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Your View: Index on Censorship Has a Fox in its Henhouse

From reader Juan Golblado:

Index on Censorship has published an editorial comment against murdered Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh which betrays the trust endowed upon that once well-respected organisation in 1972 when it was founded by Stephen Spender.

Blaming the victim for the crime, Index on Censorship Associate Editor Rohan Jayasekera writes — that Van Gogh was a “free speech fundamentalist on a martyrdom operation” and calls on us to “applaud Theo van Gogh’s death as the marvellous piece of theatre itwas.”

The crescendo of this Index on Censorship editorial comment says: “Van Gogh’s juvenile shock-horror art finally led him to build an exploitative working relationship with Somalia-born Dutch MP Ayann Hirsi Ali, whose terrible personal experience of abuse has driven her to a traumatizing loss of her Muslim faith.

“Together they made a furiously provocative film that featured actresses portraying battered Muslim women, naked under transparent Islamic-style shawls, their bodies marked with texts from the Koran that supposedly justify their repression. Van Gogh then roared his Muslim critics into silence with obscenities. An abuse of his right to free speech, it added injury to insult by effectively censorsing their moderate views as well.”

A few references to fact seem appropriate here.

I have seen Submission, the offending film, andneither “juvenile” nor “shock” nor “horror” are words that come to mind to describe it. Rohan Jayasekera is evidently talking about the baggage he himself brings to the film, assuming he has seen it.

“Exploitative working relationship”. I have never heard of anything in the working relationship between Ayann Hirsi Ali and Theo Van Gogh which was exploitative. If Mr. Jayasekera knows something we don’t, he really should enlighten us and not just make unfounded accusations.

“Terrible personal experience”. The word “personal” is demeaning in this context, as though she hadsuffered a random misfortune which no one else had ever suffered.

“Traumatizing loss of her Muslim faith”. I’ve never seen any mention of her rejection of religion as “traumatizing”. I wonder if Mr. Jayasekera has had a
private conversation with her in which she confided this “fact” to him? Or is he working up a poor, objectified, victim for Van Gogh to exploit?

“Furiously provocative film”. I saw the film. I would not call it “furious”. Provocative, yes, but “furiously provocative” makes it sound like the film
was full of fury. It was not. It was in fact, given the subject matter, rather calm, relying on irony, confrontation.

“An abuse of his right to free speech”. AN ABUSE OFHIS RIGHT TO FREE SPEECH!? This, especially coming from someone who is meant to be defending freedom ofspeech, is chilling. I’m afraid it leaves me at a loss for words. Theo Van Gogh was not known for calling for violence against anyone. Mr. Jayasekera seems to be setting up Theo Van Gogh to frame him as unsuitable for defence.

Now we are getting into the real guts of it: “Van Gogh then roared his Muslim critics into silence with obscenities. An abuse of his right to free speech, it added injury to insult by effectively censorsing their moderate views as well.”

“Roared his Muslim critics into silence with obscenities.” Van Gogh is known to have had shouting matches in public, but these were not occasions in which anyone was “roared … into silence”. The public record shows this and shows it was extremists who tried to shout him down and he wouldn’t be cowed.

Now, the kicker: “effectively censoring their moderate views”. Theo Van Gogh, the murdered film director,”effectively censored” people by speaking freely and
making films – it was the artist killed for speaking his mind who was guilty of censorship?

Is it possible that Mr. Jayasekera is making use of his position as Associate Editor of Index on Censorship to attribute crimes of “censorship” to people he doesn’t like? Whatever his motive, how is it possible that Index on Censorship allows itself to be betrayed in this way? And continues to allow it – this piece appears to have been published on 3 November.

Surely, Index on Censorship does not support this way of looking at censorship? Tell us it ain’t so!

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