Cathy Seipp has an interesting essay in the LA Times about a visit to City Lights, the legendary San Francisco book store and why, despite its long history of proudly promoting banned books, they refuse to carry Oriana Fallaci’s The Force of Reason:
So, although my friend is no fan of Ward Churchill, the faux Indian and discredited professor who notoriously called 9/11 victims “little Eichmanns,” he didn’t really mind seeing piles of Churchill’s books prominently displayed on a table as he walked in.
However it did occur to him that perhaps the long-delayed translation of Oriana Fallaci’s new book, “The Force of Reason,” might finally be available, and that because Fallaci’s militant stance against Islamic militants offends so many people, a store committed to selling banned books would be the perfect place to buy it. So he asked a clerk if the new Fallaci book was in yet.
“No,” snapped the clerk. “We don’t carry books by fascists.”
Now let’s just savor the absurd details of this for a minute. City Lights has a long and proud history of supporting banned authors – owner Lawrence Ferlinghetti was indicted (and acquitted) for obscenity in 1957 for selling Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl,” and a photo at the bookstore showed Ferlinghetti proudly posing next to a sign reading “banned books.”
Yet his store won’t carry, of all people, Fallaci, who is not only being sued in Italy for insulting religion because of her latest book but continues to fight the good fight against those who think that the appropriate response to offensive books and cartoons is violent riots. It’s particularly repugnant that someone who fought against actual fascism in World War II should be deemed a fascist by a snotty San Francisco clerk.
Hear, hear. Fallaci is hardly immune from criticism, but if anyone has been the victim of fascist behavior it’s her. This is a woman who fought against Mussolini as part of the Italian resistence before she was old enough to take a drink of wine. Over the last few years, she has been continually hounded in Europe for daring to write against Islamic radicalism. The behavior of some European governments toward her has been nothing short of abominable.
In 2002, a Swiss judge issued an arrest order for Fallaci on the grounds that she should stand trial on criminal charges because of the allegedly “racist” content of a book she wrote that was extremely critical of radical Islam after 9/11. The judge actually demanded that Italy extradite her to Switzerland for such kangaroo court proceedings. The Italian government refused, only to indict her themselves for “defaming Islam”.
The lack of protection for free speech on the part of our European allies has reached the point where it can no longer be dismissed as anamolous. And the fact that this sort of censorship would be excused away and even supported by those on the left in America is profoundly disturbing to me, especially when it is aimed at silencing criticism of what is clearly the most reactionary and authoritarian ideology in the world today. The notion that those of us who are more or less on the left when it comes to civil liberties, those of us who are advocates of gay rights, women’s rights, freedom of expression and so forth, should be mincing words when it comes to Islamic radicalism strikes me as not only absurd but extraordinarily dangerous. If ever an ideology cried out for opposition, this one does.
*I originally called it “City Books” rather than “City Lights”. I have no idea why, as I’ve actually been to the place.