In 1989, the offices of my neighborhood newspaper were firebombed by a terrorist. Molotov cocktails ignited a blaze that gutted the first floor of the building, incinerated furniture, and left computers and telephones all but vaporized.
A short time later, a man called 911 and said, in an accent the FBI later identified as Pakistani, “Can you please listen to my message very carefully. Very very important. You know that British author who wrote the book The Satanic Verses. For to protest I throw the bomb. I’m sorry but we got to do more bombs pretty soon if they don’t stop from publish that book. That’s it.”
Two weeks earlier, the novelist Salman Rushdie had gone into hiding when Iran’s “supreme leader” Ayatollah Khomeini pronounced a death sentence on him for writing a novel that questions the founding myth of Islam. Khomeini’s fatwa offered a bounty of more than $5 million to anyone who could kill the author. It also threatened “all those involved in its publication.
The bombing of The Riverdale Press occurred shortly after the editors published “The Tyrant and His Chains,” a scathing criticism of America’s largest bookstore chains for responding to the Ayatollah’s threat by pulling all copies of The Satanic Verses from their shelves.
The chain store executives excuse their surrender to the Ayatollah by expressing concern for the wellbeing of their employees, but by knuckling under they’ve put others at risk. If a threat can knock the books from the shelves of the Big Three, terrorists may reason, think what a bomb in an uncompliant bookstore could do.
Moreover, terrorism feeds on its successes. What will Waldenbooks do when a homegrown would-be tyrant demands the removal of a politically controversial book from its shelves? And how will it handle the next step, a demand that stores stock a particular book?
The day after the firebombing, the Press published its weekly issue on schedule. Headlining the front page was an editorial titled “We Will Not Be Silenced.”
Mayoral candidates Ed Koch, David Dinkins and Rudy Giuliani gathered with hundreds of community residents to offer their support for the Press, and newspapers around the country reprinted “The Tyrant and His Chains.” As “a statement of solidarity with the publishers of the Riverdale Press,” Democratic Senator Daniel Moynihan asked that the editorial be printed in the Congressional Record alongside a resolution “condemning the threats against the author and publishers of the Satanic Verses.”
Speaking on the Senate floor just before the resolution passed, Republican Senator Bob Dole said:
Terrorism is terrorism. It is abhorrent. It must be condemned. There is no justification for it, period.
That is the policy of this country, and of civilized countries everywhere. That is the essence of this resolution.
Let us underscore our continuing commitment to this policy, this strong and necessary policy, by passing this resolution. And let that act be encouragement to those who refuse to buckle under to the threats of terrorists, and a rebuke to the Khomeinis of the world, who care not a whit for anyone’s rights or beliefs but their own.
If the Senate voted on that resolution today, would Lindsey Graham, Harry Reid, and President Obama give it the full-throated, bipartisan support it received in 1989? Who would today’s leaders hold responsible for the attack on The Riverdale Press?
Would Graham call Rushdie’s novel “a terrible thing” that “put our troops at risk”? Would he say, “Freedom of speech is a great idea, but we’re in a war”?
Would Reid kowtow to Khomeini as he did to Karzai? Would he promise to “look at” passing a resolution to censure the editors of The Riverdale Press and Rushdie for exercising their First Amendment rights?
Would the president denounce Rushdie for blasphemy against Islam and call the publication of his book “an act of extreme intolerance and bigotry“?
These are the words Graham, Reid, and Obama used to criticize the Florida pastor who burned a copy of the Koran. Rather than blame Afghan President Hamid Karzai for igniting hostilities or a barbaric culture in which violence is often the default setting, they are holding one law-abiding demagogue in Florida responsible for deadly riots in Afghanistan.
22 years after Democrats and Republicans came together to support freedom of expression and condemn the terror attack on a Bronx newspaper, we are watching the formation of a new bipartisan coalition, one that advocates wartime suspension of First Amendment rights and submission to the demands of Islamist street thugs and leaders. 22 years later, we’re announcing to the world that our Constitutional rights are fragile enough to crumble in the face of threats, intimidation, and unspeakable acts of violence abroad.
First they came for the Koran burner …
Runnin’ Scared notes that Arianna’s April Fools’ Day jab at the New York Times is awfully similar to a post that appeared at The Monkey Cage … on March 20. In a fairly lame attempt to razz the Times for its new paywall, she announced:
Today marks a significant transition for The Huffington Post Media Group, as we introduce digital subscriptions for employees of The New York Times.
Yeah, yeah. In other news, she just flew in from the coast and BOY are her arms tired. Hardy har har. Here’s a snippet from the earlier post at The Monkey Cage:
The similarities don’t end there.
Not only did the blog Monkey Cage make the same joke two weeks ago — “Monkey Cage to Begin Charging NY Times Employees for Access,” as pointed out on Twitter — but even the bullet-pointed formatting of the joke is the same, complete with wild and crazy caveats. For instance:
From Monkey Cage: “Times employees who wish to leave comments on posts will be permitted to do so without charge, but only if the comments are essentially positive and invoke the words ‘insightful’ or ‘counter-intuitive.’”
From Arianna: “If you come in through Digg, you’ll be able to read for free all stories that refer to TV’s Erik Estrada.”
Now sure, it could be that the comedy stylings of Arianna Huffington were something she thought up on her own, perhaps during a late night coffee klatch with Van Jones and Nora Ephron. But this is hardly the first time The Huffington Post has been on the receiving end of content theft and idea theft allegations. And when she’s not stealing, she’s “aggregating,” or as Stephen Colbert recently explained, “HuffPo is famous for its extensive, comprehensive coverage of things other people produce and put on the Internet.” In his best Arianna accent, he asked:
Darling, I happened to cruise by your $300 million website and you know what I find? A whole lotta me, including clips from my show on your site’s dedicated Stephen Colbert page. You have achieved the impossible. You made me feel angry while looking at pictures of myself. Where’s my money, Arianna?
If even Stephen Colbert is mocking her reputation as a content thief with The Colbuffington Re-Post, is it beyond belief that she’d swipe her April Fools’ Day “joke”? Runnin’ Scared suggests she’s not a thief, it’s just that her ideas are “played out.” I’m not so sure.
A $600,000 frog sculpture that lights up, gurgles “sounds of nature” and carries a 10-foot fairy girl on its back could soon be greeting Defense Department employees who plan to start working at the $700 million Mark Center in Alexandria, Va. this fall. That is unless a new controversy over the price tag of the public art doesn’t torpedo the idea.
Decried as wasteful spending that will be seen by just a couple thousand of daily workers who arrive on bus shuttles, foes have tried to delay the decision, expected tomorrow, April 1. But in an E-mail, an Army Corps of Engineers official said that the decision can’t be held up because it would impact completion of the huge project.
With a decision deadline of April 1, I figured this had to be an April Fools’ Day gag. No such luck. The proposal by artist Cheryl Foster is proudly displayed on the City of Alexandria website, along with equally absurd wastes of taxpayer dollars like a magnolia sculpture (pretty sure you can grow a magnolia for under six figures) and a “robust, maintenance free, colorful and uplifting” bench. Yes, a bench. An uplifting bench.
A member of the advisory committee overseeing the project says just 2,500 people will pass by the sculpture each day.
$600,000 for a giant toad the artist says will “magically radiate” light? I wonder how much she’ll knock off the price tag if we’re willing to forgo whatever dark enchantments she uses to produce that “magical” amphibian glow.
Check out the photo of the proposed sculpture at Verum Serum, and get ready to wish this out-of-control government spending was just an April Fools’ hoax.