Free speech not negotiable

September 20, 2012


They are, perhaps, the most dangerous words ever written:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

That, for those who don’t know, is the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

What makes those words dangerous is that they guarantee a freedom that, in the wrong hands (or even the right hands) can cause upset and outrage, even topple regimes. America confers that kind of power — freedom of expression, unfettered by government — equally to the conscientious and the flighty, the modest and the mighty, the noble and the most vile.

We’ve been arguing about it ever since, from the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, which restricted criticism of the government, to Snyder v. Phelps in 2011, a Supreme Court ruling upholding the right of a hateful Kansas cult to picket military funerals. We are not ourselves at peace with those words. So it is no surprise foreigners have difficulty with them.

As Islamic extremists continue a campaign of anti-American violence over “Innocence of Muslims,” a risibly wretched piece of Islamophobic propaganda, it is apparently an article of faith for many in that world that the film represents a U.S. government attack upon Islam. CNN’s Fareed Zakaria says they have “a lack of … understanding of freedom of speech and opinion.”

That’s putting it mildly. And that ignorance has become a potentially deadly flashpoint in recent years. It used to be that only a few high profile, theoretically responsible individuals had access to the world stage and the ability to affect world events. But with the advent of YouTube, Google, Facebook and Twitter, it is now conceivable some shlub in Fort Lauderdale could start a riot in Mogadishu. So the most dangerous words ever written have become more dangerous still.

Small wonder, then, that radio host Tom Joyner recently called on Google to block the offending video from its search engine, which Google has refused to do. At the other end of the spectrum, Newt Gingrich told CNN last week that the U.S. should use this episode to “teach the Muslim world about freedom” — free speech in particular.

He’s right. Even if it were possible to put the toothpaste back in the tube as Joyner demands, one has to ask: What next? If extremists on the far side of the world learn the lesson that we will abandon a core principle because they throw tantrums or even commit murder, what does that tell them about us? What might we next be bullied into doing?

There is nothing congenitally “Muslim” about the way some in the Middle East and Africa are responding to this film’s insult of their religion. If there were, Muslims would be rioting in Cleveland and Detroit as well.

They are not, because Muslim-Americans, like other Americans, know there is a reason you embrace those dangerous words. Namely, that though they give license to outrage, offense and obscenity, they also give license to that which enlightens, ennobles and uplifts. They liberate the worst in us, but also the best, a tradeoff Americans have always found worthwhile. We are now tasked with explaining that to parts of the world where the outrageous can’t be said aloud and conformity is required by law.

That will not be easy, especially when Americans have been killed, and standing up for this principle requires you to stand behind a greasy little morsel like “Innocence of Muslims.” Worse, we must make that case to those who have no framework to even understand what free expression is. But we have no choice. That is what this moment demands.

It is the price we pay for believing in dangerous words.

— Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CDT each Wednesday on www.MiamiHerald.com.


Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 8 months ago

1) Note: This article, from Israel, is entirely about some Arab Muslims in some other countries that do not have freedom of the press as we do here in the USA. The Kansas University’s Arab Student Union is sponsoring a candlelight vigil for Chris Stevens and three other Americans who were also killed last week at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, tonight in South Park, 1200 Mass. I hope it is well attended, and opens some people's minds. If only it could also open people's minds in the rest of the world!

The vigil will begin at 7 p.m. Participants are asked to bring their own candles.

Clipped from: http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4283774,00.html

Insulted, Muslims spread hatred

Op-ed: Same people who murder over amateurish anti-Islam film revel in horrific portrayal of Jews

Shaul Rosenfeld

Published: 09.20.12, 00:46 / Israel Opinion

The Muslim impulse to resort to violence whenever the prophet Mohammed or any other Islamic saint is criticized did not disappoint this time either. It had to crush and burn everything in its path over something that appeared Western enough to be hostile to Islam as well.

Just as Theo van Gogh was murdered in Amsterdam in 2004 after criticizing Islamic society in his movie "Submission," and just as the publication of prophet Mohammed caricatures in Denmark (2004) sparked violent riots that claimed the lives of more than 1,000 people worldwide – it is only natural that an amateurish film such as "Innocence of Muslims" – produced by a Coptic Christian – serves as a good enough excuse for the Muslims to murder, torch embassies and riot in 2012.

But even if the Arab-Islamic riots subside soon and Obama, Clinton and other senior officials in the US and Europe continue to condemn the violence, still only a few of them will be willing to shed the naïveté within their ranks and take a closer look at the Islamist-fundamentalist incitement and its sources of inspiration, at the violent character of Arab-Muslim society and at the anti-Semitic and anti-Western propaganda in its newspapers, books and television broadcasts.

Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 8 months ago

2) The same society that turns violent whenever its holy figures are disparaged, revels in the horrific portrayals of Jews and Judaism in Arab media, particularly during the holy month of Ramadan. Movies such as the Iranian-produced "Saturday Hunter" and the Egyptian television series "Horseman Without a Horse," as well as the TV series "Al-Shatat" (which was cancelled in Jordan after 22 episodes due to American pressure) and the Turkish mini-series "Valley of the Wolves" – all contain hateful anti-Semitic motifs that the Muslim viewer "eats up" enthusiastically.

These motifs are also endorsed by respected Muslim academics. Between 2003 and 2006 a slew of Egyptian scholars explained how despicable the Jewish religion is and how big the lie which the Jewish religion is based on is – and all this at a time of peace with Israel, when Mubarak, not the Muslim Brotherhood, ruled.

In his 2003 book "The Nature of the Jews (as reflected) in the Torah and the Talmud," Dr. Ahmad Hijazi al-Saqa explained that "almost all the revolutions, coups d’état, and wars that ever happened in the world were brought about by the Jews, instructed by the falsified Torah, the Talmud, and ultimately The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. (These texts) all incite (the Jews) to eliminate non-Jews, using all means to achieve their goal: ruling the world from Jerusalem…."

That same year al-Saqa published "The Complete Version of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion," which served as the basis for another monumental book about the "protocols" - Dr. Baha al-Amir's "The Divine Inspiration and its Reversal, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion," published in 2006. A year earlier Dr. 'Ayid Taha Nassef published "The Children of Israel and the Lie of Semitism." All of these books (and this is just a partial list) were on display at the international book fair Cairo in 2007.

When a crown of thorns is promised to whoever speaks of the violence in Islamic society and culture, and when double moral standard becomes a profession in Arab countries, as well as in Western countries, a feminist such as Judith Butler can view Israel as the devil incarnate and at the same time consider Hamas and Hezbollah to be legitimate organizations representing the global leftist camp.

In such an atmosphere, Edward Said can refer to the descriptions of the Levant's backwardness - including the oppression of women and the hatred of the West, Jews and Judaism – as racist Western propaganda, no less.

The people of the Levant can view an esoteric film as an excuse to launch a pogrom against the infidels from the West and at the same time accept fatwas describing Jews as the descendants of apes and pigs.

paulveer 5 years, 8 months ago

I guess you didn't read this article. General characterizations of Muslims - or Jews, or blacks, or Christians for that matter - screams ignorance and lack of depth.

Maddy Griffin 5 years, 8 months ago

I agree that people who do not enjoy "Freedom of Speech" in their countries have no understanding of how that works. This violence had nothing to do with that pos film. It may be an excuse for keeping the violence going, but it was not the reason for the attack.

Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 8 months ago

I looked at the Youtube video in question for about one minute, and then turned it off because it was so boring. I thought it was the trashiest thing I had ever seen, or at least it was right down there with the lowest.

And, I doubt very much that the Arabs that were urged to riot had not only failed to see the video for themselves, but they most likely didn't know enough English to understand very much of it anyway.

The riots were certainly not about the film, what occurred was a violent display of hatred of all things Western. I suppose it's a rather interesting point that without the Western culture's advanced technology, no video could be transmitted, and there would be no advanced technology of any kind. Here's a Youtube video that the citizens of the Middle East really should be watching. It's former Saudi Shura Council Member Ibrahim Al-Buleihi on Al-Arabiya TV (Dubai/Saudi Arabia), broadcast in Saudi Arabia on February 26, 2010. Of course, it's in Arabic, but it's subtitled in English.


And this cartoon, fresh out of Israel, really sums up something that simply shouldn't be the case. I tend to think that most of the Arabs in the Middle East really don't know what is happening in Syria due to censorship. But, I could be wrong, I really don't know.

Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 8 months ago

You'll need to click on the cartoon to be able to read the text.

jaywalker 5 years, 8 months ago

Excellent piece. When this all broke I was on the other side of the fence, feeling certain that because the abhorrent "film" was so blatantly made to incite the exact reaction it received, it should therefore be considered a criminal perversion of our freedom of speech. Pitts piece here completes my reversal of opinion. It was shifting before, this caps it. I still hope the jackass that perpetuated this can be found liable in civil courts, and I loathe litigation for the most part. But there's another aspect that still bothers me about this, and Pitts alludes to it:

"What makes those words dangerous is that they guarantee a freedom that, in the wrong hands (or even the right hands) can cause upset and outrage, even topple regimes. America confers that kind of power — freedom of expression, unfettered by government — equally to the conscientious and the flighty, the modest and the mighty, the noble and the most vile."

It's the "wrong hands" that concerns me to a degree. There's nothing keeping our enemies from doing exactly what this clown did purely from a counter-intelligence standpoint. Granted, there's no doubt that this was a coordinated and manipulated "insurrection". However, it's the ignorant masses that buy into the propaganda blindly and willingly that cause the concern. The scope of the protests is worrisome and not a little frightening. And what better way to stir up the hoards than to have an insider here ignite the fire? The thought did cross my mind when I saw the "film", "who would do this?"; there were three possibilities to me, actually: 1) Right-wing religious extremist aka Racist Moron, 2) Suicide by Islamic right-wing extremist, 3) Ploy by an enemy. Doesn't matter who was behind this to those that were murdered, but it should probably concern us a little, at least in how easy it could be for our enemies to use such a precious freedom against us.

Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 8 months ago

"I still hope the jackass that perpetuated this can be found liable in civil courts"

He might need to hire our dear friend the Reverend Fred Phelps' legal team, Phelps Chartered Law, for legal defense services. His legal team has a lot of experience in such cases, and I don't believe they have ever lost a freedom of speech case. They really are excellent lawyers, and that's a fact.

Phelps Chartered Law 1414 SW Topeka Blvd, Topeka, KS 66612

kafantaris 5 years, 8 months ago

John Stuart Mill proved long ago that the benefit of freedom of the press is that it assures the continuing growth and relevance of our most cherished institutions: “The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is that it is robbing [us.] ... If the opinion is right, [we] are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, [we] lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”

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