Americans ought to be able to see for ourselves what all the fuss is about. Unfortunately, we’re not going to get any help from Borders bookstores. They’ve pulled copies of a small circulation magazine called Free Inquiry off their bookshelves. The magazine, which has a circulation of about 30,000, published several of the controversial cartoons in its April-May issue.
“Borders absolutely supports the customers’ right to choose what to read and what to buy, and Free Inquiry has the right to publish the cartoons,” spokeswoman Anne Roman said. Still, “we made the decision not to carry this particular issue of Free Inquiry because of the fact that we place a priority on customer and employee safety and security.” For some reason, safely keeps coming up. “For us, the safety and security of our customers and employees is a top priority, and we believe that carrying this issue could challenge that priority,” another company spokeswoman, Beth Bingham, announced.
I’ve been in hundreds of bookstores, and never once felt unsafe, although I can see how people might be frequently offended. Bookstores make their money selling ideas as well as publications, so National Review or The Nation may well offend even those who aren’t offended by magazines such as Playboy or books such as Madonna’s “Sex.” As bookstore owner Michael Powell noted, “The truth is that many of the books I stock have material that will offend somebody with something.”
Borders seems to be offering up a preemptive surrender here. In effect the company is saying, “Muslims may react with violence, so we’ll just knuckle under to prevent that.” But there are many things Americans do that are offensive to Muslims. Ocean City, Md., with its women in bikinis is clearly offensive -- but are we as a society ready to demand that all women wear burkas to the beach?
Today’s “victims” need a reality check. Our society benefits from freedom of the press, just as our members of Congress benefit from their guards. If we want our society to survive, we can’t allow either to be beaten up with impunity.