Censoring Klavan

America’s renowned suspense novelist sheds light on French publisher Seuil Policiers getting cold feet on his latest thriller.

Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Andrew Klavan, the author of such classic suspense novels as True Crime, filmed by Clint Eastwood, Don't Say a Word, filmed starring Michael Douglas, and Empire of Lies. He's been nominated for the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award five times and has won it twice.  He is a contributing editor to City Journal and his essays and commentary have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post and elsewhere.  He also writes and appears in the bi-weekly satire video Klavan on the Culture for PJTV. His new novel, The Identity Man, will be published in November.

FP: Andrew Klavan, welcome back to Frontpage Interview.

Klavan: Thank you, Jamie.  It's a pleasure.

FP: You have recently been informed that the French release of your thriller novel Empire of Lies has been canceled by publisher Seuil Policiers. What’s going on?

Klavan: The book, as you know, is about a politically conservative and Christian man who believes he's uncovered an Islamist terrorist plot that's being obscured by the bias and political correctness of our leftwing media.  The novel was bought for Seuil by a brave and intelligent editor named Robert Pepin.  Robert left to establish his own imprint at another publishing house and was replaced by a young woman.  She was, as she herself explained to my agent, too upset by the "political and religious" aspects of my novel to go forward with publication.  She breached our contract--for which I'd already been paid in full--and canceled the book.

FP: Do you think Seuil Policiers would have cancelled the release if your novel was about a peace-loving Muslim who has uncovered a terrorist plot being hatched by rightwing Christians?

Klavan: I'd like to give a dignified answer to that, Jamie, but I'm laughing too hard.  To be plain, however: No.  That would only be true if this were an act of religious tolerance.  But censoring depictions of the patent evil of Islamism isn't religious tolerance, it's self-hatred.  It's the cultural equivalent of one of those bizarre diseases where the body's immune system turns against itself, where the inner structures meant to keep you healthy become, in some sense, part of the very sickness that kills you.

In our society, with its classical and Jewish-Christian underpinnings, we have an intellectual tradition of being critical of ourselves and tolerant of others.  That's a very healthy attitude.  A corrective to self-certainty and jingoism, a shield against self-righteousness and belligerence.  But if it gets out of control--like the sick immune system--it just becomes a vehicle for self-hatred and self-punishing shame.

FP: What trend do you see here? What is the significance?

Klavan: Well, even though the French cancellation of my novel may be a small incident in the scheme of things, I do think it's indicative of a more general problem.  As the left's policies have collapsed and failed everywhere, leftists have become more and more interested in silencing opposing voices.  Political correctness itself is an attempt to marginalize dissenting speech.  So-called “hate-speech” restrictions have the force of law in Europe.  There are threats here in America to bring back the fairness doctrine.  Not to mention the constant charge of "racism," which today almost always means not that you're a racist but that you've somehow embarrassed the left with the facts.

Look, Empire of Lies is a novel.  Its hero Jason Harrow, isn't some square-jawed Gary Cooper who's always right.  He's a deeply troubled man who doubts his own conclusions and whose philosophy - as with all of us - grows up out of his own life and troubles.  You can disagree with him but to rule him out of court, to rule that he shouldn't exist, that the book must not be published is symptomatic of a moral and cultural disorder.

FP: Earlier you noted how, with our classical and Jewish-Christian underpinnings, we have an intellectual tradition of being critical of ourselves and tolerant of others. Can you expand a bit on how this compares to the traditions of the Left and of Islam and what pathologies grow in the soil that doesn’t fertilize self-criticism?

Klavan: The problem is, when tolerant cultures and people meet the intolerant, there's a danger of falling into what I think is sometimes called the "Tolerance Trap."  You know, where tolerance is used as a shield for oppressive or ugly actions.  "We can behave like thugs and if you disapprove, why, you're intolerant."  It's using a high blown moral argument to mask and excuse immorality.

Take the Ground Zero Mosque.  I mean, let's face it:  what an insensitive, cruel, rude and un-neighborly act it is to build a giant mosque just there.  Yet they perpetrate this insult in the smarmy name of "bridge-building," and if you oppose what's essentially a kick in the teeth to the sensibility of any normal human being, you get the full self-righteous religious tolerance lecture from some preening government or media Bozo.  But again, it's a trap, a ploy.  Religious tolerance isn't even the issue.  There's no moral need to approve building a mosque near Ground Zero any more than you need to approve a man baring his backside at a gay pride parade to prove you're not homophobic.  Tolerance can only exist within some framework of moral and neighborly action.  I know that's tough to work out, but there's no way around it.

FP: What are you going do with Empire of Lies? And do you think the young woman at Seuil is just following leftist dogma or might she be afraid for her life if the book gets too much attention?

Klavan: We'll try to sell it to another publisher in France.  We'll see what happens.  And by the way, while I can't speak for the editor who canceled it, I strongly doubt she feared for her life.  I think she feared for her own sense of virtue, poor thing.

FP: What is on your mind lately?

Klavan: Race and identity.  I guess in some ways it's been on my mind for a long time.  But I've written this thriller,The Identity Man which is, let's say, haunted by questions of race and identity.  The book comes out this fall--November--and I'm trying to think of ways to talk about its themes.  In case you're wondering, this is a plug, by the way:  it's a really excellent thriller so I hope every single person reading this will go out and buy it.

FP: Share with us some of your plans.

Klavan: I've reached a point, frankly, where I'd like to do something really different, something I've never done before.  A spiritual memoir maybe.  Some kind of television show.  Both maybe.  I'm not sure.  I have this terrible fear that I may cease to be before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain.  Actually, now I think about it, John Keats said that and about ten minutes later he was dead.  So maybe I should just shut up and keep typing.

FP: Always such a pleasure to speak with you Andrew Klavan. And to our readers, all I can say is: Buy The Identity Man when it comes out in November!