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.