Sunday, February 24, 2019

Ian Baruma: was his retirement forced?

I don’t read all the articles in the NYROB and didn’t read “Reflections of a Hashtag” in the October 11 issue until in the following issue, October 25 I noticed in “letters to the editor” several pages of outrage that Ian Baruma had allowed this article to be published, after which Baruma seems to have been fired.

I didn’t know what a “Hashtag” was and had never heard of its author Jian Ghomeshi and so retrieved my copy of the October 11 and read it.  Ghomeshi seems like an obnoxious fellow, but I’ve encountered obnoxious fellows before in NYROB articles.  I then spent some time on the internet reading about Ghomeshi’s trial.    

One of the letters to the editor in the October 25th issue of the NYROB is an expression of dismay by 109 signatories which includes several names I recognize, for example,  Anne Appelbaum, Mark Lilla, Joyce Carol Oats, Max Hastings and Helen Vendler.  They write, “We find it very troubling that the public reaction to a single article, ‘Reflections from a Hashtag” – repellent though some of us may have found the article – should have been the occasion for Ian Baruma’s forced resignation.  Given the principles of open intellectual debate on which the NYRB was founded, his dismissal in these circumstances strikes us as an abandonment of the central mission of the Review, which is the free exploration of ideas.”

The NYROB Editorial Staff replied to these signatories by saying “We understand our contributors’ concerns.  Rea Hederman, the publisher of the Review, has said publicly that Ian Baruma’s departure was not a response to the outrage over ‘Reflections from a Hashtag,’ and we strongly believe in Rea’s commitment to editorial independence.

              “With regard to the necessity of open intellectual debate and the free exploration of ideas in our pages, we couldn’t agree more.”

J.C. in the October 12th issue of the TLS makes no mention of the NYROB’s claim that Baruma’s retirement was not forced, and writes, “Art Free from Politics; our compendium of statements in favor of artistic freedom – and freedom means freedom (within the law), even if we don’t like it or you don’t like it – is due to be submitted to Basement Labyrinth Publications on Voltaire’s birthday, November 21.  Some weeks ago we brought you an extract from George Orwell’s unused introduction to Animal Farm, in which he wrote that ‘At any given moment there is an orthodoxy . . . which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question’.  Anyone who challenges it ‘finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness’.”      

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