Andy Ross used to run a place called Cody’s Bookstore in Berkeley, California. About twenty years ago, the store was firebombed after it carried and displayed copies of Salman Rushdie‘s Satanic Verses — a book that was deemed so offensive to Muslims that the Ayatollah issued a fatwa on Rushdie, calling for his death.
Ross tells the story of what it was like to own the store around the time of the bombing, including the decision of whether or not to stock the book.
I stood and told the staff that we had a hard decision to make. We needed to decide whether to keep carrying Satanic Verses and risk our lives for what we believed in. Or to take a more cautious approach and compromise our values. So we took a vote. The staff voted unanimously to keep carrying the book. Tears still come to my eyes when I think of this. It was the defining moment in my 35 years of bookselling. It was the moment when I realized that bookselling was a dangerous and subversive vocation. Because ideas are powerful weapons.
It’s a very powerful piece that discusses how it’s not so easy to be an advocate of free speech when your life and the lives of your employees could be on the line.