I’ve decided to not shop at Indigo or Chapters ever again.
To prove my point, I cut up my iRewards card today. Even though I’m what you would call a welcome customer – I read tonnes of books, which in Indigospeak means I buy a significant number of items in their cultural department stores that have a high retail mark-up – I just can’t take it anymore. I’m fed up.
Here’s what’s got my blood boiling.
Yes, Harper’s. That great, literate, interesting, wonderful publication that keeps me passionately aware of journalism’s potential, even in a sometimes-Philistine nation like the U.S.
I’ve known about this for a few days now, but I went and got Harper’s latest issue that featured those infamous editorial cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed (along with several other historical examples of controversial editorial cartoons).
Now, let’s be clear: these cartoons are controversial and a clear violation of Islamic law: you can’t look at them without considering them Islamophobic and potentially blasphemous (Just to be clear: Islamic law forbids visual depictions of Mohammed).
In reference to the uprisings against Danish foreign embassies last year, Indigo/Chapters pulled the latest Harper’s issue off the shelves. They fear the potential for uprisings similar to those that happened in Europe.
Far be it from me to cluck-cluck my way into the good graces of Heather Reisman, but Indigo (ostensibly, Reisman, who’s really the one calling the shots here) has pulled this stunt before: Mein Kampf, Hitler’s treatise on his extremist, pre-Nazi party views, was pulled from Indigo/Chapters in 2001.
First of all, Heather Reisman, I’m an adult and it isn’t up to you to decide what I can and can’t read. No, I don’t plan on buying Mein Kampf, largely because I can read it online if I choose to, once did a history class research project on Hitler and read Mein Kampf in order to understand the man’s state of mind, and I choose not to because I have all the historical evidence I’ll ever need to understand the horrors of the Nazi regime and what turned Adolf Hitler into a sick, twisted man.
I suppose Reisman is justified, to some extent, on her views. In theory, it is hate literature.
But here’s the rub: don’t choose for me what you think is suitable for us. You’re not an arm of the government (and even if you were, you’d never dare pull this stunt in a democracy) and you can’t force me to make decisions on what I want to read. Either you are for free speech or against it. Plain and simple. There is no middle ground. Sorry.
What is particularly galling about this Harper’s decision is the moral cowardice displayed by Indigo/Chapters in choosing for us – the readers of this country – what we should be exposed to. Quite frankly, I hadn’t seen these cartoons before this issue of Harper’s, and now I’m glad I did: I can see why they inflamed Muslim communities, as well as how they do indeed test the limits of free speech in a liberal democracy.
Even more pointedly, are Indigo/Chapters executives that out of touch with reality that they assume that Canadian Muslims will suddenly rise up in a sea of fury and cause damage to Indigo/Chapter stores? (Don’t pretend you’re really interested in protecting the public, Indigo/Chapters: if that were true, you’d never be peddling gawd awful Michael Buble CDs by the boat load, zing!).
One of the biggest reasons many Muslims in Europe and the Middle East rallied against these cartoons and the nations whose newspapers published them was the alarming lack of context in which they were published. Testing the limits of free speech is one thing. In several cases, newspapers published the cartoons largely without context or in a broader historical canvas. Indeed, the violence enacted by Muslim groups in the Middle East over the cartoons was an unacceptable response and there should have been a better commitment to debate and dialogue over these issues. But not all Muslims, like all Christians or Jewish folks, are the same. Religion is not a uniform idea. It is dependent on a lot of things, including geopolitics and shared cultural memory. In other words, the small-minded logic of “violence in Middle East means violence here in Canada” only demonstrates how little real exposure many of the decision-makers at Indigo/Chapters have actually had with Canadian Muslims. Sure, some Imams might be upset in Canada over the prospect of these cartoons, but in a pluralistic society like Canada (and let’s be honest, Europe talks a big game about social progressivism but is still by and large a highly xenophobic region of the world and the Middle East is definitely not interested in pluralism), editorial cartoons are still within the bounds of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Ultimately, it isn’t up to a corporate talking head to make these choices for us as a populace, it’s us.
But wait Greg, you can just shop somewhere else, right? That’s how you got the latest issue!
True, but that’s only because I live in and around Toronto where other options to buy magazines are. Indigo/Chapters has a near-virtual monopoly on the book market in Canada (something I’ve loathed for a long time) and people outside of big cities don’t always have the option of easy access to publications. This is what makes Indigo/Chapters’ actions so infuriating; they’ve ostensibly made the choice for us because they control the market.
So, in this final declaration, I’m saying good riddance to the folks at Indigo/Chapters. This is the last straw folks – take your cowardly, self-censoring approach to publications and stick it where the sun don’t shine.