Graham, Appeasement, and Free Speech

Senator Lindsay Graham, in response to the Koran-burning incident and subsequent riot, had this to say:

I wish we could find a way to hold people accountable. Free speech is a great idea, but we’re in a war. During World War II, we had limits on what you could say if it would inspire the enemy.

“Inspire” is an interesting word in this context. If someone during WWII had gone around giving speeches asserting that a German/Japanese victory would be a good thing, yes it is possible that the FDR administration would have found a way to get him arrested and kept in prison for the duration of the war. And if someone during WWI had done the same thing,the Wilson administration would almost certainly have had him arrested.

The present-day analogy for such speech giving, though, would be something like Michael Moore’s 2004 statement:

The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not ‘insurgents’ or ‘terrorists’ or ‘The Enemy.’ They are the REVOLUTION, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow—and they will win.

Pretty inspirational, if you’re a member of Al Quaeda or the Taliban, wouldn’t you say? And there have been dozens of similar statements from academics, entertainers, “activists,” etc. But I don’t remember Lindsay Graham calling for the arrest of such individuals. (Although he has talked about wanting to ban flag-burning)

Maybe Graham was really objecting not to inspiring the enemy, but rather to inciting the enemy by offending them. And since Graham wants to talk about WWII, let’s do exactly that. Charlie Chaplin’s filmed mockery of Hitler was certainly offensive to that dictator and to the other senior Nazis, and could have been viewed as inciting them to continue the war rather than making an early peace–but I don’t think the Roosevelt administration ever considered having Chaplin arrested for incitement.

Ah, Senator Graham might say, that is not a good analogy. The Koran burning did not just offend those who are fighting against us; it offended all Muslims everywhere.

Okay, let’s improve the analogy. During WWII, many if not most Americans tended to conflate “Nazis” with “Germans”–cartoonist Bill Mauldin once observed that a front-line soldier was less likely to refer to the enemy as “those dirty Nazis” than as “those God-damned Krauts.” Suppose someone back in the States had taken this sentiment to extremes by holding a ceremonial burning of the key documents of German history and culture–Beethoven’s music, Goethe’s plays, the sermons of Martin Luther, in addition to photographs of Bismarck and both Kaisers.

And suppose that Hitler, in a fury, had ordered the retaliatory killing of 100 American prisoners of war and the destruction of a historic village and cathedral in France, together with the execution of all the villagers.

Does anyone think the American response would have been to demand the arrest of the idiot who had burned the documents? I doubt it. Much more probably, the response would have been directed toward the enemy, and would very likely have involved B-17 and B-25 bombers.

What Lindsay Graham has done is to propose, or at least to toy with, the idea of enacting “the thug’s veto” into law. He would ignore, override, or finesse the First Amendment and essentially turn the US government into a subcontractor for any faction, anywhere in the world, which demonstrates a sufficient level of violence when they are “offended” by the speech of any American. Those who are not prone to violence, of course, would not get benefit of this special treatment. Any guesses of what this policy would do to the general level of violence in the world?

See related article in today’s WSJ by Dorothy Rabinowitz, who critiques General Petraeus’s statement on the Koran-burning (which included the phrase “in this case, perhaps, understandable passions”) and notes that:

To this the only sane response is no. They are not understandable, these passions that so invariably find voice in mass murder, the butchery of imagined enemies like the people hunted down in the U.N. office Friday, and of everyone else the mobs encountered who might fit the bill. We will not prevail over terrorism and the related bloodlust of this fundamentalist fanaticism as long as our leading representatives, the military included, are inclined to pronounce its motivations as “understandable.”

It was fine and entirely appropriate for Petraeus to condemn the Koran-burning as “intolerant”, it was unwise of him to use a term like “understandable” in connection with the passions that led to the rioting and the murders, and it was entirely despicable of Lindsay Graham to suggest using this as an excuse to infringe on the freedoms of all Americans.

More comments from Lindsay Graham here. These ramblings are rather confused: he now seems to be saying that he knows we can’t limit free speech because of the Constitution, but that it would be really nice if we could.

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. 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.)

Appeasement as an excuse for tyrannical behavior is never a good idea…not in Britain in the 1930s, not in the United States today.

More related posts: The Advice Goddess, and Mark Steyn.

19 thoughts on “Graham, Appeasement, and Free Speech”

  1. Graham was a much better Congressman than Senator. He seemed to have left his common sense in the House. He obviously doesn’t remember all the mockery of Hitler and the Nazis fron World War II. British soldiers marched to a song about the Nazi leaders reproductive organs. My mother had a pincushion that was mounted on the back of a bending over Hitler statue about 8 inches tall.

    There is this cowardly self-induced blindness that infects the left and some politicians on the right. Graham is a reprehensible example of the latter.

  2. I don’t know “what” Graham is, but he is no right-winger. Why the good people of SC continue to send this nitwit to the senate is beyond me.

  3. Why this anger, and this anger directed towards Senator Graham? Cannot these issues be discussed in yes, a more civil tone?

    The analogy is made to Nazis and Hitler, and no, this is not a Godwin’s law situation, it is simply that the fight against the Nazis and Hitler was the last time the United States was prosecuting that intense of a war. So it is fair and yes even civil to bring up Hitler in this context, but reflection on the current situation suggests it is much different and in many ways more complicated.

    What is less-than-civil is language such as “cowardly”, “blindness”, “reprehensible”, and “nitwit.”

    Burning a Koran, pure and simple, is incitement. Not exactly analogous either, but a similar level of incitement in the U.S. would be a cross burning or a mock lynching.

    There is not only the strong Consitutional protection of free speech, which is really on of the things contributing to making America exceptional because I don’t know of any other country or political culture that comes close to this. There is also a strong political interpretation of giving the First Amendment the broadest possible interpretation, which is not necessarily a given, witnessing how the First Amendment has a hallowed status on both the Right and Left whereas the Second Amendment, not so much.

    In the context of the First Amendment and in the context of the broad interpretation given the First Amendment, there are also strong social and cultural traditions, in the U.S., of persons speaking their minds, even in ways that may be offensive to others, skirting the border of incitement.

    Also in the social, cultural, and political context of the U.S., there is a strong communitarian spirit — under the First Amendment, it is possible to say any and all things but perhaps not profitable to do so, and at least prior to the Vietnam War and the 60’s protest, there were perhaps, informal and social constraints on speech — restraints on speech not according to legal sanction but according to social conventions.

    Is Senator Graham suggesting that there be some law, perhaps an amendment to the Constitution to prohibit incitement by Koran burning? I think not, he is using his Senatorial bully pulpit and social persuasion to attempt to reign this kind of thing. So what is it about his statements that makes him a “coward”, a “blind” person, or even a “nitwit”?

    The other side to this, of course, is “what is it about ‘those’ people who have such vulnerable sensibilities” that they go about murdering in response to a religious insult? In a perfect world, people wouldn’t take murderous revenge for the desecration of some book, people wouldn’t drag the body of an American Special Forces soldier through the streets, a soldier who was trying to save those same people from the misery of starvation and the collapse of civil order, people out there in the greater world would do a lot of things or refrain from doing a lot of things if they were wise, at least according to what are views advanced by what is an exceptional society by world standards, the United State of America.

    On the other hand, we don’t get to control what people “out there” do. If people are our enemies, we attempt to impose control over them through military force, but if they are putative or erstwhile allies, do we exercise control over them by declaring war on them too and making them all our enemies? The murderous rampage in response to the actions of some wacko Gainesville pastor is wrong, but what are we going to do about it?

    Senator Graham’s position may be wrong, I think it is at least arguable, that in time of war our society should preserve Free Speech but exert moral suasion to cut down on acts of outright incitement. This acts may not only provoke our enemies, but they provoke our erstwhile friends. Maybe friends who act that way are not friends, but are we going to declare war on vast swaths of the globe where people act that way? Senator Graham may be wrong, and we should argue how he is wrong, but calling him a blind coward short circuits an arguement we need to have on a difficult topic.

  4. PaulM, the quoted statement from Graham makes it clear to me that he would *like* to restrict this kind of symbolic speech, whether he believes it actually possible to do so or not. If that wasn’t what he really meant, maybe should have chosen his words more carefully. The man does have a law degree, after all, for what that’s worth.

    “Why this anger”??…I would think that would be obvious. There has already been considerable intimidation, including death threats, against Americans exercising their free-speech rights: see for example the case of the Seattle cartoonist who actually had to go into hiding. In addition to this kind of non-official intimidation, we have now had a couple of decades of abuse of power by many university administrations using their official powers to suppress speech of which they don’t approve and conduct mandatory political indoctrination campaigns, while at the same time too often turning a blind eye toward unofficial acts of speech suppression. What Graham is mooting here is adding the full force of the Federal government to the anti-free-speech campaign, in the form of what would essentially be a blasphemy law justified under cover of military necessity.

  5. Paul said: “Burning a Koran, pure and simple, is incitement. Not exactly analogous either, but a similar level of incitement in the U.S. would be a cross burning or a mock lynching.”

    I disagree since burning the Koran symbolilzed the pastor’s detestation of the general philosophy contained within the Koran. A better analogy would be the burning, during WWII, of Mein Kamph. (It hardly needs mentioning that cross- burning, lynching are actively harming another’s person or property whereas the good pastor is burning his own paper).

    Consider that there were “good Germans” that were Nazis and that there were barbaric animals that were Nazis. In either case they gave succor to the Nazi movement and party. Islam is exactly similar in this respect.

    After learning a little bit about Islam, my own conclusion was that it might not be evil but it’ll do until evil comes along.

  6. Again, Graham and Petraeus’s comments seem to confirm – Islam is now the defact state religon of the USA!

  7. “And if someone during WWI had done the same thing,the Wilson administration would almost certainly have had him arrested.”

    My grandfather (may he rest in peace, died 30 years ago at the age of 90) told me that his grandfather was an immigrant from Germany. He said that the old man spoke only German, and sided with the Kaiser during the Great War (WW I). The family was concerned about him being arrested at the time.

  8. During WWI, someone in America was actually arrested for putting on *a play about the American revolution* in which the Brits were portrayed as the bad guys. Insulting an ally, don’t you know…

  9. “Burning the Koran is like burning a cross.”

    Again the idea that despising the Koran and Islam is racism. Tell me again, which race is Islam?
    Burning a cross on someon’s lawn is a threat; burning a Koran on your own property is not.

    I have no problem with burning Mein Kampf (though the Nazis would want to imprision me), with burning Dianetics (though the Scientolgists might attack me), with burning the Communist Manifesto (I’m already guilty of PAD-praising American democracy: a death sentence), or with burning the Koran (though “Allah” will send me to hell: gales of riotous laughter).

    We are in a religious war. The last religious war to convince Catholics that every knee need not bow to the Pope cost tens of millions of lives. In that war the incitement wa a non-Latin Bible. This war will not end until Islam, a religion as religious as Satanism and Scientology combined, an ideology as vile as Nazism (but not Communism), is broken. Muslims should count themselves fortunate that we’re only burning Korans. (I hear Moslems express their displeasure at the existence of Jews by burning Torahs–not. They burn Jews.) Unless they calm down and learn to accept “Piss Mohammed” and “Dung Aisha” things can only become worse.

    Either that, or if it’s okay to kill people over incitements, I’m siding with the Christians: employees of the National Endowment for the Arts beware!

    Graham seems to have forgotten who he works for, but then which of the political elite hasn’t?

  10. I will worry about incitements to Moslem terrorists when Moslems worry about incitements which offend me. Unlike Moslems, who believe in Moslem superiority (by their own words I worth 1/4 of a Moslem of less), I believe in reciprocity.

    Since Muslims are so keen on beheading people, let them act to halt incitements agains me: send me the heads of every Moslem who celebrated 9/11, has burned an American flag, etc. etc. Think Fed Ex has the capacity?

  11. David – here are some comments I left at another blog:

    2. Second, the above excerpt about Bono fits into the discussion about the book burning in Florida and related events.

    When I look at India Abroad, or other papers meant for the Western Indian diaspora, I see a wide range of Muslim names. I read about entrepreneurs, athletes, Bollywood stars, politicians, artists, and yes, those involved in terrorism.

    It is a full spectrum view of South Asian Muslim society: rich, varied, complex, and a part of the fabric of Indian life. I understand that there are serious problems but there are good things about that system, too.

    When I read the more “enlightened” papers here in the States, like the NYT, the images are weirdly narrow and patronizing. It’s as if it is more important for our high ranking officials to show they are sensitive then to speak honestly about the world.

    In a strange way, they are the flip side of the bigots. They empower the bigots because they are afraid to criticize behavior.

    If someone in the States burned the Bhagavad Gita and an Indian Hindu mob went on a rampage in India, it would be condemned by the same people that are jumping up to apologize for what has happened in Florida.


    Also, this:

    Our high ranking officials should use the word takfiri or salafist more often. They don’t speak to Americans as adults, with serious intent, and then the conversation becomes dumbed down to a simplified level.

    If we would use the work takfiri, then the arguments would be about that group of people instead of indicting a much larger group that doesn’t deserve it.

    Anyway, it’s a thought.

    And another commenter responded with this, which I liked:

    Excellent points, especially the one about our inside the beltway elites and their fellow travelers being more interested in impressing each other with their hepness than dealing with the world.

    As far as your point about calling the killers takfiri, I have this to say…YES! YES! YES! YES! YES! The people on the scene recognize the difference. We should too.

    Senator Graham’s appearances on Greta Van Sustern (really the only time I’ve listened to him) always irritate me. He repeats boiler plate and doesnt’ show that he thinks deeply about what he says. He is supposed to defend the Constitution. Free speech is foundational and what we stand for. Another commenter on the above thread I mentioned, a Pakistani American named Omar, stated that it was repellent or “hate” speech that needed the most defending. He made a funny comment about how if you got rid of hate speech against the Chinese government, then China had free speech too. Well, he put it more cleverly than that. Basically, making a mockery of the hate speech crowd. That is exactly the speech that needs defending in a free society.

    At any rate, the whole constitutional thing seems to be a problem for a whole series of our Senators, who tend to view the document as inconvenient to their particular hobby horses. Oh, and Sen. Graham was interviewed once about Afghanistan and went off rhapsodically about the Pak Army and how we had to help them defend their nation against jihadists. Er, I get what he meant but he really mucks up a verbal argument.

    Doesn’t much of our political class strike you as incredibly lazy in addition to barely competent? There are good guys and gals (tea partiers and the like) but, goodness!

    He doesn’t read or think deeply, and if he does, he does not show evidence of it in the few venues I’ve heard him speak.

    Not a fan of the man, to put it mildly.

    – Madhu

  12. I messed up the block quote tags: The second blockquote contained my comment and the quote inside of it is another commenter responding to my complaint that our politicians and officials don’t use the word takfiri which is more honest and doesn’t indict peaceful, secular and decent Muslims who don’t deserve to be lumped in with crazies.

    *Like the Iraqi army officers and interpreters (and Afghan interpreters) that are troops have worked with and value so highly.

    – Madhu

  13. We are at war in Iraq. We are at war in Afghanistan. We may be at war in Libya. We have still not signed a peace accord with N. Korea…when will we not be at war, and ought we suspend our rights till, well, forever?
    Burn a copy of the New Testament and that is poor taste. Burn a copy of the Talmud and that is poor taste. Burn the Mormon bible and that is poor taste. Burn a Koran and get murdered.

Comments are closed.