The attempt to delegitimize free speech continues, with growing advocacy of what would essentially be blasphemy prosecutions.
Here’s a professor at the University of Chicago who thinks it unfortunate that a strong interpretation of the First Amendment prohibits the government from “restricting the distribution of a video that causes violence abroad and damages America’s reputation.”
A strange understanding of the word “causes.” If a group called Avengers of Sicilian Honor decides to blow things up every time a movie is released that isn’t properly respectful of the Mafia, then is the movie causing the violence? Obviously, the entity causing the violence is the Avengers. One would have hoped a law professor would understand this.
Does criticizing a religion, to whatever excessive degree, automatically create violence in a way that criticizing the other things–the Mafia, for example, or cats, or the male gender–does not? See this post and discussion at Ricochet. In comments there, I said:
Why should *religion* be more protected from offensive speech than any other belief system…and what, precisely, qualifies as a religion? If we mock the extreme-environmentalist believers in a conscious Gaia, are we committing blasphemy? How about believers in astrology, or magical crystals? How about Nazi believers in the ancient Teutonic gods?
And why should beliefs with a supernatural belief content receive more protection than comprehensive but non-supernatural belief systems? A dedicated Marxist has as much emotional investment in his beliefs as does a fundamentalist Baptist or an extreme Muslim.
Who is going to decide that Muhammed and the Holy Trinity are protected from mockery, but the belief in astrology is not? Are we going to have a list of approved religions? Who is going to establish such a list, and based on what criteria?
The real criterion, of course, would be propensity to violence. If a group shows a propensity to violence when its icons are criticized, then it would in practice receive special protection under the 21st-century blasphemy prohibitions. Those advocating for such rules either don’t understand the incentive system this would create, or don’t care.
Last Wednesday, Zbigniew Brzezinski–yes, that Zbigniew Brzezinski, the one from the Carter administration–added his voice to the chorus of those calling for restrictions on free speech:
“I would like us to make it more explicit to the Muslim world: we not only condemn (the YouTube video), but if there are evil forces at work trying to provoke violence between us and you, we have the obligation to investigate and crack down.” (emphasis added)
Paul Rahe responds eloquently. He quotes from a speech made by Winston Churchill in 1938:
In a very few years, perhaps in a very few months, we shall be confronted with demands with which we shall no doubt be invited to comply. Those demands may affect the surrender of territory or the surrender of liberty. I foresee and foretell that the policy of submission will carry with it restrictions upon the freedom of speech and debate in Parliament, on public platforms, and discussions in the Press, for it will be said – indeed, I hear it said sometimes now – that we cannot allow the Nazi system of dictatorship to be criticised by ordinary, common English politicians. Then, with a Press under control, in part direct but more potently indirect, with every organ of public opinion doped and chloroformed into acquiescence, we shall be conducted along further stages of our journey.
And indeed, following the German takeover of Czechoslovakia, photographs were available showing the plight of Czech Jews, dispossessed by the Nazis and wandering the roads of eastern Europe. Geoffrey Dawson, editor of The Times, refused to run any of them: it wouldn’t help the victims, he told his staff, and if they were published, Hitler would be offended.
Returning to our own time, the incredibly courageous Ayaan Hirsi Ali has been mocked as an “Enlightenment Fundamentalist” by certain intellectuals and journalists.
Professor Rahe notes that the Obama adminsistration “tracked down the maker of the video. It released his name; it saw to it that his address was known,” thereby obviously exposing him to the danger of murder by Islamic fundamentalists. And soon thereafter, the Railway Minister of Pakistan offered a $100,000 bounty for anyone who managed to find and kill the film-maker. Rahe observes that this assault on the life and liberty of an American citizen, by an official of a government of a major country, received a very weak response from the Obama administration.
The administration thought it sufficient to chide him for his remarks and to comment that his conspiring to murder an American citizen was “inflammatory and inappropriate.” Otherwise, it did nothing. It could have lodged a formal protest with the government of Pakistan. It could have demanded the man’s resignation from his post. It could have sought a warrant for the arrest of the Pakistani politician when and if he stepped onto American soil. But, of course, it did nothing of the kind.
Free speech is under assault. It is under assault by radical Islamists who believe their writ to enforce the dictates of their religion extends to all people in all countries of the world. It is under assault by various thuggist Americans, most of them on the Left, many of whom learned in college that it is quite acceptable–indeed, that it is a moral duty–to shut down the speech of those who are “wrong.” Most of all, it is under assault, at a very basic conceptual level, by academics and journalists who would like to be able to “manage” the marketplace of ideas so that it conforms to their liking.
Ace writes about The Normative Power of Law and the Emotional Power of Drama
Pam Geller notes that Occupy Wall Street protestors are supporting Muslim acts of vandalism against her pro-Israel, anti-Jihad posters:
OWS had sent out a notice earlier that day calling Eltahawy’s anti-free speech fascist vandalism a “righteous act” and saying: “If it wasn’t clear before, it is now obvious that the MTA is incapable of operating public transportation for the 99%.” At the hearing, one OWS brownshirt said to the MTA Board: “You all would be shivering if you knew what’s coming! Your days are numbered!”
See also my post Caught in the Attrition Mill