randombio.com | political commentary
Thursday, March 7, 2019

Is Amazon censoring books?

If we suppress expression of contrary ideas, all expressed ideas become suspect.

T here are rumors flying around that Amazon and Barnes & Noble have banned Mohammed's Koran, a 2017 anti-Islamist book by Tommy Robinson and Peter McLoughlin.

Though I admire Amazon and am usually skeptical of such claims, it took only seconds to find supporting evidence. Bing finds a link to the book at Amazon. The link now points to a page that says “Sorry, we couldn't find that page” with a picture of a cute dog. Cached pages at amazon.co.uk and amazon.ca also return “404 not found” messages.

BN and addall.com have none of Robinson's books, and only two of Peter McLoughlin's books. Nor are they found in their extensive list of out-of-print books. Robert Spencer, a prominent critic of Islam, quoted McLoughlin as pointing out that Mein Kampf and The Anarchist Cookbook are still for sale, claiming political bias. Spencer writes:

If the motivating ideology of jihad terrorists cannot be criticized or even discussed openly, jihad terrorists will have an absolutely free hand. They will act with impunity, secure in the knowledge that any criticism of their activities will be shut down the same way Tommy Robinson was shut down.

Even if one dislikes Spencer's views, his argument is valid, but there's a much better one.

When dissident ideas are suppressed, we cannot believe anything anyone says. When a beautiful movie star claims to believe in equal rights for women, is she sincere or is she merely afraid what will happen to her career if she remains silent? If the former, she can be admired, and if she speaks intelligently she will gain converts. But without freedom to dissent, we cannot know if she is really sincere. Suppress contrary ideas, and all ideas become suspect. Even silence becomes suspect, as singer Taylor Swift discovered.

When comedians and Hollywood stars bash President Trump, are they sincere, or are they trying to improve their image by attacking somebody who is a villain in the eyes of those who they're trying to impress? Maybe—project this—they all secretly lurrrrrve Donald Trump! Without freedom of speech, we have no way of knowing.

Freedom buys a society honesty and credibility. Conversely, without freedom to dissent, no statement by anyone can be believed. That's why no one believes statements made by individuals working for big corporations.

Censorship destroys trust, and it forces us to fall back on the Marxist idea that all beliefs are merely selfish expressions of class interest. I can't imagine a more depressing and cynical view of humanity.

Was philosopher Martin Heidegger sincere when he joined the Nazi party to save his career? To this day it is used to discredit his ideas. But he lived at a time when expressing a dissident idea got you killed, so we can put no credence in anything political he might have said.

The same principle applies with anti-vaxxers, global warming skeptics, and people opposed to genetically-modified food. Suppressing contrary opinions on controversial subjects merely convinces people that you are trying to steamroll them into accepting your opinion. If objections that naturally arise in the mind of the listener are not acknowledged, you lose your status as a credible scholar.

I have little interest in Islam and had no interest in this guy's book until now. However objectionable his opinions may be, pretending he does not exist only creates sympathy. If his scholarship is bad, his ideas will discredit themselves. There is a little libertarian in each of us. And that little guy doesn't like being told how to think.

Censorship undermines the basis of the scholarly culture we all rely on, which is that alternative ideas, even if unappealing, must be considered. It will not produce a paradise of happy, uplifting ideas, but a loss of the authority of all scholarly writing.

If Amazon was threatened with legal action or terrorist reprisals, or if they're caving to political activists, they should have the courage to say so, lest we wonder what else they're censoring. Books challenging established scientific theories? Books with ‘Fifty’ in the title? What a cowardly old world that has such 404's in't.

march 07 2019, 5:31 am. last edited mar 07 2019, 7:04 am

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