In 2006, I visited an old industrial facility which had been restored to operating condition. One of the machines there was an attrition mill. It consists of two steel discs, rotating at high speed in opposite direction and crushing the substance to be milled between them.
I immediately saw this machine as a political metaphor. Western civilization is caught in a gigantic attrition mill, with one disc being the Islamofascist enemy and the other being certain tendencies within our own societies. The combination of these factors is much more dangerous than either by itself would be. Events of the last 2 weeks have sadly confirmed this view.
Significant numbers of people in influential positions have demonstrated their willingness, even eagerness, to throw the American values of free speech overboard in the name of appeasement. They serve as the lower disc of the attrition mill, providing a surface for the upper disc–the Islamofascists–to act against.
We have discussed the Federal Government’s acts of intimidation against a filmmaker–I was about to say “an idiot filmmaker,” but really, this individual’s intelligence, taste, and artistic capabilities are utterly irrelevant to the issues here. The actions of the government, in conjunction with the media, may very well result in this man being killed for “blasphemy”–in the United States, in 2012 AD.
Actress Bette Midler tweeted that the filmmaker should be charged with murder. Other entertainers (see link) have expressed similar views. I haven’t seen any outpouring of free-speech defense from academia, although some individuals–like Glenn Reynolds and Ann Althouse–have stepped up to the plate. The media in general seems far more outraged about a filmmaker who offended Muslims–and about the danger of “Islamophobia” (see this CNN headline) than they are about the treatment of Jews and Christians and Hindus and others in many Muslim countries.
Author Salman Rushdie, whose 1988 novel The Satanic Verses drew Islamic death threats, does not think this book would be published today. “A book which was critical of Islam would be difficult to be published now,” he told the BBC. He noted that last week, a British TV channel cancelled a screening of its documentary, Islam: The Untold Story, following security threats.
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher took a very strong position in support of Rushdie’s free speech rights–and he was by no means a Thatcher supporter–quite different from the kind of weaseling we are now seeing from the Obama administration.
The leader of Hezbollah has called for an international law against “insulting Islam.” Can anyone feel completely confident that the Obama administration would not support U.S. implementation of such a law? It would, of course, be called “prohibition of hate speech,” and would theoretically apply to insulting any religion, but in practice would be applied against those who offend Islamists, not against those mullahs who preach hatred of Jews or those filmmakers and professors who sneer at Christians.
And, of course, free-speech restrictions in the name of appeasement–in addition to their inherent evil–won’t work. Can anyone believe that the images of the police “visit” to the home of the LA filmmaker will not feel like partial victory to the Islamofascists and encourage them to demand ever-tighter U.S. crackdowns on anyone who offends them? If a person or group is looking for a reason to be angry, something can always be found. (Winston Churchill said, at the time of Munich, “England has been offered a choice between war and shame. She has chosen shame, and will get war.”) And is it not obvious that allowing the “thug’s veto”…actually now the “murderer’s veto”…to succeed, when exercised by Muslims, must inherently encourage entirely different groups to also resort to violence when they are “offended?”
So why are so many people, some of them in quite influential and/or powerful positions, so eager to begin a writeoff of American free speech?…indeed, why does it seem that the Zeitgeist in the West may be turning against this kind of freedom? I think there are several factors:
1)For a couple of decades now, American universities have implemented “speech codes,” attempting to control what students can say in name of ensuring nobody is “offended.” It was inevitable that these attitude would metastasize beyond academia into the broader society, and now they have.
2)The excesses of the “self-esteem building” practiced in many K-12 schools, especially public schools, has led to the impression that people must be protected from hurt feelings at any cost…to modify the old saying, “sticks and stores may break my bones, but words can equally well hurt me.”
3)An increasing number of people are in professions that are all about words, and hence the distinction between speech and action may be perceived less clearly. For a farmer or a machinist or even an electrical engineer, the distinction between speaking and acting is in their professional lives pretty clear; for a writer or a lawyer or an English professor, not so much.
Whatever the causes of the current assaults on free speech, they should be taken very seriously and resisted strongly. The alternative is a future that would be very dark indeed.