Free Speech Under Attack

Molly Norris is–or was–a Seattle cartoonist, best-known for coming up with the idea of “Everybody Draw Mohammad Day” as a way of asserting American First Amendment rights. She has been threatened with murder for having violated Sharia law, and the threats against her have now reached such a level that–on the advice of the FBI–she is changing her identity and going into hiding. Her cartoons, at least for now, have stopped. The terrorists have silenced an American citizen.

This is not the first time that American individuals and institutions have been subject to intimidation by radical Islamic zealots, but it is one of the most blatant and serious.

So, where is Barack Obama? He was quick to publicly object to what he saw as the violation of the rights of a Harvard professor who was involved in a dispute with the local police. He has been quick to defend the religious freedom of Imam Rauf to build a large mosque 500 feet from the World Trade site. When is he going to speak up for the right of people like Molly Norris to simply go on living, free from violent intimidation, while exercising their free-expression rights as American citizens?

And while speaking out is important, action is also required. The laws against the making of terroristic threats need to be vigorously enforced, and if needed, strengthened. U.S. residents making such threats need to be arrested and sentenced to very long prison terms. Where threats are made by residents of friendly countries, extradition or local prosecution needs to be arranged. And where prominent makers of threats are being protected by rogue regimes, then the threateners need to be targeted for assassination. And people facing threats, like Molly Norris, need to be protected and supported by our government, not just warned and left on their own. (I should note that Anwar al-Awlaki, one of the leading figures calling for Norris’s murder, is already on the CIA’s targeted kill list. He has been linked to the botched Times Square bombing and cited as inspiration for the Fort Hood massacre, and three of the 9/11 hijackers attended his sermonds–he is on the list for his general terrorist activities, not for his threats against Norris. Referring to Norris, he said that her “proper abode is hellfire”…it would be amusing if he meets his own end courtesy of a Hellfire missile, whose 8kg blast-fragmentation warhead would wonderfully improve the quality of his thought processes.)

The level of concern shown about intimidation such as that directed at Norris seems to be very low, not only on the part of this Administration and its congressional supporters, but also on the part of the various “progressive” and “human rights” groups who are normally so quick to raise issues about all kinds of things. Indeed, it seems less likely that the Obama administration will take systematic and effective action against the makers of terrorist threats than that the administration itself will propose legislation or regulation directed at limiting the free speech of Americans on such matters. The United Nations, beloved of the kind of people who are Obama’s core supporters, has already proposed that all nations sign on to rules prohibiting the defamation of any religion. Recent comments by Supreme Court Justice Breyer suggest, in a carefully-hedged sort of way, that he might find restrictions on the speech of Americans to be appropriate because of global impacts in an Internet age–ie, the possible reaction of people in other countries.

There is, of course, no actual warrant in the Constitution for such a global test, and it is extremely disturbing to hear such thinking from a Supreme Court Justice. Shutting down free speech because of something violent that someone in some other country might do is a terrible idea. I’m reminded that in the late 1930s, Winston Churchill spoke of In the late 1930s, Winston Churchill spoke of the “unendurable..sense of our country falling into the power, into the orbit and influence of Nazi Germany, and of our existence becoming dependent upon their good will or pleasure…In a very few years, perhaps in a very few months, we shall be confronted with demands” which “may affect the surrender of territory or the surrender of liberty.” A “policy of submission” would entail “restrictions” upon freedom of speech and the press. “Indeed, I hear it said sometimes now that we cannot allow the Nazi system of dictatorship to be criticized by ordinary, common English politicians.” (excerpt is from The Last Lion: Alone, by William Manchester.)

Churchill’s concern was not just a theoretical one. 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. (same source as above.)

In the United States in 2010, we are getting closer than is comfortable to the same sort of fear-based submission.

The Molly Norris situation is also being discussed at Bookworm, Quid plura, and Had enough therapy?

16 thoughts on “Free Speech Under Attack”

  1. I hope Salman Rushdie reaches out to her and gives her moral support and advice for living underground. (I doubt he will, but he should.)

  2. In the United States in 2010, we are getting closer than is comfortable to the same sort of fear-based submission.

    In the United States in 2012, we will be getting closer than is comfortable to reducing the terrorist states to the same sort of fear-based submission.

    Faster, please.

  3. The USA and classically lib western civ hit a low-water mark when South Park got redacted over images of Mo.

    Molly’s got more moxie and sense of irony than Comedy Central gone to tragedy to avoid it. May she be safe from the barbarians at the gate, and may we all be protected from our own Sensitivity gatekeepers who let this kind of intimidation creep in.

    We need an “Everybody Draw Overreactive MoFos Day.” My depiction would be an Islamist press secretary pointing a gun at cameramen for a crippled, anorectic and lesioned FDR look-alike Mohammed.

  4. Isn’t the government (isn’t it the state department, perhaps) supposed to regulate entry the entrance of corrosive elements into the U. S? We have the war but we don’t have the war footing. It’s like, or almost like, WW II is going on but Nazis are being welcomed into the country.

    Wake up.

  5. Barry Sotero’s adopted father, Lolo was an Indonesian citizen

    Barry was taken to school in Indonesia. He became a citizen of that country.

    Barak Obama may be eligible, Barry Sotero is not eligible to be president.

    anyone waking up to that fact yet?

    it doesn’t matter where he was born…

  6. “Isn’t the government (isn’t it the state department, perhaps) supposed to regulate entry the entrance of corrosive elements into the U. S? ”

    Wad’ya mean entrance into the U.S.? The gummint keeps tabs (FBI dossiers, informants) on anyone “corrosive” inside the U.S., ranging from Christian Identity, the Klan, Northern Michigan milita groups, A.I.M., The Mafia, Branch Davidians, the anti-war movement, all of the way to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King. The gummint tolerates no (ahem, stuff) from nobody!

    Seriously, the government through the FBI conducts intelligence gathering on anyone who poses a threat to civil liberties of others or the U.S. government’s “monopoly on violence”, and then some (i.e. gathers intelligence on people who don’t pose any imminent threat). To the extent that there is any organized group that threatens violence within our borders, especially to deprive someone of their civil rights, and is not under some system of intelligence gathering goes against recent history.

    On the other hand, there are some organizations that are so powerful and pervasive, that “going underground” is the only effective response — think Mafia and the Witness Protection Program.

    That may be what is going on here. Our intelligence, so far, may be effective against preventing mass terrorist attacks, not in protecting a “point target” against a vast network of free-lancers effectively issued “license to kill.” It may be unfair to criticize Mr. Obama or the Federal government as not taking this kind of thing seriously. They may be taking this seriously, but some things are hard to fight.

  7. The muslim system of justice with any adult male technically able to make judicial rulings up to and including death penalty cases and any Muslim technically empowered to carry them out is the key problem. You take away the fatwa system and the rest of Islam, as wrong or right as it may be, is relatively harmless. Religious judgments that are coercively enforced both inside and outside the community of the faithful are fundamentally a problem in the US system and we need people who will force politicians to confront this.

    It isn’t about pro or anti islam. It isn’t even about Islam per se. We don’t have a consistent response to handling this sort of challenge which makes the US system response fundamentally unjust with respect to religious violence.

    I had another paragraph after this one. I just erased it in a bout of self-censorship. Don’t kid yourself that the conversations aren’t changing because of these threats. They are.

  8. Paul M…”(Obama et al) may be taking this seriously, but some things are hard to fight”…when Obama cares about something, he gives speeches about it. Indeed, this is a man who seems to think that speech-giving IS governing. I think we can safely assume that if he doesn’t talk about something, it’s not important to him.

    Although protecting individuals from terrorist threats and attacks may be difficult, there are plenty of things that could be done. How about a few high-profile prosecutions, and long imprisonments to be followed by deportations? How about advertising campaigns directed at recent immigrants reminding them that in this country, death threats are *illegal* and will be dealt with very severely?

    I’d like to see some prosecutors’ careers made by putting away threat-makers and honor-killers. This is at least as important as prosecuting white-collar criminals, and I’d argue much more so.

  9. How about if a few of those Islamists who are threatening our citizens who criticize them are publicly offed and a statement made to all those who would do that will be pre-emptively killed.

    I bet the threats stop as soon as those crazies find iout it means an instant death sentence with a bacon grease lubricated bullet.

  10. Throwing out old newspapers, and noticed a front-page headline in the 9/11-12 issue of the Financial Times:

    “Obama pleads for religious tolerance”

    This was of course with regard to the near-ground-zero mosque. There have been no similar pleas from Obama regarding the tolerance of Molly Norris and others whose lives have been threatened by radical Islamists. Nor have I noticed the editors of the FT drawing the attention of their readers to this omission.

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