Taking a Bullet for Alaa Al-Aswany’s Freedom of Speech

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Yesterday, we took issue with the NY Times giving a column to an anti-Israel conspiracy theorist, Alaa Al Aswany. We laid out a number of examples of Aswany’s comments that crossed the line. One reader raised an important point.

From: …@gmail.com
Date: Sun. Oct. 27, 2013
Subj: Re: New York Times Gives Column to Anti-Israel Conspiracy Theorist

I despise this. However, I live in a nation that embraces freedom of speech. Although I believe this writer is dead wrong in most instances, I would fight to the death to uphold his right to spew his venom.

I thought about a flip response: The NY Times doesn’t give me a column, and nobody’s offering to take a bullet for my self-expression.

Now for the straight answer.

Alaa Al Aswany has a right to be heard and nobody’s saying he should be prevented from expressing himself. Op-ed editors rightly give a voice to those who are voiceless, expose us to commentaries that challenge our own viewpoints, and thoughtfully look at issues from angles we might not have considered.

The NY Times expanded its editorial staff with writers from around the world. I didn’t recognize many of the 27 people listed in the paper’s announcement, but at face value, it looks like a well-rounded list. And I’m looking forward to Shmuel Rosner, Ali Jarbawi, Vali Nasr, and Matthew D’ancona at times engaging or enraging me.

However, when a paper take a writer — any writer — and elevate him to the status of a regular columnist, the paper gives a certain sanction to that person’s world view and expression. It’s a deeper relationship than with an author who occasionally submits op-eds.

In Aswany’s defense, he has spoken out against Egyptian repression under the Mubarak and Morsi regimes. He was a founding member of Mohammed ElBaradei’s political party. Aswany’s a prolific writer. And the eyes of the world are on Egypt. Yes, he’s attractive to the NY Times.

But the Times is associating itself with a writer whose hatred for Israel is so strong that Aswany:

  1. Wouldn’t allow his book to be translated into Hebrew or sold in Israel.
  2. Baselessly claimed Israel actively meddled in Egypt’s revolution.
  3. Denied a long history of Arab anti-Semitism.

Aswany’s free to spout off his venom in any venue he can avail himself, but that doesn’t mean a classy paper like the NY Times should demean itself by providing him with the megaphone, soapbox, and its audience in the millions of readers.

One last point: If you disagree with Aswany but you’re chivalrously willing to die for his right to self-expression, I’d much prefer that you nobly live for my self-expression. You can do that by sharing HonestReporting’s material with your friends, encouraging them to subscribe, and responding to our calls to action. That means more to me than the tarnished value of a NY Times column.

(Image of Aswany via YouTube/Ahmed Kamel)

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