- - Sunday, December 21, 2014

Sony Pictures should remember that freedom of expression was born when Socrates willingly took the hemlock in its defense.

Sony should reverse its cowardly decision against release of “The Interview” to movie theaters in response to North Korea’s threat of terrorist attacks to retaliate against a satirical film about its egomaniacal leader Kim Jong-un.

It should also collaborate with theater owners to cut ticket prices by 75 percent.

It should urge the public to attend to demonstrate a collective commitment to free speech and opposition to censorship via terrorist threats in emulation of viewers who flocked to Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” mocking Hitler, Mussolini, Nazis, and anti-Semitism to show opposition to the Third Reich, Fascism, and religious bigotry.

Sony should establish a foundation with other movie producers devoted to public education about film, politics, free speech, and terrorist inspired censorship.

Hollywood should petition Congress to enact a Free Expression Risk Insurance Act (FERIA) which would provide federal funds to compensate persons injured by terrorism intended to retaliate against expression protected by the First Amendment. Congress has already provided insurance to protect property owners by enacting the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act.

The FERIA is justified because freedom of expression benefits the entire society. It advances the search for political or other truths that emerge from competition in the marketplace of ideas. Moreover, surrendering to terrorist threats as Sony did strengthens the terrorists. It emboldens them to threaten any person or organization who speaks in opposition to their warped views or malignant actions; and, it give them an appearance of invincibility which assists in attracting new recruits.

If Sony changes course, chooses courage over cowardice, and releases and triples promotional efforts for “The Interview,” it would profit in the long run. Customer goodwill would soar. And endless journalistic stories chronicling its bravery would would make it an admired household word both in the United States and worldwide.

The crisis managers who advised Sony were stunningly incompetent.

They should have been inspired by Salmon Rushdie’s story. 

He was sentenced to death in a fatwa issued by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989 for authoring the novel The Satanic Verses. It was said to disparage Islam, the Prophet, and the Holy Koran. 

But author Rushdie did not flinch. Neither did independent booksellers in the United States. When two in California were firebombed, they repaired their premises and continued selling the book. Mr. Rushdie wrote the following letter in appreciation, which gives a favor of what Sony could anticipate if it stood up to North Korean thuggery: “In February 1989, my novel The Satanic Verses was published in the United States a few days after the Khomeini fatwa…What happened in the months that followed was something I will never forget. American writers gathered together in a show of almost complete unity to defend freedom of speech. Thousands of ordinary Americans wore “I am Salmon Rushdie” buttons to express their solidarity. The independent booksellers of America put the book in windows, mounted special displays, and courageously stood up for freedom against censorship, refusing to allow the choices of American readers to be limited by the threats of an angry cleric far away.

The bravery of independent booksellers influenced others to follow their lead, and in the end a key battle for free expression was won — not by politicians who, as usual, arrived cautiously and tardily to the battlefield, but by the determination of ordinary people that it not be lost.”

It was altogether fitting that Hollywood rebuffed George Clooney’s attempt to gather signatures opposing Sony’s capitulation to North Korea’s terrorism. Its tacit appeasement was indistinguishable from British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s hope to appease Hitler by banning “The Great Dictator.” In sum, Hollywood, thy name is effeteness. 

President Obama correctly rebuked Sony for permitting a dictator abroad to censor speech in the United States. He promised retaliation of some sort.

He should start with a federal grand jury indictment of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un for making a terrorist threat against theater owners and moviegoers in the United States. The FBI has concluded that North Korea was responsible for the cyberattack on Sony, and nothing happens in the hermit kingdom without Mr. Kim’s approval. Treating him as a criminal would deny him the status of a hero in his own country or among terrorists.

For more information about Bruce Fein, please visit www.brucefeinlaw.com

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