Freedom of speech and freedom of the press aren’t in the First Amendment to protect what’s popular, because there’s no need to. Our Constitution protects the worst because the Founders knew that if you don’t, you can’t protect the best. The cartoon intifada proves that too many Muslims believe that our First Amendment rights should — by law or violence — be limited to what Islamic law allows. Free speech has its limits — such as leaking government secrets to the press and shouting “fire” in a crowded theater — but the limits don’t depend on whose ox is being gored. That’s why Jews will picket Nazi demonstrations but not throw fire bombs, why Americans shout with rage at flag burners but don’t shoot at them, and why James Risen and other reporters should be hauled in front of a grand jury forthwith and be compelled to disclose the sources of leaks that have damaged our national security.
The cartoon intifada is significant because it is entirely manufactured by Muslim governments, fueled by their radical imams and intended to intimidate non-Muslim nations into making free speech Muslims find offensive illegal. If its goal were achieved, the First Amendment would be written out of the Constitution.
The genesis of it is clear. The cartoons depicting Islam’s founder, Mohammed, in the satiric, distasteful and disreputable ways of editorial cartoonists, were published by the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten in September 2005, having been selected from entries in a contest that was to demonstrate that Islam wasn’t protected by political correctness any more than other religions were. There was almost no noticeable reaction to them. But when the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference met in Mecca in December, they decided to manufacture the cartoon intifada.
As I read on the air during Laura Ingraham’s show and reported on our blog last week, an editorial in the Saudi government-controlled daily Arab News revealed how this was decided and by whom. As a result of that airing, Arab News pulled the editorial from its website. Fortunately, the substance of that editorial was still published on the website of the International Herald Tribune. As the IHT reported, the communique published at the end of the December conference “took note of the issue when it expressed ‘concern at rising hatred against Islam and Muslims and condemned the recent incident of desecration of the image of the Holy Prophet Muhammad in the media of certain countries’ as well as over ‘using the freedom of expression as a pretext to defame religions.'” And so the cartoon intifada was launched. In Lebanon, Syria, and Iran embassies have been torched. Last week, tens of thousands of protesters marched in more than a dozen nations in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. A Saudi boycott of Danish products has spread to other Muslim nations. Blood is being shed because governments have decided it should be and because this is part of the ideological battle against freedom these nations wage using religion as a weapon, and clerics as battlefield commanders.
On Saturday, a page-one story in Arab News published excerpts from the Friday sermon of Abdul Rahman Al-Sudais, one of the Saudis’ most important imams. In it, Al-Sudais said, “All Islamic countries have condemned this act of crime….We make a call from the podium of the Grand Mosque and the birthplace of Islam, on behalf of Muslims all over the world, that tough punishment should be imposed on those who make a mockery of the Prophet,” the imam said. And not a word of dissent has yet been heard from the governments of Saudi Arabia and their ilk. Nor will there be. Like terrorism, most of the cartoon intifada is state-sponsored. And, like terrorism, it must be fought with all our might.
We should welcome this fight and not just because we fight from a position of moral strength. The prosperity and strength of our society are the direct results of the freedoms we enjoy. Were they not enriched by an accident of geology, the Arab nations would be as poor and powerless as they were a century ago and even less significant. Why can’t we just say that? Our society, our culture, and our system of Constitutional government succeed because we do not allow religion to infringe on our other freedoms. Religious freedom is no less important than freedom of speech, but neither can be allowed to limit the other. If Saudis or Egyptians or Iranians choose to impose religious dogma to limit their own freedoms, that is their business. But they must know we will not just oppose them in this ideological war, we will fight with whatever weapons may be necessary to maintain our freedoms and prevent any religion or ideology from limiting them in any way. If only Europe could say the same.
Europe’s efficiency has improved immeasurably in the 68 years since Munich. Radical Islamic threats need not reach the level of intimidation the Wehrmacht presented to achieve its desired result. Saladin’s horsemen need not charge into Paris, or the Twelfth Imam reappear in Brussels to push the 21st Century EUnuchs to their own Chamberlain moment. On Wednesday, EU Justice and Security Minister Franco Frattini preemptively surrendered Europe’s press freedom to the cartoon intifada.
Frattini said that the EU would consider imposing a “voluntary” code of conduct on the European press to avoid giving offense to Muslims as the Danish cartoons had: “The press will give the Muslim world the message: we are aware of the consequences of exercising the right of free expression….We can and we are ready to self-regulate that right.” OK, so Frattini hasn’t gone as far as Abdul Rahman Al-Sudais demanded. A voluntary code of conduct doesn’t impose criminal penalties on those who mock Mohammed. Give it time. It will only take a little. Be careful what you say in Europe, and who you say it to. In too many places, “hate speech” is a minor crime. Soon it will be a major one if the subject is Islam.
It’s hard to gauge who is the greater threat to freedom. Is it the cowards of Europe or the radical Islamists of the Middle East? It’s probably the former because, without them, it would be immeasurably easier to defeat the latter.
TAS contributing editor Jed Babbin is the author of Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe Are Worse Than You Think (Regnery, 2004).