On February 14, 1989, the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for the assassination of Salman Rushdie for what he believed to be insults to Muhammad in Rushdie's book, The Satanic Verses. Happy Valentine's Day, Mr. Rushdie. Independent booksellers across the country, in spite of threats and the actual bombing of one bookstore, continued to carry the book. It was not even a question in the minds of most booksellers. One must stand for free speech. Fortunately, after being in hiding for most of seven years, Salman Rushdie was able to emerge once again in public.
French cartoonists and editors were not so fortunate. On January 7th of this year the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical French newspaper in Paris, were attacked, leaving twelve people dead. The attack was apparently provoked by the paper's cartoons about Islam. The office had been firebombed in 2011 and many threats had been made against the paper and its editor over the years.
Were the words of Rushdie and the cartoons in Charlie Hebdo offensive? Of course they were. Nearly everything that questions or pokes fun at anyone or anything is offensive to someone. What we as booksellers stand for is the right of those ideas to be published, to be brought into the light of day where they can be discussed, debated, and even debunked.
That is why we proudly say Je suis Charlie! As our friend and fellow bookseller at Book Culture in New York City recently wrote: "Je suis Charlie means that we will not review the content of our book shops to ensure we are not offending someone. Je suis Charlie means that as coworkers in the business of publishing and books we support, above the ideas themselves, the right of those ideas to be published. Je suis Charlie means that we’re booksellers and it’s a badge of honor. I say- wear it well."
Are there offensive ideas on the shelves of Village Books? We certainly hope so. That's our job.
-Chuck Robinson, c0-founder, President/CEO of Village Books & Paper Dreams
For more on Je Suis Charlie and how you can support free speech, please see the following: