The Associated Press reported today (03/29/06) that the company that operates Borders and Waldenbooks stores will not stock the April-May issue of Free Inquiry magazine because it contains cartoons of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad that provoked deadly protests among Muslims in several countries a couple months ago.
Free Inquiry is the official magazine of the Council for Secular Humanism (CSH) based in Amherst, NY. It announced that it would publish some of the cartoons that sparked violence from Denmark to Syria by offended Muslims. In their press release they said they would publish them because the major magazines in the US (Time, Newsweek, etc…) refuses to publish them.
“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,” Borders spokeswoman Beth Bingham said Wednesday.
Bingham said the decision was made before the magazine arrived at the chain’s stores. The company operates more than 475 Borders and 650 Waldenbooks stores in the United States, though not all regularly carry the magazine.
So the chain decided BEFORE seeing the magazine… interesting.
According to the AP report the cartoons are accompanied by three articles: one by editor Tom Flynn tracing the controversy and explaining the decision; a commentary by R. Joseph Hoffmann, director of the Council for Secular Humanism’s Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion; and a historic look at representations of the prophet.
Paul Kurtz, editor-in-chief said:
“What is at stake is the precious right of freedom of expression. Cartoons often provide an important form of political satire … To refuse to distribute a publication because of fear of vigilante violence is to undermine freedom of press _ so vital for our democracy.”
To be honest, Borders goofed. Free Inquiry is a small publication compared to others like Maxim, Stuff, and People. In fact I have gone to the two stores in my area and have yet to find an issue of Free Inquiry when I wanted to buy it.
But I get it. They can pander to those customers who might not have appreciated the cartoons in context and it doesn’t hurt them in the balance sheet. However, censoring the magazine is going to create more of a scene than just letting it sit silently on the shelf collecting dust before being shipped back to the distributor. The move also brings fresh free publicity for CSH.
Now if they decided not to stock Dr. Phil’s latest fake psychology book then all hell would break loose – or better what if they ban the Holy Bible – with its tales of incest, sex, violence, and tribulation.
So Borders will stick to its pandering while I cross them off my future shopping list for books.
While I am against Borders censoring Free Inquiry, I was not pleased that CSH planned to publish the cartoons. I felt it was a self-serving publicity stunt. However, after learning about the 3 articles that will put the controversy in context and from a secular humanist POV, I feel better about them doing it.