Shut Up or Die, the Muslim Protesters Explained
Would liberals support censorship in response to wife-beaters, skinheads, abortion-clinic bombers, gay-bashers, or any other violent group? Then why do they support censorship in response to terrorists?
It appears that some liberals want to offer Muslim extremists the benefit of voluntary, self-imposed censorship. Few violent groups in America -- or on earth, for that matter -- get such tender treatment. If the left responded to the above-mentioned groups the same way they respond to terrorists, here's how it would sound:
● Victims of wife beaters -- You can avoid abuse if you just shut up. Don't incite your spouse or boyfriend. Respect his volatile emotions.
● Victims of violent skinheads -- You shouldn't have gone outside; your presence incites those people. Consider the skinhead's perspective, and respect his deeply held racial views.
● Victims of abortion-clinic bombers -- You shouldn't be arguing for abortion so loudly. Quiet down your pro-choice views to avoid offending the sensitivities of abortion-clinic bombers. Respect the religious perspective of the clinic bomber.
● Victims of gay-bashing -- You should have stayed in the closet. Consider the perspective of the gay-basher.
As these examples show, it is a perversion of justice and morality to accommodate violent groups. Why, then, have some liberals decided to do exactly that when the violent group comprises Muslims? The short answer is that multiculturalism is strongly influencing foreign policy. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.'s "The Disuniting of America" described the process that led us to where we are today: any minority group that liberals label as "oppressed" will be treated with deference, to the point where some among us would rather surrender their freedom of expression than criticize an "oppressed" group. This is what happens in a society where toxic tolerance takes the place of values like free speech, free expression, and the Enlightenment belief in open inquiry and criticism. A cult of national self-criticism has become so dogmatic that we habitually equivocate instead of standing up for our own interests.
Thanks to multiculturalism, we can't even stand up for ourselves in a simple standoff between barbarism and free speech. We've become so obsessed with being unoffensive that we can't bring ourselves to make the most basic criticisms of group behavior, even when that behavior is violent. This applies both at home and abroad. In the case of the Libya attack two weeks ago, the resulting approach on the part of some liberals has been, in a word, cowardly.
As awful as the consequences are, liberals are really just expressing their priorities by advocating that we barter away rights in order to accommodate hordes of violent bigots. On one hand we have the right to speak and offend; on the other, we have the sensibilities of barbaric fanatics. So liberals prioritize the latter, and in the process have found a herd of bigots whom they'll essentially take sides with. Why did liberals choose this particular bunch? It could be that Muslim extremists are more culturally vibrant than wife-beaters, violent skinheads, and all the rest. The more likely answer is that liberals are glad to accommodate extremists who are non-white, or non-Christian, and it really helps if the extremists hate Israel.
After the pitiful showing put on by the Obama administration, the extremist smells blood -- if he is Muslim. The extremist is convinced of the rightness of his cause. He has a religious fervor that many Westerners have rarely felt and would keep to themselves if they did. Westerners are indoctrinated to respond with nihilistic sensitivity in the face of every political issue or "oppressed" group under the sun. Multiculturalism has made us cower in the standoff between barbarism and free speech. "But it's so much more complex than that," insists the sophisticated liberal, and that's why their foreign policy is called "smart power."
In fact, liberals are so smart that they think condemning an amateur filmmaker will placate people who butcher girls for going to school, throw acid in women's faces for being too Westernized, and cut girls' noses off for running away from violent families. It is virtuous to appear broad-minded and adept at nonviolent conflict resolution, even when that approach would embolden extremists and guarantee more violence.
Of course, liberals would never say that they want to appeal to acid-throwers -- just to moderates. But moderates are not responsible for violence. If you're trying to reduce terrorism by limiting "offensive" speech, then by definition you're trying to appeal to the minds of the violent. Violent bigots are precisely the ones whom liberals intend to placate with their fledgling campaign of speech restriction. We don't have to placate moderates, because they aren't busy killing people. No moderate would demand restrictions on free speech for the sake of his "feelings." No moderate would expect that a sovereign nation can prevent its free citizens from making movies, including movies that are "offensive to Muslims."
So what happens when you cave to extremists in a misguided effort to reach out to moderates? That which gets rewarded gets repeated. If we reward extremism, we virtually guarantee more violence and greater demands, along with less respect for the West and our culture. There are Muslims in Canada who want every woman's face to be covered and Muslims in England who are offended by seeing-eye dogs. Muslims in one Swedish city are offended by the presence of Jews. How is the multiculturalist going to avoid those offences?
We're in a confrontation between the Enlightenment and barbarism, and the Obama administration has been thrown back on its heels, as liberals in the media and academy prepare to defer to the barbarians. In fact, our own State Department's legal adviser wants the First Amendment to bend to foreign law, including hate speech codes -- precisely the mentality that will have a growing influence if we get more Obama court appointees. The liberal approach to free speech today has no basis in our Enlightenment heritage, or in the First Amendment, and much less in the American tradition of peace through strength. Instead, liberals are responding to a foreign policy crisis with multicultural orthodoxy.
Now, esteemed figures are calling for free expression to be balanced with nebulous "responsibilities." We must censor ourselves and others if someone might irrationally act out after hearing something we say. Such "responsible" self-expression would have the same calming effect on the extremist as blood in water has on the shark.
First Amendment scholar Eugene Volokh, in a fantastic piece of clear and sober reasoning, points out that the Obama administration is about to teach a lesson to extremists: "[I]f you want to shut up the blasphemers, just kill enough Americans in response."
The immediate question is how far this administration will go to limit free speech. With the arrest last weekend of "Innocence of Muslims" filmmaker Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the government took a step toward official intimidation. The administration is unquestionably on record supporting officially endorsed (as opposed to officially imposed) self-censorship: the highest levels of government are proclaiming, "The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others," as the secretary of state said, or that "the United States rejects efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others," as the president did.
No other group in American society benefits from the deference and kid-gloves treatment that this administration is extending to Muslim extremists. This farcical, self-destructive "sensitivity" would be a lot funnier if the consequences weren't so terrible. Some liberals, driven by multiculturalism, are primed and ready to reward the worst forms of ignorance and violence. If you need any more incentive to register and vote, be assured that a second Obama term will empower courts and bureaucrats to curb free speech when favored victim groups feel insulted. By making concessions to extremists who will never be placated, we guarantee less freedom and less safety, with nothing to show for what we've surrendered.
John T. Bennett (MA, University of Chicago, Master of Arts Program in the Social Sciences '07; J.D., Emory University School of Law '11) was a teaching assistant for Emory University's journalism program. He is a former Army officer with tours of duty in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Djibouti.