AMEC) in Johannesburg have strongly condemned the decision by Facebook to ban a staff member from using its platform for 30 days after he posted an advert for the launch of a book written by MEMO’s director, titled Engaging the World: the Making of Hamas’s Foreign Policy. . . Jeenah [Director, Afro-Middle East Centre & publisher of the book in Johannesburg] described Facebook’s ban as “a dangerous and deplorable act that seeks to curtail free speech and redefine freedom of expression to what Facebook regards as politically acceptable. . . In his endorsement, world-renowned Israeli-born historian, Professor Ilan Pappé, said: “This book challenges successfully the common misrepresentation of Hamas in the West. It is a must read for anyone engaged with the Palestine issue and interested in an honest introduction to this important Palestinian movement.” (February 2021) Click here.
From the Salaam archives
Censorship by the Church
A female Catholic theologian has been banned by the Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh from speaking on Church property in his diocese. Acting on instructions from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), Archbishop Leo Cushley has ordered the Edinburgh Circle of the Newman Association to cancel an event at St Catherine’s Convent, Edinburgh, where Professor Tina Beattie was due to speak this month (September 2014).
Mark Dowd in the Tablet reports that a book by the celebrated Basque priest and author Jose Antonio Pagola entitled ‘Jesus: an historical approximation’, first published in 2007 “is nowhere to be seen on the website of its publisher…all copies have been hurriedly withdrawn from Spain’s bookshops. There have even been reports that the conference of Spanish bishops requested a certificate of destruction for the remaining 6,000 copies”. Apparently, Pagola’s theological views on Jesus were “negating Jesus’ own self-understanding of his divine identity and also of denying Jesus’ intentions to found the Church as a hierarchical community”.
An offensive artistic depiction of Jesus Christ in a French gallery was destroyed.
“France’s Catholic Church has won a court injunction to ban a clothing advertisement based on Leonardo da Vinci’s Christ’s Last Supper. The display was ruled ‘a gratuitous and aggressive act of intrusion on people’s innermost beliefs’, by a judge.”
One of Paris’s most prestigious theatres was being
protected by riot police and guard-dog patrols on Thursday after it became the
latest target in a wave of Catholic protests across France against so-called
‘blasphemous’ plays….The head of the Théâtre du Rond-Point on the
Champs-Elysées complained of death threats in the runup to Thursday’s premiere
of the play Golgota Picnic by the Madrid-based, Argentinian writer Rodrigo
García. Two men reported to have links to fundamentalist Catholic groups were
arrested at the weekend while attempting to disable the theatre’s security
system…Civitas, a lobby group that says it aims to re-Christianise France, has
called for a large, peaceful street demonstration ‘against Christianophobia’
The Christian activist group in France InstitutCivitas has disrupted the theatrical production ‘On the concept of the face of the son of God’ produced by Romeo Castellucci. The organisation has called for a day of national protest against ‘Christianophobia’.
The Italian Foreign Affairs Minister Franco Trattini has objected today to a publication in India of “a blasphemous portrait of Jesus”. In his press communique, he expresses his “profound concern for the violation of rights and dignity of Christians”, with reference to “the deplorable publication of a book for primary schools in India”. http://www.lefigaro.fr/flash-actu/2010/02/22/01011-20100222FILWWW00805-jesus-biere-a-la-main-rome-s-insurge.php
Professor Mahmood Memdani, in his acceptance speech on receipt of an honourary doctorate from the University of Johanesburg, 25th May 2010 provided this example from 1967 when Britain’s leading publishing house, Penguin, published an English addition of a book of cartoons by France’s most acclaimed cartoonist, Sine:
“The Penguin edition was introduced by Malcolm Muggeridge. Sine’s Massacre contained a number of anticlerical and blasphemous cartoons, some of them with a sexual theme. Many book sellers, who found the content offensive, conveyed their feelings to Allan Lane, who had by that time almost retired from Penguin. Though he was not a practicing Christian, Allen Lane took seriously the offense that this book seemed to cause to a number of his practicing Christian friends. Here is Richard Webster’s account of what followed ‘One night, soon after the book had been published, he [Allen Lane] went into Penguin’s Harmondsworth warehouse with four accomplices, filled a trailer with all the remaining copies of the book, drove away and burnt them. The next day the Penguin trade department reported the book ‘out of print’.’ Now. Britain has laws against blasphemy, but neither Allan Lane nor Penguin was taken to court.”
In September 2004, the BBC dropped an adult cartoon series ‘Popetown’ it had produced itself after complaints from Catholics. The late Sidney Shipton of the Board of Deputies and coordinator of the Three Faiths forum observed, ‘We had a hand in persuading the BBC not to show ‘Popetown’….the idea today of making a mockery of religion is becoming too popular with playwrights’. (Jewish Chronicle, 24th December 2004).
Respecting Hindu Values
Penguin Books India has agreed to withdraw from sale all copies of a book that takes an unorthodox view of Hinduism, and will pulp them as part of a settlement after a case was filed against the publisher, the petitioners’ lawyer said.
A play on the life of Rachel Corrie ‘who died under an IDF bulldozer in Gaza at the age of 23 ‘ was cancelled by the New York Theatre Workshop because, according to its artistic director ‘…what we heard was that after Ariel Sharonís illness and the election of Hamas…we had a very edgy situation’! (The Guardian, 1st March 2006)
A paper on the genetic origins of Palestinians was deleted from the journal ‘Human Immunology’ because it included an historical introduction calling Jews living in the Gaza strip ‘colonists’. (Nature 414, 2001)
In October 2004 the British Medical Journal had published an article in which a contributor, Derek Summerfield, expressed concerns at the systematic violations of the fourth Geneva Convention by the Israeli army in Gaza: “…there followed an orchestrated campaign to pressurise the journal not to publish such articles in the future….many emails abused the BMJ or [editor] Abbasi personally. These were often sent anonymously … allowing writers the freedom to use obscenities and personal (including racist) insults without worrying about the effect on their reputations. However, some abusive emails came from people apparently unconcerned about signing their names…the ultimate goal of some of the groups that lobby for Israel or against Palestine is apparently the suppression of views they disagree with.”
[‘Perils of criticising Israel’ by Karl Sabbagh, BMJ, 24th Feb 2009 http://www.bmj.com/content/338/bmj.a2066.full]
Limits to Artistic Licence
At London’s Barbican
[…] officials from the renowned [Barbican] arts venue confirmed they would not push ahead with viewings of Brett Bailey’s Exhibit B. The installation should have started a five-day run on Tuesday but the opening night was scrapped after up to 200 protesters blockaded the entrance and the road leading to the Barbican in London. The withdrawal was hailed as a victory by campaigners who claimed 20,000 signatures against what they condemned as “complicit racism” […] The campaign against the exhibition [in September 2014] was led by Birmingham-based activist and journalist Sara Myers but drew support from around the country, including noted figures such as Lord Boateng, Britain’s first black cabinet minister.
At the New York’s Met Opera
New York’s Metropolitan Opera have cancelled an international simulcast of John Adams’ opera The Death of Klinghoffer due to “an outpouring of concern” that it “might be used to fan global anti-Semitism”.
The Death of Klinghoffer is a coproduction between the Met and English National Opera; Tom Morris’s production opened first in London in 2012, with eight performances scheduled in Manhattan from October. As with many other Met productions, opera bosses scheduled a live HD broadcast to 2,000 cinemas around the world; that event, planned for 15 November, has now been axed.
“I’m convinced that the opera is not anti-Semitic,” said Peter Gelb, general manager for the Met, “but I’ve also become convinced that there is genuine concern in the international Jewish community that the live transmission of The Death of Klinghoffer would be inappropriate at this time of rising anti-Semitism, particularly in Europe.”
Composed in 1991, The Death of Klinghoffer depicts the Palestine Liberation Front’s 1985 hijack of an Italian cruise ship. One man was murdered in the stand-off with authorities: 69-year-old Leon Klinghoffer, a Jewish-American tourist.
In a French Theatre
A performance by Dieudonne M’bala M’bala in Nantes was blocked by France’s highest court late on Thursday night, overturning a local judge’s ruling that the show should be allowed to go ahead.
In a French art gallery
A gallery in Paris removed a satirical art installation because it was seen as a criticism of President Sarkozy. Lizzy Davies of The Guardian reported, “A British curator has accused France’s most prestigious art school of ‘unambiguous censorship’ after a work satirising one of Nicolas Sarkozy’s campaign slogans was taken down hours after going on display.
Clare Carolin, a senior tutor at the Royal College of Art in London, who was working on the ill-fated project at the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts, condemned the decision to remove the work, which was deemed ‘too explosive’.
An installation of four banners by the Chinese artist Ko Siu Lan on the exterior of the Beaux-Arts building in central Paris featured the words ‘earn’,’less’,’work’ and ‘more’ as a play on Sarkozy’s phrase ‘Work more to earn more’….
Sources inside the Beaux-Arts indicated that the work had provoked complaints from the ministry of education because of its politically sensitive nature.”
In a British Theatre
The play’s production team yesterday expressed their dismay at the decision to pull Moonfleece from the Mill Theatre in Dudley’s Dormston Centre, and claimed the move was tantamount to appeasing right-wing and BNP sympathisers…”