Written by Julian Sanchez, a research fellow at the Cato Institute. Posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.
A sign mentioned in the New York Times coverage of the ongoing protests in the Muslim world crystallized a question that had been nagging at the back of my head since the attacks on the American embassies in Libya and Egypt. The sign read: “Shut up America!” and “Obama is the president, so he should have to apologize!”
What a strange non-sequitur, to Western ears! What does the president—or the U.S. government in general—have to do with some crude, rinky-dink YouTube video produced by an apparent con man? Surely, like the overwhelming majority of Americans, Barack Obama would never even have been aware of the trailer for “Innocence of Muslims” if it hadn’t become the bizarre focus of controversy abroad. Even if the video was more catalyst than cause of the outrage, commenters all along have remarked how absurd, almost surreal, it seems that one shoddy YouTube—surely one of many containing harsh criticism of Islam or its prophet—could trigger such a massive reaction. If people hadn’t died, it would be comical.
After the protests irrupted in the Middle East last week, the United States Embassy in Egypt sent out a statement condemning the video created the Obama Administration insists created the outrage. It was a startling condemnation of free speech and expression, which protect not only speech with which the majority of Americans may agree, but also unpopular or even hate speech that some may otherwise find objectionable.
Some have defended the actions of President Obama since the controversy has erupted, but the reaction from the United States Embassy in Egypt was typical of the Obama Administration, which has fought to curb political speech. But more details have come to light in recent days, such as the White House privately asking Google, which owns YouTube, to review the video. Access to the video has already been restricted in Middle Eastern countries where violence has broken out.
Moreover, the person who made the video, a convicted felon, has been questioned by federal authorities because his activities may have violated the conditions of his release. Obviously, that is a separate issue and not necessarily one that we should say is an attempt to silence speech. However, it does make one question whether federal authorities would bother with him if he had put out a video denigrating Christianity.
Last year, I wrote a post on free speech during the whole Terry Jones Quran burning incident. It started out like this:
In 1987, artist Andres Serrano won the “Awards in the Visual Arts” competition from the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art. The piece awarded was called “Piss Christ” and it depicted a crucifix, submerged in the artist’s urine.
In case you didn’t click on the link above, here are some Andres Serrano images (“Piss Christ” on the left; “Madonna and the Child II” on the right):
Now, suppose Pat Robertson (or any other Christian right winger) came out and said the following: “Andres Serrano should be jailed and prosecuted”. What would our liberal elite say? They would probably come out in defense of Serrano’s artwork. And guess what? They would be right to do so.
Tuesday’s tragic and hainous attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya have refocused the spotlight on 11 years of endless war against radical Islam. The attack was preceded by the storming of the US Embassy in Egypt the day before. The attacks were apparently motivated by an anti-Muslim film that has been promoted by the Koran burning pastor Terry Jones. Predictably from interventionists all across the political spectrum, there have been calls for a military response and the phrase “act of war” has been flying around the Internet all day. Meanwhile, the Libyan government has promised to bring the perpetrators of the attack to justice. While there is absolutely nothing that can justify the attacks in Egypt and Libya, we as Americans often forget that not everyone else around the world shares our liberal, tolerant values.
The concepts of freedom of religion and free speech are mostly unheard of in Egypt and Libya. Both nations’ governments may claim to respect both, but they are restricted in practice. Egypt has a blasphemy law that is often used to crack down on religious minorities for example. Libya, since the fall of Gaddafi, has enacted its own restrictions on freedom of speech and religion. Both nations are functioning democracies on paper and both have just recently had free and fair elections. However, neither nation is a liberal democracy that respects the rights of minorities. Unfortunately, since both nations are democracies, we have to conclue that the hostility to tolerance and liberty is pervasive among the population.
If you’ve been paying attention to President Barack Obama and his allies in Congress over the last few years, then you know the appreciation for free speech is, well, non-existent. This problem isn’t limited to the Obama Administration or Democrats; after all, a Republican Congress and Republican president brought us one of the worst pieces of legislation in the last decade with the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act. However, the Obama Administration does bring us examples of contempt for free speech.
The exercise of free political speech is one of our bedrock principles in this country. Our Founding Fathers fought against the tyranny of King George III, who frequently sought to take the liberties of colonists and burden them with oppressive taxes. The Founding Fathers, using their natural right to free speech, fought back, condemning King George. With the Bill of Rights, they sought to recognize certain fundamental, natural rights to ensure that the federal government knew its bounds; among them was right to free speech.
The very clear wording of the First Amendment — “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press” — hasn’t always prevented the federal government from passing laws to silence critics. Not long after the Constitution and Bill of Rights were ratified, President John Adams signed the Alien and Sedition Acts into law, which made it a criminal offense to criticize his policies.
On September 11, 2001, our world changed. The vivid recollections are still far too fresh in many people’s minds for them to realize that it was over a decade ago that we witnessed the horrors of that day. Also, many Americans have learned things about Islam. Some of them true, others not.
Unforunately, they’ve taken those tidbits of knowledge, both factual and fantastic, and developed opinions. Opinions that are a special kind of ridiculous.
Gov. Bill Haslam hired an amazingly talented business attorney to serve as the international director to handle the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development’s new focus on expanding the state’s overseas exports.
The new hire, Samar Ali, is a Tennessee native, Vanderbilt law graduate, a recent White House Fellow, a former associate attorney at Hogan Lovells and has one of the most impressive resumes of international humanitarian service I’ve ever seen.
She’s also Muslim.
As a result, several county Republican groups and a Tea Party group went berserk and began churning out petitions and resolutions calling for Ali to step down and for Haslam to receive “appropriate action.”
A couple of resolutions also condemn Haslam for allowing “open homosexuals to make policy decisions in the Department of Children’s Services.”
Apparently this small, but loud, group of local loons believe that anyone who isn’t Christian and straight shouldn’t have the opportunity to work for state government in Tennessee.
In case you didn’t know from comments he made in earlier part of his campaign, Herman Cain doesn’t like Muslims. During a recent speech, which was covered by Chris Moody for Yahoo News, Cain explained his ease when his learned that his oncologist was a Christian, despite a funny sounding last name:
He begins with a story about how he knew he would survive when he discovered that his physician was named “Dr. Lord,” that the hospital attendant’s name was “Grace” and that the incision made on his chest during the surgery would be in the shape of a “J.”
“Come on, y’all. As in J-E-S-U-S! Yes! A doctor named Lord! A lady named Grace! And a J-cut for Jesus Almighty,” Cain boomed.
He did have a slight worry at one point during the chemotherapy process when he discovered that one of the surgeon’s name was “Dr. Abdallah.”
“I said to his physician assistant, I said, ‘That sounds foreign—not that I had anything against foreign doctors—but it sounded too foreign,” Cain tells the audience. “She said, ‘He’s from Lebanon.’ Oh, Lebanon! My mind immediately started thinking, wait a minute, maybe his religious persuasion is different than mine! She could see the look on my face and she said, ‘Don’t worry, Mr. Cain, he’s a Christian from Lebanon.’”
“Hallelujah!” Cain says. “Thank God!”
The crowd laughs uneasily.
Even without the past allegations of sexual harassment surfacing, it’s been a rough last couple of weeks for Herman Cain. Commentators knocked his poor performance in Saturday’s debate and his poll numbers are starting to fall, though largely a result of the afforementioned allegations.
To make matters worse, Cain stumbled horribly on a question dealing with Libya during a meeting with the editorial board at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, in the midst of a Midwestern campaign swing, stumbled badly Monday when attempting to answer a question about whether he agreed or disagreed with President Barack Obama’s approach to handling the Libyan crisis.
Meeting with Journal Sentinel reporters and editors before fundraising appearances in Milwaukee and Green Bay, Cain was discussing foreign policy in general when he was asked specifically about Obama’s handling of Libya.
Cain paused for some time, then wanted to clarify that Obama had supported the uprising. Clearly struggling to articulate a response, Cain paused again, saying “got all of this stuff twirling around in my head.”
Muammar Gaddafi may be dead and his regime removed from power, but reports out of Libya are that al-Qaeda’s flag is flying over the so-called birthplace of the recent uprising that removed the dictator from power:
The black flag of Al Qaeda was hoisted in Libya yesterday as Nato formally ended its military campaign.
The standard fluttered from the roof of the courthouse in Benghazi, where the country’s new rulers have imposed sharia law since seizing power.
Seen as the seat of the revolution, the judicial building was used by rebel forces to establish their provisional government and media centre.
The flag has been spotted on the courthouse several times, prompting denials from the National Transitional Council that it was responsible.
Complete with Arabic script declaring ‘there is no God but Allah’ and a full moon underneath, it was hoisted alongside the Libyan national flag.
There are reports that extremists have been seen on Benghazi’s streets at night, waving the Al Qaeda flag and shouting ‘Islamiya, Islamiya! No East, nor West.
Oh, that’s good. And while I’m not one to panic over Sharia Law coming to the United States, it does concern me that our overly aggressive foreign policy may very well lead to an Islamic government in Libya. Conor Friedersdorf also points to comments made recently John Burns, a foreign policy analyst, that leave a very bleak view of Iraq’s future:
Pamela Geller isn’t exactly a friend of Islam. She’s pretty well known for that. It’s not surprising that her name popped up in Anders Breivik’s manifesto either. Geller, however, isn’t going to sit quietly while some lash out and try and blame her for Breivik’s heinous act.
Conservative blogger and anti-jihadist Pamela Geller told The Daily Caller it’s “outrageous” that she’s been “assign[ed] blame” for Oslo shooter Anders Behring Breivik’s actions.
“It’s like equating Charles Manson, who heard in the lyrics of Helter Skelter a calling for the Manson murders,” Geller said in an exclusive phone interview. “It’s like blaming the Beatles. It’s patently ridiculous.”
In the manifesto, Breivik cites Geller and other anti-Jihadists as sources for his inspiration. The appearance earned Geller and company a lashing at the hands of The New York Times and many other mainstream media outlets. Reporters have scoured Breivik’s writings, in his manifesto and elsewhere, looking for a connection to anti-jihad activists like Geller.
Geller points out that while she and Jihad Watch’s Robert Spencer appear in Breivik’s manifesto, so do several influential historical thinkers. For instance, the New Yorker reports that Breivik cites Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Adam Smith. “Are they responsible too?” Geller asks.