Soon after I began publishing my own comics of Mohammed there ( 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 ), we began receiving threats that "your site will be closed soon by arab hackers..", that you should know that the moslims are in every where and we will not forgive .. and soon you will not be able to see this site any more.. motherfucker ... mohamed is the greatest..., and "we are abig group you cant amagim how much work we do to hack your site ... if you want us not hack your site so delete the pictures about mohamed and do not talk about him ... if you dont ... im not risbonsible after that."
Others told us we'd be dead.
This past Friday...
The dedicated server we use was unplugged from the network by our hosting provider, which said that they would not continue to sell us space for Irregular Times if we were going to be the target of attacks. They said they could handle most DDOS attacks, but this one was just too big, and too particularly focused on our website, for them to manage. They told us it was useless to contact the police, since the police wouldn't investigate. They said they didn't want to restrict the content of our website, but they needed to stop doing business with us for their own sakes. And then they terminated their service with us, just like that. (And then they sent us a bill for the next month's hosting service.)
Friday, Saturday and Sunday saw Irregular Times down, inaccessible to any reader. While we searched for a new service provider that would accept us, Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe published his own thoughts on the Mohammed comics debacle:
THE PHOENIX is Boston's leading ''alternative" newspaper, the kind of brash, pull-no-punches weekly that might have been expected to print without hesitation the Mohammed cartoons that Islamists have been using to incite rage and riots across the Muslim world. Its willingness to push the envelope was memorably demonstrated in 2002, when it broke with most media to publish a grisly photograph of Daniel Pearl's severed head, and supplied a link on its website to the sickening video of the Wall Street Journal reporter's beheading.
But the Phoenix isn't publishing the Mohammed drawings, and in a brutally candid editorial it explained why.
''Our primary reason," the editors confessed, is ''fear of retaliation from . . . bloodthirsty Islamists who seek to impose their will on those who do not believe as they do . . . Simply stated, we are being terrorized, and . . . could not in good conscience place the men and women who work at the Phoenix and its related companies in physical jeopardy. As we feel forced, literally, to bend to maniacal pressure, this may be the darkest moment in our 40-year-publishing history."
The vast majority of US media outlets have shied away from reproducing the drawings, but to my knowledge only the Phoenix has been honest enough to admit that it is capitulating to fear. Many of the others have published high-minded editorials and columns about the importance of ''restraint" and ''sensitivity" and not giving ''offense" to Muslims. Several have claimed they wouldn't print the Danish cartoons for the same reason they wouldn't print overtly racist or anti-Semitic material. The managing editor for news of The Oregonian, for example, told her paper's ombudsman that not running the images is like avoiding the N-word -- readers don't need to see a racial slur spelled out to understand its impact. Yet a Nexis search turns up at least 14 occasions since 1999 when The Oregonian has published the N-word unfiltered. So there are times when it is appropriate to run material that some may find offensive.
Rationalizations notwithstanding, the refusal of the US media to show the images at the heart of one of the most urgent stories of the day is not about restraint and good taste. It's about fear. Editors and publishers are afraid the thugs will target them as they targeted Danny Pearl and Theo van Gogh; afraid the mob will firebomb their newsrooms as it has firebombed Danish embassies. ''We will not accept less than severing the heads of those responsible," an imam in Gaza preaches. ''Whoever insults a prophet, kill him," reads the sign carried by a demonstrator in London. Those are not figures of speech but deadly threats, and American newspapers and networks are intimidated.
Finally, on Sunday we began the process (which is ongoing) of restoring Irregular Times to the web on a new server. Within minutes of this site's restoration, we received the following cryptic message:
"i hope that this taught you something!"
I'm not entirely sure what the writer is referring to, but oh yes, this experience has taught me a great deal.
It taught me that there are people out there who operate with large capabilities and a desire to keep certain ideas from being aired.
It taught me that law enforcement won't protect us from this new vehicle of censorship.
It taught me that some parts of the internet publishing backbone have already given into fear. When a platform to speak must be bought, some will pull away the platform you've bought when your speech brings retaliation.
It taught me that the threat to freedom of expression from enemies foreign and corporate is real.
It taught me the power of others' anger. It taught me the value of our continued principled defiance.
It taught me to keep drawing, keep talking, and keep writing what I feel to be important, even in the face of threat.
Thanks for the object lesson, you named and nameless censors. I know now that backing down in the face of a threat doesn't take away the threats -- it only encourages more threats and makes it even harder for the next contrary speaker to be heard. But each time that someone continues to speak their own truths despite threats, it becomes easier for the next person to pipe up.
And this is where it comes down to you. If these sort of assaults on freedom of expression sicken you, if you believe that honest and open discussion is key to the preservation of liberty, then it is incumbent upon you to refuse silence. Express fully and precisely what you believe. Speak up in many places. Defy efforts to silence you. Encourage others to speak: even those with whom you disagree.
I've learned that I'm vulnerable as an individual, and that one voice can be muffled. But the censors cannot hope to silence thousands. Silent thinker, shy reader, quiet objector, we need you. Speak now, and never hold your peace.