Free Speech Can Get You Killed? Support It Anyway.
The Western world needs to understand that the rights of freedom of speech; freedom of the press; and life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are all coming under fire with the assassinations of the ten Charlie Hebdo journalists by Islamic terrorists. There is a war going on, where the soldiers are the journalists and the weapons are pens. This threat needs to be dealt with boldly, and the need to keep the awareness alive should not die down as soon as the newsworthiness fades from the headlines.
Western democracies are at a crossroads regarding basic principles. American Thinker interviewed Brooke Goldstein, an attorney, author, and filmmaker, as well as the director of The Lawfare Project, where she attempts to raise awareness regarding abuses of the Western legal systems. Also interviewed is Walter Olson, a journalist who works at the Cato Institute specializing in constitutional law. Both agree that those brave enough to speak publicly, write critically, or satirize militant Islam find themselves on the receiving end of violence, threats of violence, and/or lawsuits. Goldstein emphasizes, "Terrorists realize that a free press and freedom of speech are the greatest weapons against tyranny. They want us to fear for our lives when we think and challenge their views. They try to intimidate to prevent us from speaking on these issues, debating them, and making fun of them."
This incident did not happen in a vacuum. For the last ten years, Islamic extremists have assaulted these rights. Recapping just a few: the firebombing of Charlie Hebdo's offices in Paris in 2011 after the magazine "invited" the Prophet Muhammad as its guest editor; Comedy Central, which airs South Park, censored a 2010 episode by excising a segment that originally had the Prophet Muhammad depicted in a bear costume and then turned him into Santa Claus; Theo van Gogh's movie, Submission, was not aired in many venues; and the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy (or Muhammad cartoons crisis) began after 12 editorial cartoons that depicted Muhammad were self-censored from most Western publications, including Yale University Press, which refused to include them in a book, The Cartoons That Shook the World. There is also the al-Qaeda hit list of eleven names with the heading "Wanted, Dead Or Alive For Crimes Against Islam," and on Twitter, following the brutal murders, a red X was imposed over the face of Charie Hebdo's editor, Stehpane Charbonnier.
Yet even after the recent Paris killings, the major news organizations, such as the New York Times, LA Times, London Guardian, and Washington Post, have not published any of the pictures in solidarity. Among those that did step up to the plate are Bloomberg News, USA Today, The Daily Beast, and Fox News. Olson told American Thinker, "The liberal press is not just the ones at fault, because conservative publications such as the New York Daily News and the Daily Telegraph in Britain either cropped or blurred out the images. What these murders called for is a Spartacus moment, in which everyone should have stepped up and said, You have to kill us, too. They should have run a couple of these cartoons. They failed the test, since their editors are refusing to publish anything that offends the murderous jihadists. All journalists should stand shoulder to shoulder with the satirists."
The explanation by the media is that they want to be sensitive and not be offensive. The New York Times played the "Substitution Game" Sharyl Attkisson writes about in her book Stonewalled. They explained in 2006 that they would not publish the cartoons because of the symbols. Yet, one day later, they ran a picture of a painting that showed the Virgin Mary covered in elephant poop. South Park aired episodes that made fun of Jews, culminating in the episode Passion of the Jew, where Jews are referred to as devils. In another episode, the "N-word" was used over 40 times. A Christmas episode had Christ and Santa Claus fighting. Were these shows censored or pulled? Absolutely not.
Goldstein noted to American Thinker, "We are sending the wrong message. We must defend the right to be offensive and need to be more hard-hitting regarding the threats that face us. They were satirical cartoons. Instead, these publications agreed with the justification of the Islamists – that it is not okay to criticize Islam. Yet they criticize other religions and groups. Just look at the Rolling Stone cover, which presented Kanye West as Christ."
Have these media outlets learned anything over the years? It appears not, says Goldstein, considering that some of the articles published seem to be criticizing the victims. Financial Times columinst Tony Barber wrote:
Charlie Hebdo has a long record of mocking, baiting and needling French Muslims. If the magazine stops just short of outright insults, it is nevertheless not the most convincing champion of the principle of freedom of speech. France is the land of Voltaire, but too often editorial foolishness has prevailed at Charlie Hebdo… This is not in the slightest to condone the murderers, who must be caught and punished, or to suggest that freedom of expression should not extend to satirical portrayals of religion. It is merely to say that some common sense would be useful at publications such as Charlie Hebdo, and Denmark's Jyllands-Posten, which purport to strike a blow for freedom when they provoke Muslims, but are actually just being stupid.
Then there is the piece written by Megan Gibson, entitled "The Provocative History of French Weekly Newspaper Charlie Hebdo." Time Magazine's Bruce Crumley, the Paris Bureau Chief in 2011, wrote this about Charlie Hebdo:
Okay, so can we finally stop with the idiotic, divisive, and destructive efforts by "majority sections" of Western nations to bait Muslim members with petulant, futile demonstrations that "they" aren't going to tell "us" what can and can't be done in free societies? Because not only are such Islamophobic antics futile and childish, but they also openly beg for the very violent responses from extremists their authors claim to proudly defy in the name of common good.
Another battlefront for the war against freedom of speech and the press is being waged within the law. There have been numerous court actions, including one against Charlie Hebdo in 2012 by two French Muslim groups, which accused the magazine of slander. Charlie Hebdo magazine was later acquitted. In 2012, U.N. Resolution 1618, supported by the Obama administration and sponsored by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, sought to limit speech viewed as "discriminatory" or involving the "defamation of religion." President Obama in his 2012 U.N. speech stated, "The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam."
Those interviewed are warning that a clear and present message needs to be sent that there should not be any laws passed that break away from free speech and that no publication should be prosecuted for "hurt feelings."
Wouldn't it be nice if the leader of the free world, President Obama, would step up and send a message that free speech is, in fact, an important aspect of any democratic society? Everyone needs to understand that the terrorists' number-one goal is to destroy us and our values. With many in the press not fulfilling their responsibility, it appears that the Islamic extremists are winning.
The author writes for American Thinker. She has done book reviews and author interviews and has written a number of national security, political, and foreign policy articles.