How Woke Put Paid to Publishing
city-journal.org – Monday August 29, 2022
News that Salman Rushdie had been stabbed on stage at a New York literary festival shocked the world. It prompted an outpouring of sympathy for the author, who has spent more than 30 years with a fatwa placed on his life. Amid concern for Rushdie’s health, some have begun to ask whether The Satanic Verses, his 1988 novel accused of blasphemy against Islam, could even be published today.
It’s not an unreasonable question. Attitudes toward free speech, blasphemy, and Islam have all changed considerably over the last three decades. Horrific crimes such as the murder of journalists at the French publication Charlie Hebdo in 2015 still prompt support for press freedom. But it took precisely two days for some to suggest that #JeSuisCharlie solidarity would “play into the hands of the racists and fascists.” Rare is the defense of free speech that comes without caveats: free speech, but not for racists or Islamophobes; but not without consequences; but not the liberty to say things that I, personally, find offensive.
The upshot is that many who work in journalism, universities, or publishing are now more concerned to avoid offending than to test the limits of what can be said. In this context, arguing for free speech often arouses suspicion. Defenders are said to be aligned with racists, transphobes, deplorables. And no one wants that. Rather than publish and be damned, the message is to self-censor in line with fashionable woke values, or risk being cancelled. How has this happened?
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