Freedom of speech and expression is something we take for granted not only in this country but across the western world for granted. It is rare indeed that books are banned by the authorities and the development of the internet has led to more and more people having both the access to (potentially) mass media and actually taking up the opportunity.
There are a huge number of blogs and websites across the World Wide Web in which not just paid media journalists but the ordinary person with access to a computer can now express themselves about whatever issues they please. These of course range from the mainstream to the extreme and frankly the downright weird, though the latter is of course a very subjective view of some, possibly a lot of internet content.
The internet is of course a relatively recent development, for most of modern history publishing has always relied on the printed word. Newspapers, books magazines and of course the pamphleteers have been the main source of news and more importantly opinion.
The burning of books in our times are very much associated with the Nazi's who built bonfires of literature that didn't fit in their evil and twisted world view. Especially those that were Jewish or Communist.
Censorship of course still exists, as do libel laws. The former seemingly aims at violent and sexual content of films and TV programmes (enter Mary Whitehouse) but on occasion due to the needs of state security. Assange and Snowden come to mind. Whether these people were right or wrong to release sensitive documentation is a matter for debate. Personally I accept there are limits when such information could be of assistance to terrorists and their ilk because simply put, lives are at stake.
However the big censors of our age are religious in origin. To a certain extent the Mary Whitehouse phenomenon was Christian based, but relied more on moral pressure, public campaigning and lobbying. Not all Christians agreed with her and she undermined her campaign by going too far for most normal people in her condemnation of the Tom & Jerrycartoons and complaining about naked manikins in shop windows.
Today's attempt at censorship comes from another religious quarter, that of Islam and in particular Islamism. Probably most people's first encounter with this was the burning of Salman Rushdie's book the Satanic Verses. The sight of books being burnt on the streets of Britain horrified the vast majority of people in this country. For purely political reasons this book became a cause celebre in the Muslim world and led to the infamous Fatwa against Rushdie by the Ayatollahs of Iran.
I only purchased this book because of the furore it caused, as no doubt did thousands of other people. My opinion? Pretentious shite for the chattering classes, that would have sunk into obscurity if not for the fuss. Rushdie made a mint for a book that I wouldn't recommend to anyone, not because its' "blasphemous" (I'm an atheist) simply put, its just rubbish.
The rest of course is history. But it hasn't ended there. There was a big fuss over the novel about Mohammed's youngest wife, Aisha which led to death threats as did the cartoons for the Danish newspaper (only one of which was actually funny). But one has to question the mentality and the real reason these extremists are afraid of satire or criticism in any shape or form.
These people are afraid. Not of "God" but that (heaven forbid) ordinary mortals in the Muslim world would start questioning their beliefs. These attacks on free speech are the result of the fear that these men (in the main) will lose their power over the masses and will be exposed for the charlatans that they are.
Even now the pernicious influence of Islamism undermines not just free speech, but human rights and even life itself. Their attempt to murder a child (Malala) has backfired. Her recent book is now banned in private schools in Pakistan as "un-Islamic". In other words a threat to their prevailing order.
Muslims should be asking themselves why these men are so afraid, and why a young child needs to be murdered by these so called men of god. The answer to me is obvious. Islamism is political not religious and is about power. Human rights and justice are non-existent to these medievalists.
Problem is these rednecks won't go away until Islam itself has a reformation and gets dragged into the twenty-first century. Believe what you will, but learn tolerance is a prime virtue. If mere words from those who do not choose to think like you are such a threat perhaps the one true religion isn't what it seems to be.
The future must be secular if the fear and killing is to stop. Respect is not a one way street.