September 23, 2010
Shouting 'Fire' in a Crowded Globe
Can we stop calling Islam a religion of peace now? The fairy tale has been tarnished by Islamic violence, and it's undignified for children of the Enlightenment to go on repeating falsehoods.
If Islam were a religion of peace, no one would be worried about violence resulting from the burning of Korans. If Islam were a religion of peace, then a Supreme Court justice would not have compared burning a Koran to shouting "fire" in a crowded theater.
The liberal Rhodes Scholar George Stephanopoulos recently reported that "Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer told me on ["Good Morning America"] that he's not prepared to conclude that -- in the internet age -- the First Amendment condones Koran-burning. ... For Breyer, that right is not a foregone conclusion."
In discussing Koran-burning, Justice Breyer said of free speech, "Holmes said it doesn't mean you can shout 'fire' in a crowded theater." Not only did the Justice misquote Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes' famous crowded theater quote, but he did so in a way that indicates his willingness to weaken the First Amendment in favor of appeasing radical Islam.
Actually, Holmes wrote that "falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater" cannot be protected. The key word "falsely," left out by Breyer, gave the phrase its legal significance. If you truthfully shout "fire" in a crowded theater, then that is dangerous but truthful, so it's protected by the First Amendment. If you falsely shout "fire," then that is dangerous and not protected. This is a very telling omission. If Breyer means what he says, then he is willing to give free-speech veto power to irrational and violent groups, regardless of whether one is criticizing -- or shouting "fire" -- falsely or truthfully. To give that power to radical Muslims would be a craven surrender of our rights and interest in open debate and criticism. It would also be an awful reflection on the hypersensitivity and frequent violent tendencies of modern Islam.
J. Breyer's botched invocation of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes's crowded theater phrase shows that he is somewhat careless about free speech, when political correctness is at stake. The crowded theatre phrase comes from Schenck v. U.S., a 1919 case where Holmes agreed that a man could be criminally convicted for handing out leaflets opposing the WWI draft. Holmes' ruling was awful; he dramatically changed his thinking later the same year, and Schenck was further altered in favor of free speech by Brandenburg v. Ohio. Breyer used a wretched example that stands for the proposition that speech can be curbed if there will be an irrational reaction to it.
As a matter of free speech, J. Breyer's remarks were sinister. As a reflection on Islamic violence and intolerance, Breyer's comments were even more disturbing -- but also a bit humorous. We just assume, correctly, that Muslims will explode upon slight provocations that would be ignored by every other religion. Yet we go on repeating the religion of peace mantra. We even make concessions -- to include entertaining limits on our rights. One has to find amusement in such a neurotic and dishonest outlook. Only Islam benefits from such low standards.
Burning a Buddhist sutra would be like yelling "fire" when you are alone in a theater; no Buddhist would kill and riot over the burning. Burning a Bible would be like passing gas in crowded theater; it would earn you contempt and not much more. But burning a Koran -- that's more like yelling "fire" in a crowded theater. We simply take for granted that a significant number of the faithful will erupt in violence -- as they did in Afghanistan and Iran at the mention of burning a book across the ocean.
Members of the ruling class like J. Breyer endanger and shame us all by accommodating the growing demands of radical Islam: Disney and Abercrombie and Fitch are being sued because they won't let Muslim women wear their medieval headgear at work, where it doesn't belong. The state of New Jersey fired a transit worker for burning a Koran while off-duty. An American cartoonist for the Seattle Weekly named Molly Norris has changed her identity to avoid Muslim death threats. On top of that, we have a president whose only response to Islamic violence is to lecture non-Muslims about bigotry.
As a note on sensitivity, I use the phrase "Islamic violence" in the same sense that people talk about "male violence." Referring to "male violence" is not to say that all men are violent. People should be capable of making the same distinction with the phrase "Islamic violence". No reasonable person would take the phrase "Islamic violence" to mean that all Muslims are violent.
Our president -- in a twisted inversion of values and interests -- is lecturing us when he should be lecturing the Muslim world. Unfortunately, he appears to have at least one Supreme Court justice who shares his supine and suicidal wish for therapeutic global acceptance.