- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 16, 2004

When the Soviet Union expelled dissident author Alexander Solzhenitsyn and accused him of treason, the United States took him in. When Iranians vowed to kill Salman Rushdie, he settled in New York. In both cases, freedom of speech worked its magic. When critics of brutal ideologies get safe haven to speak, they deliver heavy blows against tyranny.

Thus we are heartened to hear this week that the U.S. government is lending a new, strengthened hand to would-be Solzhenitsyns and Rushdies. U.S. publishing houses can now do business with authors in Cuba, Iran and Sudan, the Treasury Department announced, despite sanctions against those countries. Under the old rules, publishing was treated like any other business: No enhancing the value of anything in Iran or other sanctioned countries without U.S. government permission, and then only after a long and arduous application process. In recent weeks, however, a lawsuit by representatives of Iranian dissident and Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi — the first Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize — apparently convinced Treasury to change the rules. Mrs. Ebadi wants to publish her memoirs in the West, and wants to use a U.S. publishing house. So she sued, and won the day. Announcing the change, Treasury Department undersecretary Stuart Levy acknowledged the problems the old rules caused for dissident speech. Those problems, he rightly said, are “the opposite of what we want.”

It’s not hard to understand why it would be good to allow Mrs. Ebadi to publish her memoir here. She is a vocal advocate for the rights of women and children living under repressive Islamist regimes and was the first woman to become a judge in Iran. She’s since been stripped of her post and has been called “Islam’s No. 1 enemy” and “the mare of the apocalypse” by Iranian clerics. With such enemies and vitriol, letting Mrs. Ebadi air her views is the least we can do. There is a danger that publishing books will imperil dissidents in dangerous places, of course. We trust publishers will balance their work with the imperative for safety.

It’s hard to know how the new Treasury rules will play out, but it’s worth seeing what the publishing industry can do with the opportunity. It would be wonderful if Random House or Knopf were to go trolling for dissidents in Havana or Tehran. We look forward to the day the new rules could extend to Pyongyang and give voice to antitotalitarians in North Korea. At the minimum, we expect that manuscripts will be ferreted out of the places the rules affect and that they will be made available to more people than ever before. As gripping as Mr. Rushdie’s novel “The Satanic Verses” is, it’s no “Gulag Archipelago.” We’re still waiting for the great testimonial against radical Islam. Maybe Treasury’s new rule will help us get it.

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