Last month, 12 mainly European-based, mainly Muslim or ex-Muslim intellectuals, alarmed by the spell on free speech cast by Cartoon Rage 2006, signed onto an anti-totalitarian manifesto for freedom of expression published by Denmark's Jylland-Posten.
"After having overcome fascism, Nazism and Stalinism, the world now faces a new totalitarian global threat: Islamism," the manifesto began.
"We, writers, journalists, intellectuals, call for resistance to religious totalitarianism and for the promotion of freedom, equal opportunity and secular values for all."
Among the dozen signatories were Somali-born Dutch parliamentarian Ayaan Hirsi Ali; Ugandan-born Canadian writer Irshad Manji; Indian-born British writer Salman Rushdie, and Pakistani-born writer Ibn Warraq.
Rounding out the list were a few French writers, a Bangledeshi, a Lebanese and several Iranians. What is striking is that none of them come from that "world" they hailed, the one that overcame fascism, Nazism and communism -- not merely "Stalinism." (One signatory is billed as an Iranian communist, which may account for the jarring distinction.)
Not only that, but, as the blogger Belmont Club pointed out, the manifesto was printed, "not in The New York Times, Le Monde or the Times of London, but of all places, in a provincial Danish newspaper of no particular fame."
All of which should shove a big, fat question mark onto the "world" stage to ask where these brave signatories' writerly, journalistic and intellectual brethren are on this one, not to mention Big Media coverage. After all, the world didn't overcome fascism, Nazism and communism with the silent treatment, restrained rhetoric or exquisite editorial discretion. But beyond the blogosphere, coverage of the manifesto -- not the last word on the subject, but certainly a start -- has been sparse, just as though freedom of speech weren't in peril. And just as though the signatories, for affirming freedom of speech, weren't either.
But they are. A crude death threat has been posted at the British Muslim Web site, ummah.com -- the kind of Web site where, as Time magazine reported after the London underground bombings last year, a poem said to have been posted by Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi glorified terror-bombings in Iraq, and another user wrote that "killing Americans is not murder, it is retaliation." This time, under a thread entitled "Writers Slam Islamic 'Totalitarianism,'" the names of the Free Expression 12 appeared and someone wrote:
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