Friday, September 14, 2012
Political Correctness vs. Liberty
If anyone doubts that "politically correct" left liberals are enemies of free speech, the "Innocence of Muslims" episode is giving us plenty of evidence to refute that belief. In a NYT op-ed, Timothy Egan manages to express outrage over abuses of free speech, as well as over Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, and the GOP in general (Somehow he ran out of gas before getting around to Islamic rioters.) OK, NYT op-ed writers attacking conservatives is hardly news. What's chilling is that the Egan refers to the maker of the film as "firing the first shot," equating making a film someone doesn't like to murder. Throughout the op-ed he (and others in NYT) suggests that those who criticize Islam in ways he finds crude or inaccurate hold some sort of blame for the riots and murders of religious terrorists. Read the op-ed. Chilling is the word.
Egan is simply wrong in most of his op-ed. Never mind the argument about Mohammed. (The Koran does portray him as having consummated his marriage Aisha when she was 9 years old and he 53, but that's not child molestation, it's just the diversity of multicultural values...ahem. The entire story of Mohammed and his wives and sexual behavior strikes us at Unforeseen Contingencies as perverse, but that's beside the point. The correctness of free speech isn't relevant to the discussion.)
1. Romney didn't "hail the film" or its content as an expression of American values. He hailed free speech as an expression of American values. No one, anywhere, disputes the "right" to say things that offend no one. It's only speech that offends that needs to be protected.
Romney was not quite on target in his criticism, however, because he exempted the American embassy officials in Cairo in it. Officials of the U.S. government are supposed to defend our rights, not apologize for them. Given that they've sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution (which says nothing about "respecting religious beliefs," something which is not a "cornerstone of American democracy"), the persons responsible ought to be immediately fired. The attacks were violent assaults on America, and these cowards are apologizing? What are they thinking?
2. "...people have no idea how much freedom Americans are given to say pretty much anything, true or not." No, we' re not given freedom. Individuals have inherent rights to freedom of speech; it's not given to us, and has nothing to do with us being Americans. (This is the one thing the embassy statement got right, by referring to free speech as a "universal" right.)
This isn't a distinction without a difference; the government doesn't grant us rights. They are inherent in us, and we grant government such power as we see fit. (Yes, the system is breaking down as civil servants turn themselves into civil masters, but that's a different discussion.) It's a fairly common doctrine now among left-liberals that rights are mere social constructs, that we can change them as we see fit, via state power. But until they amend the Constitution, our government is built on the framework of inherent individual rights and limited powers granted to the Feds, not rights being given to us by the government.
3. The attacks were orchestrated. Anyone ought to realize this. Even Egan admits it in his second paragraph. The riots aren't some understandable public outrage, but a set of coordinated attacks, stirred up by clerics targeting the U.S., very much like the Jyllands-Posten Danish cartoons episodes. The cartoons had actually been published in Cairo newspapers well before the riots, and nothing happened. It was only after Muslim clerics engaged in a campaign that the riots erupted. It's the same here. Apologizing is even worse under these circumstances -- it's surrendering to an opponent's orhcestrated political strategy.
4. Egan: "Steve Klein, a California insurance man with a long history of making erroneous claims about Islam, says he's one of the backers."
What are "erroneous claims?" Mohammed was not a prophet. Allah doesn't exist. There's no such thing as Djinn. The Koran calls Jews "people of the book" and also calls for killing them everywhere. Does Egan really want to get into a debate over what is and isn't error in Islam? It's relevant? Islam is a myth, for pete's sake.
5. Egan: "A Florida preacher, Terry Jones, who inspired deadly riots in Afghanistan by threatening to burn copies of the Koran, has come forth as a promoter of the film. And when asked whether he bore any responsibility for the violence prompted by the incendiary film, Jones said his conscience was clear."
Jones is right, of course. Only the Muslim attackers and their leaders bear responsibility. Egan finds this outrageous I guess, but just what standard would he substitute? Should speakers bear responsibility every time a group of mad clerics takes offense (or pretends offense for ulterior reasons) and whips up a mob in response to free speech? This simply amounts to surrendering freedom of speech whenever bad people threaten to retaliate.
So where does this leave us -- let's apologize to terrorist religious maniacs whenever they are offended, assure them we also despise what offends them but sadly our hands are tied by our system, and fiercely condemn anyone (especially Republicans) who says otherwise as vicious and irresponsible?
Well, no. Prof. Anthea Butler of Penn goes farther. In her USA Today op-ed, she calls for the imprisonment of the filmmakers (while pretending to be a fierce advocate of free speech). Since the film is historically inaccurate (again, why is the accuracy relevant?) and supposedly interferes with national security by stirring up riots, the filmmakers should be arrested and imprisoned. After all "other countries and cultures do not have to understand or respect our right." She doesn't even pretend that any law has been violated or that there should be charges and a trial: "the military considers the film a serious threat to national security. If the military takes it seriously, there should be consequences for putting American lives at risk."
This is all a joke, right?
No, unfortunately it's not.
It's the new level to which multi-cultural diversity thinking has descended (admittedly maybe not really new, but now very openly and prominently argued). We should sacrifice our own standards because others don't understand them. We should apologize for our system to lunatics who think we should have anti-blasphemy laws and should criminalize anything that offends them. Great, let's now have a debate about what kind of "common sense" restrictions we need to place on free speech, since "there should be consequences for putting American lives at risk" and "firing the first shot" that results in people being killed, even if the "shot" was simply someone expressing an opinion.
It's hard to know how to respond. One can again ask, what standard do you suggest then? If clerics decide to call for riots over something someone says, the speaker should be held accountable? Then there's no way to know in advance what one can and can't say. Prof. Butler is writing a book about Sarah Palin and the Tea Party, so if some rightwingers are outraged by it and call for violence in response, she'll turn herself in for imprisonment? Should Southern Poverty Law Center be held criminally liable for labeling the Family Research Council a "hate group," thus offending FRC's religious sensibilities and contributing to a violent attack on FRC?
But there's no point in entering a debate about "where to draw the line," and no point in pointing out to closet totalitarians like Butler the contradictions in their positions. Free speech is binary -- either you have it or you don't. It's worth re-quoting Sam Harris: "Don’t draw cartoons of their Prophet, or they’ll kill you. Don’t write a novel that could be considered blasphemous, or they’ll kill you. Don’t criticize their treatment of women, or they’ll kill you. Don’t leave the religion and publicly disavow it, or they’ll kill you. Don’t burn a Qur’an, or they’ll kill you." If actions that offend Muslims aren't to be vigorously defended and protected, we might as well just be done with it and invite them to come impose Sharia on us.
Of course, that's not my position. In response to Butler, I insist that while people in other countries and cultures don't have to understand our rights, they do have to respect them, where "respect" means refraining from violating them. And if they do not, we need to kill them. That's no joke or exaggeration -- what else is the police and military power of the state for, if not to protect us from those who would take away our rights? They can decry those rights, argue against them, say whatever they want, -- that's freedom of speech -- but when they try to violate them, they must be opposed by whatever means required.
Footnote: I must highlight a pithy comment left by PL of the Post-Libertarian blog that concisely sums all this:
I have always maintained that in many ways, the riots that broke out in France and and Denmark after the "original" cartoon scandal--and, more importantly, the responses to these riots--were far worse than 9/11. To be ambushed from behind is one thing; to succumb knowingly and apologetically is quite another.