NB: It's my pleasure to welcome Gus Van Horn's recent op-ed contribution to CAC:
Suppose I knew that one man was a magistrate and another was a terrorist, but I had to pick out the terrorist on sight. If I chose the man in the powdered wig over the man in the kefiyah, you would think me daft. And yet our news media have been making a mistake of the same order in their coverage of two very different stories over the past few months. In doing so, they have completely missed an important relationship between the stories that affects us all.
The two stories are the reaction of the American people to a hugely unpopular Supreme Court decision, and the reaction of Moslems across the world to a hugely unpopular set of cartoons portraying their prophet, Mohammed. Our media often frame the stories as if we have people from two very different cultures fighting for their rights -- but do we? Let's look at the facts.
Last June, in the case Kelo v. New London, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a local government that wanted to expand the power of eminent domain in order to force residents to sell their homes to make way for a real estate development. Kelo instantly sparked outrage among Americans everywhere. They immediately understood that their very homes were in danger and quickly made their displeasure known by exercising their freedom of speech through letters to the editor, calls to public officials, and lawsuits, for example.
And our elected representatives got the message. The New York Times recently reported that bills limiting the power of eminent domain were pending in nearly every state legislature. The people's outrage had, in fact sparked what the paper called "a rare display of unanimity that cuts across partisan and geographic lines". Even legislators who'd never met a tax they didn't like became staunch defenders of property rights almost overnight.
In America, a people wanting only to be able to enjoy their homes recognized a threat to that right, took it seriously, and acted to preserve what was theirs. They acted in a civilized manner, consistent with their respect for individual rights.
Now let's look at the reaction across the Moslem world to the publication, in Denmark last September, of some cartoons portraying the prophet Mohammed. Although the editors of the newspaper Jyllands Posten knew that Islam forbids images of its prophet, they decided to do so as a protest against self-censorship by Danish cartoonists, after the author of a children's book about Mohammed was unable to find an illustrator.
Moslem reaction has been swift, prolonged, and deadly. Within weeks, eleven ambassadors from Moslem states asked Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, to "take all those responsible to task under law", and threatened, "reactions in Muslim countries and among Muslim communities in Europe." Rasmussen, to his great credit, stood up for the freedom of speech of his countrymen.
Since then, violent protests have taken place in ten countries, resulting in attacks on five embassies, thirty-four deaths, and hundreds of injuries over a span of three weeks. Many Western media outlets have refused to show the cartoons, citing concerns that they are offensive. But an editorial in the Boston Phoenix explained its refusal by saying, "we are being terrorized, and...could not in good conscience place the men and women who work at the Phoenix and its related companies in physical jeopardy. As we feel forced, literally, to bend to maniacal pressure, this may be the darkest moment in our 40-year-publishing history."
This is a newspaper in America, a nation organized upon the principle of freedom of speech. For those who might somehow still feel conflicted about whether Moslems have a "right" to not be offended that somehow supersedes our right to criticize Islam, it might be instructive to remember some of Thomas Jefferson's words on the matter of speech offensive to religion. "[I]t does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."
Contrary to the claims of the Moslem rioters, there is no "right" not to be offended. There is no "right" to forbid someone to say something. There is no "right" to murder someone or threaten to do so over something he has said. Nevertheless, the Ayatollahs and Imams have incited violence and bloodshed over an issue that pales in comparison to the daily fare of self-inflicted degradation and barbarity that constitutes every Islamic state. It is crucial for America's security that we acknowledge that the perpetrators of this murder and mayhem have every intention of continuing to export it and its underlying philosophy it to the world -- and within our own borders.
Throughout the Moslem world, hoards of meddlesome savages saw a cartoon as an excuse to threaten the lives and well-being of anyone anywhere in the world with the temerity to "offend" them -- whatever might happen to "offend" them on a given day. Their barbarous acts stemmed directly from the fact that they have no concern for individual rights -- only what they say Allah wills.
So when comparing the American response to the Kelo decision to the Moslem response to editorial cartoons, nothing could be further from the truth than to say that both stories are about people fighting for their rights. The Kelo story shows Americans protecting their property rights through the exercise of their right to freedom of speech, while the cartoon story shows Moslems butting into our affairs over something that neither picks their pockets nor breaks their legs. In fact, Moslems are doing far worse -- committing murder -- over a few line drawings. Theirs is not a fight for their rights, but a jihad against ours.
A man's home is his castle, but only if he is a free man. Yet if we here in America are afraid simply to print some innocuous cartoons, our home is no longer our castle. It has become our prison, and the Moslems have become our jailers. The fight to protect our home was not won after Kelo. It really only began in earnest with the cartoon riots and the threat to freedom of speech they represent.
Our press has been deterred from its duty to report the news -- by printing the cartoons the rioters used as an excuse for murder -- by that very same violence. The threat to our home, America, may be more abstract this time around, but it is no less immediate or important. The time to defend it -- by demanding that our politicians stand up for freedom of speech -- is now.
Will we take the Moslem jihad against our rights as seriously as we took the government's threat against our homes? The Moslems are no less serious than government bureaucrats, and they want to take much more from us than just the roofs over our heads. Our government wanted only our homes. The Islamists want our freedom.