Free speech is under attack in the West, and it’s under attack from abroad. For years radical Islamists have targeted embassies abroad and individuals at home for “insulting” the Prophet Muhammad. And now diplomats and heads of state from Islamist countries are using international oganizations to pressure the West to criminalize blasphemy and are even lobbying for a global censorship regime.
The most recent assault began in Cairo on September 11, 2012, when a deranged mob attacked the US Embassy, breached its walls, and hoisted the black flag of al-Qaeda. Similar scenes of violence and mayhem broke out from Tunisia to Indonesia. Allegedly—although not in the case of the attack in Benghazi that led to the assasination of Ambassador Christopher Stevens—because an Egyptian-American Copt no one had ever heard of before uploaded the trailer for an amateurish anti-Muhammad movie called “The Innocence of Muslims” to YouTube.
The United States government went directly to cringe mode and spent as much time condemning the video as it did the mob.
It started with an official announcement on the Twitter page of the US Embassy in Cairo: “We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others,” the message said. The White House distanced itself and said that response was neither official nor authorized, but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said something similar a couple of days later. The video, she said, is “disgusting and reprehensible” and “we absolutely reject its content and message.”
There’s no point defending the video aside from its right to exist. I’ve seen it. It’s ludicrous. Clinton’s reaction is normal. But there’s a problem. She’s the chief diplomat of the United States. Condemning random trash on the Internet isn’t her job, not even in response to an international incident. Her statement should have been the same as if an Oscar-winning film inspired a riot.
“There are more than three hundred million ways in which Americans expressing themselves might give offense to those who make it their business to be offended,” Lee Smith argued in the Weekly Standard. “Is the White House going to put every American crank on speed-dial so it can tell them to shut up whenever a mob gathers outside a US embassy or consulate?”
Islamist governments sensed weakness, an opening, an opportunity. The United States was saying they had a point! So they took the next logical step.
Just weeks after the riots, the freshly chosen presidents of Egypt and Yemen took to the podium at the United Nations and demanded that blasphemy be outlawed everywhere in the world, including in the United States. “Insults against the prophet of Islam, Muhammad, are not acceptable,” said Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi. “We will not allow anyone to do this by word or by deed.” “There should be limits for the freedom of expression,” added Yemen’s president, Abed Rabbu Mansour Hadi, “especially if such freedom blasphemes the beliefs of nations and defames their figures.”
Saudi Arabia went even further and advocated an international censorship body to crush blasphemy on the Internet. “There is a crying need for international collaboration to address ‘freedom of expression’ which clearly disregards public order,” the government said.
That’s where things stand. Condemning what they call widespread “Islamophobia,” religious authoritarians are asserting themselves, both violently and diplomatically, while the West cowers and says they’re right to be angry. Hillary Clinton even says she personally shares their anger.
This will not do. It will not do at all. Instead, the United States should go on the offensive and demand that blasphemy be legalized in every country on earth.
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