TIME Business

Capitulating to Terrorists Will Only Make Things Worse

Sony Hack Theaters
A poster for the movie "The Interview" lays on the ground after being pulled from a display case by a worker at a Carmike Cinemas movie theater on Dec. 17, 2014, in Atlanta. David Goldman—AP

Professor Alan Dershowitz’s latest book is Taking the Stand: My Life in the Law.

There are steps that can be taken both by our government and by the private sector to confront these attacks on our liberty

If the North Korean government is in fact behind the hacking of Sony and the threats of violence directed against theaters that planned to show The Interview, then the United States has been a victim of warfare directed against our most basic right—free expression. Those who hacked and threatened violence succeeded in doing something the U.S. government could not do: namely censor a movie based on its content.

North Korea’s apparent victory over this film is but a coming attraction of things to come. If hacking and threats can shut down a poorly reviewed comedy, they can also shut down newspapers, magazines, television stations, and other media. This then was the Pearl Harbor of a war that is just beginning.

Like all wars, there were preludes. The prelude for this one came in an unlikely location: Yale University. Several years ago, the Yale University Press published a book on the controversy surrounding the cartoons of Mohammad that had appeared in several Scandinavian newspapers and provoked violent responses. Naturally, the book, as submitted, included the cartoons that were at the center of the dispute. But Yale University Press decided to censor these cartoons out of fear that their inclusion might endanger the lives of Yale students and faculty. Yale’s understandable decision set an unfortunate precedent that has now been followed by Sony and by the theaters that pressured Sony into canceling The Interview.

There is no simple solution to this dilemma. On the one hand, terrorists cannot be allowed to succeed in their censorial goals by hacking and threatening. On the other hand, responsible institutions must do everything in their power to protect their employees, their students, and the general public. It is precisely the object of the terrorists to create this dilemma, knowing that democracies will generally err on the sides of caution and protection.

In one sense, this dilemma is not unlike those faced by democracies that must decide whether to pay ransom to ISIS and other terrorists groups in order to prevent their citizens from being beheaded. There is no perfect solution to either dilemma. But there are steps that can be taken both by our government and by the private sector to confront these attacks on our liberty.

Our government must respond strongly, but it is constrained by North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons. This should be an object lesson for how important it is to America, and to the rest of the world, to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Iran too is a cyber-superpower, as well as the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism. A nuclear Iran would stop at nothing to censor anything it found offensive to its radical brand of Islam. It may be too late to stop North Korea from flexing its nuclear muscles, but it is not too late to stop Iran from becoming the world’s most powerful censor.

The response of the private sector can be much stronger as well. When Islamic extremists directed threats were made against Salman Rushdie, the author of The Satanic Verses, several leading publishing companies agreed to publish the book jointly in a show of solidarity against censorial threats. Although Rushdie had to live in hiding for several years, as the result fatwa issued against him by Iran’s supreme leader, freedom of speech prevailed and his book was published and widely read. In the Sony case, there was no such collective support. Nor did Sony itself do everything it could to strike a proper balance between caution and artistic freedom. It should have offered the film free on the Internet so that millions of people around the world could choose to see what North Korea didn’t want them to see. They can still do this, thus showing the North Korean’s leaders that private companies have ways to fight back. Such an action would not eliminate all risks, but it would remove movie theaters in malls as soft and highly visible targets.

None of these proposals offer perfect solutions to an intractable dilemma that will only get worse if we simply capitulate to the censorial terrorists.

Professor Alan Dershowitz’s latest book is Taking the Stand: My Life in the Law.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME foreign affairs

Israel Will Show the World It’s Willing to Hold Its Own to Account

Clashes over slain Palestinian teen in Jerusalem
Clashes occurred between Israeli security forces and Palestinian youths during the funeral ceremony held for Muhammad Abu Kdear in Jerusalem on July 4, 2014. Salih Zeki Fazlioglu—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Israel has not always been tough on prosecuting Jewish, non-lethal revenge attacks. But the murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir should change that.

The vigilante revenge murder of 16-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir will test the Israeli legal system to its core. The vast majority of Israelis, and all of its leaders, have condemned the murder in the strongest terms, but there are some Israelis—how many is unclear—who were so outraged at the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers, that they were prepared to understand, if not justify, revenge.

A Facebook page was set up, after the murder of the Israeli youngsters but before the murder of the Palestinian youth, calling for revenge, but there was sharp disagreement within the page as to the nature of the revenge sought. The group’s “managers” explained their agenda: “Killing innocents? No. [T]he group’s purpose is to avenge the kidnapped teens’ blood. To catch the terrorists that abducted and killed them and to exact revenge.” But some on the page made the racist argument that “there is no such thing an innocent Arab.” The Israeli Army and Minister of Justice condemned the page and threatened to take actions against those who expressed racist views or called for revenge against innocent Palestinians.

The call for revenge was muted among Israelis by the horrible murder of Khdeir, but amplified among Palestinians. Riots have ensued both within Israel-Arab cities and on the West Bank.

Now, following the arrest of half-a-dozen Jewish Israelis, and the reported confession of three, the Khdeir case is in the hands of the Israeli legal system. I know this system well, having consulted on several high-profile Israeli prosecutions. I also know the Minister of Justice, the Attorney General and many of the judges. They all pride themselves on the fairness of Israeli justice. The Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, vowed to treat all murders—those committed by Israelis as well as those committed against Israelis—as equally reprehensible, demanding equal justice. “We do not differentiate between terrorists,” he declared.

In other contexts, the Israeli legal system has shown that it can be very tough on its own. A former president now sits in prison, having been convicted of rape and sexual harassment. A former Prime Minister has pledged to appeal his six-year prison sentence, having been convicted of corruption. Another former Prime Minister lost his job following an investigation by the Attorney General.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that when it came to investigating, prosecuting and punishing Jewish, non-lethal revenge attacks, primarily against Palestinian property—the so-called “price tag” vigilantism—the Israeli legal system was not always as tough as it should have been. But the murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir may change that.

I believe the Israeli legal system will be fair, or perhaps even bend over backwards, when it comes to the brutal murderers of Khdeir. Criminal trials in Israel do not involve juries. Accused criminals are tried by professional judges, who are in general selected on a non-partisan basis. Verdicts and sentences are less likely to be influenced by popular opinion than in the United States, where judges are either elected or politically appointed, and where jurors are supposed to reflect the views of the people.

Even if some Israelis might have more sympathy for Jews who killed a Palestinian than for Palestinians who killed Jews, that sort of public bias will have little impact on the trial of those accused of killing Khdeir. The age of the defendants, however, might. There are reports that some may be minors, and Israeli law does take account of the age of accused criminals. But older vigilantes may well be involved as well, either in planning, inciting or protecting the actual killers. The investigation is ongoing and will not stop until everyone who has played a culpable role in the murder is apprehended and brought to justice.

The Israeli government, which rightfully complains that it is often subjected to a double standard of justice by international institutions such as the United Nations and the International Court of Justice, must show the world, and its own citizens, that it is capable of imposing the same standard of tough justice on Jews who murder Palestinians as it does on Palestinians who murder Jews. Justice demands no less. I predict that Israeli justice will pass the test.

Professor Alan Dershowitz’s latest book is Taking the Stand: My Life in the Law.

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