So there are limits to freedom of expression after all! Professor Memdani of Makarere University says it brilliantly:
Power can instrumentalise free speech to frame a minority and present it for target practice.
This dossier provides examples where points of view have been suppressed for a variety of reasons: political partisanship, in consideration of Christian and Hindu religious sensitivities, in deference to a powerful politician.
Facebook's ban on the promotion of a book on the Palestinian resistance
Middle East Monitor (MEMO) and the Afro-Middle East Centre (AMEC) in Johannesburg have strongly condemned the decision by Facebook to ban a staff member from using its platform for 30 days after he posted an advert for the launch of a book written by MEMO's director, titled Engaging the World: the Making of Hamas's Foreign Policy. . . Jeenah [Director, Afro-Middle East Centre & publisher of the book in Johannesburg] described Facebook's ban as "a dangerous and deplorable act that seeks to curtail free speech and redefine freedom of expression to what Facebook regards as politically acceptable. . . In his endorsement, world-renowned Israeli-born historian, Professor Ilan Pappé, said: "This book challenges successfully the common misrepresentation of Hamas in the West. It is a must read for anyone engaged with the Palestine issue and interested in an honest introduction to this important Palestinian movement." (February 2021)
Censorship by the Church
- A female Catholic theologian has been banned by the Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh from speaking on Church property in his diocese. Acting on instructions from the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), Archbishop Leo Cushley has ordered the Edinburgh Circle of the Newman Association to cancel an event at St Catherine's Convent, Edinburgh, where Professor Tina Beattie was due to speak this month (September 2014).
- Mark Dowd in the Tablet reports that a book by the celebrated Basque priest and author Jose Antonio Pagola entitled 'Jesus: an historical approximation', first published in 2007 "is nowhere to be seen on the website of its publisher…all copies have been hurriedly withdrawn from Spain's bookshops. There have even been reports that the conference of Spanish bishops requested a certificate of destruction for the remaining 6,000 copies". Apparently, Pagola's theological views on Jesus were "negating Jesus' own self-understanding of his divine identity and also of denying Jesus' intentions to found the Church as a hierarchical community."
- An offensive artistic depiction of Jesus Christ in a French gallery was destroyed.
- "France's Catholic Church has won a court injunction to ban a clothing advertisement based on Leonardo da Vinci's Christ's Last Supper. The display was ruled 'a gratuitous and aggressive act of intrusion on people's innermost beliefs', by a judge."
- One of Paris' most prestigious theatres was being protected by riot police and guard-dog patrols on Thursday after it became the latest target in a wave of Catholic protests across France against so-called 'blasphemous' plays….The head of the Théâtre du Rond-Point on the Champs-Elysées complained of death threats in the runup to Thursday's premiere of the play Golgota Picnic by the Madrid-based, Argentinian writer Rodrigo García. Two men reported to have links to fundamentalist Catholic groups were arrested at the weekend while attempting to disable the theatre's security system…Civitas, a lobby group that says it aims to re-Christianise France, has called for a large, peaceful street demonstration 'against Christianophobia' this weekend."
- The Christian activist group in France InstitutCivitas has disrupted the theatrical production 'On the concept of the face of the son of God' produced by Romeo Castellucci. The organisation has called for a day of national protest against 'Christianophobia'.
- The Italian Foreign Affairs Minister Franco Trattini has objected today to a publication in India of "a blasphemous portrait of Jesus". In his press communique, he expresses his "profound concern for the violation of rights and dignity of Christians", with reference to "the deplorable publication of a book for primary schools in India".
Professor Mahmood Memdani, in his acceptance speech on receipt of an honourary doctorate from the University of Johannesburg, 25th May 2010 provided this example from 1967 when Britain's leading publishing house, Penguin, published an English addition of a book of cartoons by France's most acclaimed cartoonist, Sine:
"The Penguin edition was introduced by Malcolm Muggeridge. Sine's Massacre contained a number of anticlerical and blasphemous cartoons, some of them with a sexual theme. Many book sellers, who found the content offensive, conveyed their feelings to Allan Lane, who had by that time almost retired from Penguin. Though he was not a practicing Christian, Allen Lane took seriously the offense that this book seemed to cause to a number of his practicing Christian friends. Here is Richard Webster's account of what followed 'One night, soon after the book had been published, he [Allen Lane] went into Penguin's Harmondsworth warehouse with four accomplices, filled a trailer with all the remaining copies of the book, drove away and burnt them. The next day the Penguin trade department reported the book 'out of print'.' Now. Britain has laws against blasphemy, but neither Allan Lane nor Penguin was taken to court."
In September 2004, the BBC dropped an adult cartoon series 'Popetown' it had produced itself after complaints from Catholics. The late Sidney Shipton of the Board of Deputies and coordinator of the Three Faiths forum observed, 'We had a hand in persuading the BBC not to show 'Popetown'….the idea today of making a mockery of religion is becoming too popular with playwrights'. (Jewish Chronicle, 24 December 2004).
Respecting Hindu Values
Penguin Books India has agreed to withdraw from sale all copies of a book that takes an unorthodox view of Hinduism, and will pulp them as part of a settlement after a case was filed against the publisher, the petitioners' lawyer said.
- A play on the life of Rachel Corrie "who died under an IDF bulldozer in Gaza at the age of 23" was cancelled by the New York Theatre Workshop because, according to its artistic director "…what we heard was that after Ariel Sharon's illness and the election of Hamas…we had a very edgy situation"! (The Guardian, 1st March 2006)
- A paper on the genetic origins of Palestinians was deleted from the journal 'Human Immunology' because it included an historical introduction calling Jews living in the Gaza strip 'colonists'. (Nature 414, 2001)
- In October 2004 the British Medical Journal had published an article in which a contributor, Derek Summerfield, expressed concerns at the systematic violations of the fourth Geneva Convention by the Israeli army in Gaza: "…there followed an orchestrated campaign to pressurise the journal not to publish such articles in the future….many emails abused the BMJ or [editor] Abbasi personally. These were often sent anonymously … allowing writers the freedom to use obscenities and personal (including racist) insults without worrying about the effect on their reputations. However, some abusive emails came from people apparently unconcerned about signing their names…the ultimate goal of some of the groups that lobby for Israel or against Palestine is apparently the suppression of views they disagree with."['Perils of criticising Israel' by Karl Sabbagh, BMJ, 24 Feb 2009]Limits to Artistic Licence
At London's Barbican
[…] officials from the renowned [Barbican] arts venue confirmed they would not push ahead with viewings of Brett Bailey's Exhibit B. The installation should have started a five-day run on Tuesday but the opening night was scrapped after up to 200 protesters blockaded the entrance and the road leading to the Barbican in London. The withdrawal was hailed as a victory by campaigners who claimed 20,000 signatures against what they condemned as "complicit racism" […] The campaign against the exhibition [in September 2014] was led by Birmingham-based activist and journalist Sara Myers but drew support from around the country, including noted figures such as Lord Boateng, Britain's first black cabinet minister.
At the New York's Met Opera
New York's Metropolitan Opera have cancelled an international simulcast of John Adams' opera The Death of Klinghoffer due to "an outpouring of concern" that it "might be used to fan global anti-Semitism".
The Death of Klinghoffer is a coproduction between the Met and English National Opera; Tom Morris' production opened first in London in 2012, with eight performances scheduled in Manhattan from October. As with many other Met productions, opera bosses scheduled a live HD broadcast to 2,000 cinemas around the world; that event, planned for 15 November, has now been axed.
"I'm convinced that the opera is not anti-Semitic," said Peter Gelb, general manager for the Met, "but I've also become convinced that there is genuine concern in the international Jewish community that the live transmission of The Death of Klinghoffer would be inappropriate at this time of rising anti-Semitism, particularly in Europe."
Composed in 1991, the Death of Klinghoffer depicts the Palestine Liberation Front's 1985 hijack of an Italian cruise ship. One man was murdered in the stand-off with authorities: 69-year-old Leon Klinghoffer, a Jewish-American tourist.
READ: BDS and its critics
In a French Theatre
A performance by Dieudonne M'bala M'bala in Nantes was blocked by France's highest court late on Thursday night, overturning a local judge's ruling that the show should be allowed to go ahead.(10 January 2014)
In a French art gallery
A gallery in Paris removed a satirical art installation because it was seen as a criticism of President Sarkozy. Lizzy Davies of the Guardian reported: "A British curator has accused France's most prestigious art school of 'unambiguous censorship' after a work satirising one of Nicolas Sarkozy's campaign slogans was taken down hours after going on display."
"Clare Carolin, a senior tutor at the Royal College of Art in London, who was working on the ill-fated project at the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts, condemned the decision to remove the work, which was deemed 'too explosive'."
"An installation of four banners by the Chinese artist Ko Siu Lan on the exterior of the Beaux-Arts building in central Paris featured the words 'earn', 'less', 'work' and 'more' as a play on Sarkozy's phrase 'Work more to earn more'…."
"Sources inside the Beaux-Arts indicated that the work had provoked complaints from the ministry of education because of its politically sensitive nature." (10 February 2010)
In a British Theatre
The play's production team yesterday expressed their dismay at the decision to pull Moonfleece from the Mill Theatre in Dudley's Dormston Centre, and claimed the move was tantamount to appeasing right-wing and BNP sympathisers…" (23 October 2011)
This article first appeared in Salaam.co.uk
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.