THE BLOG
12/18/2014 01:23 pm ET Updated Feb 17, 2015

Liberty: The Right to Tell People What They Don't Want to Hear

ASSOCIATED PRESS

It's Terrorism

Let's not make a mistake about the terrorism that has just been perpetrated against Americans. An alleged North Korean terrorist blackmail, escalating from a hack of Sony Pictures, has for the first time in memory censored a major film release by an American studio. While we've seen aspects of this before, make no mistake that this incident is terrorism, and a game changer.

This is about your right as an American to produce and consume political, artistic and social expression without governmental terrorism and censorship, in this case North Korea's. This includes your right to choose to see potentially dumb and distasteful films, as well your right not to see them. The choice for now is no longer yours, it's theirs, and the terrorists dictated that you can't. Just in case you disagree with my invocation of the term terrorism, here is the FBI's definition:

... the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof in furtherance of political or social objectives.

Sony Pictures Entertainment, part of a $23 billion entertainment empire, scrapped the release of its $42 million dollar film The Interview after a group allegedly tied to North Korea hacked its computer servers and issued the following terrorist threat, causing theater chains to bail:

Warning

We will clearly show it to you at the very time and places "The Interview" be shown, including the premiere, how bitter fate those who seek fun in terror should be doomed to.

Soon all the world will see what an awful movie Sony Pictures Entertainment has made.
The world will be full of fear.

Remember the 11th of September 2001.

We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time.

(If your house is nearby, you'd better leave.)

Whatever comes in the coming days is called by the greed of Sony Pictures Entertainment.

All the world will denounce the SONY.

We've Seen This Movie Before

Foreign hackers, notably from China, have targeted American computer systems for years, but like the Mafia, they didn't like to air their transgressions in public. It's reported that North Korea has 1,800 agents dispatched around the world to commit cyberwarfare. In the past terrorists hit cities, sporting events, airlines and financial targets to not just kill and intimidate, but also to hobble commerce and travel. Now they are also widening their target to threaten your exposure to ideas too. And we can't let this go unchallenged because the implications are huge. Today, it's movie theaters, but tomorrow, perhaps, it'll be churches, voting booths, universities, museums and malls. It's not only a threat to our freedom, but to national security as well.

We've seen it before elsewhere. Author Salman Rushdie has been under death threat via an Iranian fatwa for publishing the Satanic Verses and in 2004 Theo Van Gogh was shot to death for a controversial film criticizing Islam. While Sony's immediate scrapping of the premiere next week is understandable for a variety of reasons, its suggestion that this will become a permanent ban is not. It's setting a lousy precedent that we'll all pay for later. We're already starting to see it now as another North Korea-oriented film project has been scrapped in pre-production.

Show The Film

So show the film, maybe online, or at the White House or at RFK Stadium, but show it -- I'll buy the popcorn. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin is spot on:

"Today the U.S. succumbed to an unprecedented attack on our most cherished, bedrock principle of free speech." SONY, remember, after all you are a media content company. As George Orwell explained, "If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear."

The bulwark of a civilized democracy is the protection of free speech. To those winners of the Leni Riefenstahl Film Award for creative freedom who indict Sony for making the film in the first place, I say it's not your call. Democracies make it theirs and the marketplace's choice, not that of a murderous dictator half the world away.

As the ancient Greek playwright Euripides warned in the Phoenician Women over two thousand years ago: "This is slavery, not to speak one's thought." William O. Douglass, the longest-serving Supreme Court Justice in American history issued this warning in an award acceptance speech before the Author's Guild Council some six decades ago:

Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us.

Find a safer way to do so, but release the film. It's our rights now too.