Censorship Is Thuggery: This Weekend's Free-Speech Defending Moment
The answer to speech you dislike is more speech -- not covering up, silencing, or ripping down the offending speech.
On Saturday, I was working on my book at a cafe where a woman was having a book-signing, advertised with a poster of her book cover on a few doors and windows of the cafe. (That's her on the cover.)
An Orthodox Jew with a gray beard came into the cafe and began taking one of her posters down -- this one in the photograph.
On my way back from the bathroom, I saw him trying to pick off one of the pieces of tape and then just start to slowly rip the thing (causing the small rip in the upper right-hand corner before I stopped him).
When I realized what he was trying to do, I put my hand over her poster to protect it so he couldn't continue.
"That's the author's poster," I said. "You don't get to stop somebody's speech."
He said it had to come down because there was a swastika on it.
Understanding that he saw the poster's existence as an attack on Jews, I explained that it wasn't hate speech; it was a historical novel about the Holocaust. (An icon that represents the time is the swastika -- which was why it was on its cover.)
But, frankly, while I wanted to reassure him that it wasn't a symbol of hate, as used, even if it had been, that doesn't mean an offended Jew or anyone gets to tear it down.
I explained that the answer to speech you are against is more speech. Picketing bookstores that sell books with swastikas on the covers, for example.
He was having none of this.
He snarled at me to "grow up."
Mature. And extremely short-sighted.
This country has a Constitution -- and a First Amendment that gives us the right to free speech.
That incredible document is also what allows this man to practice his religion freely in this country -- unlike in states like Iran, where they control speech and religion and jail or slaughter people who speak unapproved speech or practice unapproved religions.
Stopping another person's speech is thuggery. Whether you believe you are on the "side of angels" doesn't change that a whit.
For an inspiring and very interesting read on how surprisingly endangered free speech is in this country, pre-order the soon-to-be-published Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate, by Greg Lukianoff, president of theFIRE.org, a fantastic organization defending civil liberties on college campuses across America.
And if you're interested in the book in the poster above, it's Forbidden Symphony, by Alexandria Xiaoli Zheng.
Her book is a true-life-inspired fictional account of a Jewish conductor from Berlin who escaped the Holocaust in Germany as one of reportedly 25,000 Jewish refugees who went to Shanghai, where visas were not required of the Jews.