Voltaire’s Children - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Voltaire’s Children

Artists and intellectuals who lash out at Christianity as “oppressive” and “dangerous” receive places of honor at liberalism’s celebrations. Their provocations are extolled as important moments of brave truth-telling, essential to the spread of enlightenment in the modern world. But liberalism’s pride in the value of robust free speech and artistic independence vanishes once critics of Islam appear on the scene.

Liberals have gone from quoting Voltaire’s line, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it,” to practicing censorship. Champions of offensive avant-garde art can be heard these days browbeating cartoonists for insufficient sensitivity to the feelings of jihadists.

Unless artists operate like propagandists for Islam, adjusting their work to the demands of its leaders, they can no longer expect a defense from liberals. In yet another illustration of this, a group of writers is boycotting this year’s PEN annual gala because the free-speech organization is scheduled to give an award to the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. One of the objecting writers explained to the press that honoring the free speech of the slain cartoonists critical of Islam ignores the “cultural arrogance” behind their work.

It is now cultural arrogance to prize truth-telling over the claims of Islam. Westerners, according to liberalism, should allow the leaders of Islam to dictate the limits of free speech. If they deem something offensive, then Westerners should fall silent. No other religion under liberalism enjoys such protection. When Christians cry foul, liberals dismiss their complaints as meritless and accuse them of intolerance and rigidity. Liberals treat Jesus as a mere man, whom they feel free to describe as married in artistic productions, while condemning depictions of Muhammad as if he is God.

Artists who regard him as the violent founder of a flawed religion see no reason to follow Islam’s prohibition against drawing him. But liberalism insists that they uphold this tenet of Sharia law, even as liberalism bitterly denounces the much softer prohibitions of Christianity and rewards artists for flouting them. Networks that wouldn’t dare show pictures of Muhammad will carry movies like The Last Temptation of Christ.

If, say, Richard Dawkins held an anti-Christian conference and two Christians came to massacre him and the other attendees, the media would freak out and hold days and days of navel-gazing coverage about “what’s wrong with Christianity” and how important it is to defend plucky provocateurs. But in the case of the Texas shooting, the media just shrugged.

The two jihadists who were killed while attempting to open fire at a “Muhammad Art Exhibit & Contest” are of little concern to the media. Their attempted act of jihad has occasioned analysis not of what’s wrong with Islam but what’s wrong with the West. Headlines quickly appeared, asking, “If free speech is provocative, should there be limits?”

Chris Matthews at MSNBC probed the “causality” of the event with a guest, who saw no significance in the shooting but great significance in the “hate” of the event’s organizers.

The more violence Islam produces, the more the media insists that people call it peaceful. At the very moment free speech’s value is the greatest–when it can be used to tell the truth about a serious problem that endangers the West—liberals seek to suppress it. They heartily support the jihadists’ veto over free speech and find it incomprehensible that artists would view a religion that responds to criticism by murdering people as a vital subject for their work. Liberals have finally found a religion they can obey.

The lawyer for one of the jihadists killed at the Texas event has told the press that in her experience “he was very kind and was a very devout Muslim,” that despite his call for open jihadism he was never “dangerous,” and that he has now become one more victim of Western intolerance: “I guess I see so much intolerance in religion these days. I don’t understand why they were having an event basically mocking the Muslim religion. I wonder if everybody’s intolerance has instigated people who would normally not be violent to act…”

There in a nutshell is the attitude that liberalism wants everyone to adopt. The heirs of Voltaire have concluded that free speech is not a sacred freedom for which one should fight to the death but a pointless provocation that causes death.

George Neumayr
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George Neumayr, a senior editor at The American Spectator, is author most recently of The Biden Deception: Moderate, Opportunist, or the Democrats' Crypto-Socialist?
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