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You Can’t Read This Book

Censorship in an Age of Freedom

By Nick Cohen
15-minute read
Audio available
You Can’t Read This Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom by Nick Cohen

You Can’t Read This Book (2012) asks a pointed question: Does free speech exist or not? Today society has unlimited access to information online, but people still struggle to freely express opinions, fearing a backlash from governments, religious leaders or other powerful organizations.

  • Writers and journalists interested in problem of censorship
  • People curious about the evolution of free speech
  • Anyone interested in political science or social studies

Nick Cohen is a British journalist, author and renowned liberal commentator who writes for The Observer. He has written five books, including What’s Left?

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You Can’t Read This Book

Censorship in an Age of Freedom

By Nick Cohen
  • Read in 15 minutes
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  • Contains 9 key ideas
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You Can’t Read This Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom by Nick Cohen
Synopsis

You Can’t Read This Book (2012) asks a pointed question: Does free speech exist or not? Today society has unlimited access to information online, but people still struggle to freely express opinions, fearing a backlash from governments, religious leaders or other powerful organizations.

Key idea 1 of 9

The violent reaction to The Satanic Verses was unexpected and ushered in a new era of censorship.

In 1988, British-Indian author Salman Rushdie released his book, The Satanic Verses. While he knew it would upset some of the world’s Muslim population, he had no way of predicting how the outcry against his book would escalate and how it would affect censorship worldwide.

In his book, Rushdie depicts Muhammed being tricked by the devil. Neither Rushdie nor his publisher, Penguin Books, could have anticipated the fatwa – the decree from Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeni requiring Rushdie’s execution – and the negative consequences it would bring.

Yet Rushdie’s two previous books, Midnight’s Children and Shame, had also challenged culture and religion. His controversial views had always earned Rushdie his fair share of critics, but never before had his safety been threatened.

So what was so different about The Satanic Verses?

Basically, the writer and his publishers had underestimated the rising power of Ayatollah Khomeini, the Iranian religious leader who led the Islamic Revolution in 1979. In a move to gain even more clout in the Muslim world through the use of fear tactics and violence, Khomeini called for the murder of Rushdie and a worldwide protest against The Satanic Verses.

Bookshops carrying work considered blasphemous, like The Satanic Verses, were bombed. Using terror to silence dissenting liberal voices was, in fact, effective: world leaders such as India’s Rajiv Gandhi quickly banned the book, fearing further violence and the potential loss of the Muslim vote.

Soon, Islamic leaders around the world were preaching that there existed a global conspiracy to persecute Islam. They argued that the murder and persecution of liberal voices was justified as these voices were insulting Islam.

For example, author and film director Theo Van Gogh, highly critical of the tenets of Islam, was murdered in 2004. Separately, writer and journalist Kåre Bluitgen couldn’t find an artist willing to illustrate his children’s guide to the life of Muhammad and the Koran.

In other words, fear of violence has silenced many people from criticizing or even discussing Islam.

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