Stanley Fish patiently attempts to explain to Mr. Rushdie and other similarly confused individuals what is, and what is not, censorship:
It is censorship when Germany and other countries criminalize the professing or publication of Holocaust denial. (I am not saying whether this is a good or a bad idea.) It is censorship when in some countries those who criticize the government are prosecuted and jailed. It was censorship when the United States Congress passed the Sedition Act of 1798, stipulating that anyone who writes with the intent to bring the president or Congress or the government “into contempt or disrepute” shall be “punished by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars and by imprisonment not exceeding two years.” Key to these instances is the fact that (1) it is the government that is criminalizing expression and (2) that the restrictions are blanket ones.
I’ve never been a big fan of Salman Rushdie. His “courage” has always struck me as the completely unintentional sort that is exhibited by those who never intend to suffer the consequences of their actions. The fact that Rushdie can’t distinguish between genuine censorship and the perfectly legitimate right of business executives to exercise their own judgment is testimony to his unsuitability as an icon of intellectual freedom.
The truth is that despite secularist pretensions, there really isn’t much difference between the way secularism and Islam are forced upon people by their adherents. Both ultimately depend upon taking control of the judicial and political systems – particularly the judicial ones – in order to make use of government force to shut down competing beliefs.