Since I found myself conscripted into the battle for free speech in Canada and elsewhere, I’ve often had cause to comment on one of the most dismal features of the scene: The “bold, transgressive” contrarians of the arts world and the “speak truth to power” heroes of the media (two industries whose practitioners congratulate themselves on their bravery and courage far more than, say, soldiers or firemen do) mysteriously decide that when it comes to certain subjects discretion is the better part of valor. In The Spectator, London leftie Nick Cohen takes up the theme after another edgy art exhibition is quietly canceled:
The exhibition was to open at London’s Unit 24 gallery, near Tate Modern, last Saturday. Unit 24, which boasts on its website that it is ‘fiercely independent’, pulled out with only days to go. In emails to the organisers, Unit 24 offered various justifications for wrecking a show that had taken months to arrange. ‘Enemies of the exhibition’ had made threats, and it was worried about a ‘potential terrorist attack’…
There was no secret about its decision. But not one of the arts correspondents for the broadsheets or BBC covered the threat to an international exhibition featuring the work of dozens of artists. I have argued many times that censorship is at its most effective when no one admits it exists. The first step to freeing yourself from oppressive power is to find the courage to admit that you are afraid. The more people confess to being afraid, the less reason there is to fear and the easier it is to isolate repressive forces.
But the radical poses of western intellectuals make a frank discussion of fear impossible. For how can they say they are brave dissidents one minute, and confess they are scared of theocratic thugs the next?
And so all these brave, transgressive truth-to-power types cannot even find the courage to admit they cannot find the courage. Islam’s opposition to free speech is ultimately a battle of ideas, not tanks, and the cause of liberty is not well-served by such hollow poseurs.
The whole of Cohen’s piece is worth reading, but I balk a little at the headline: “Why can’t we admit we’re scared of Islamism?” In this context, “Islamism” is a bit of an evasion, which suggests that even the Speccie’s courage only goes so far.