The Fear to Speak Comes to America’s Shores
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The Fear to Speak Comes to America’s Shores
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The Fear to Speak Comes to America’s Shores

by Onkar Ghate | April 04, 2006

Europeans are all too well acquainted with the fear of criticizing Islam.

To cite just a few of depressingly many examples: a painter, Rashid Ben Ali, is forced into hiding after one of his shows “featured satirical work critical of Islamic militant’s violence”; a politician, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, must go underground after it becomes known that she has renounced her Islamic faith; and a film director, Theo van Gogh, is savagely stabbed to death for making a film critical of Islamic oppression of women. And most recently, of course, there were the Danish cartoons. When the Jyllands-Posten, in order to expose and challenge this climate of intimidation, printed an article and accompanying cartoons, some of which portrayed Mohammed in a negative light, the response was torched embassies, cries for government censorship, and death threats.

The Fear to Speak Comes to America's Shores

It appears that we should now begin to get used to a similar climate in America.

Borders and Waldenbooks stores have just announced that they will not stock the April-May issue of Free Inquiry magazine because the issue reprints some of the cartoons. Is the decision based on disagreement with the content of the magazine? No, not according to Borders Group Inc. spokeswoman Beth Bingham. “For us, the safety and security of our customers and employees is a top priority, and we believe that carrying this issue could challenge that priority.”

Borders Group’s capitulation to Islamic thugs is understandable given the pathetic response of our and other Western governments.

Has any Western government declared that an individual’s freedom of speech is sacrosanct, no matter who screams offense at his ideas? No. Has any Western government proclaimed each individual’s right to life and pledged to hunt down anyone, anywhere, who abets the murder of one of its citizens for having had the effrontery to speak? No — as they did not when the fatwa against Rushdie was issued: American bookstores were firebombed, and Rushdie’s translators were attacked and murdered.

On the contrary, our government went out of its way to say that it shares “the offence that Muslims have taken at these images,” and even hinted that they should not be published. The British police, Douglas Murray reports, told the editor of a London magazine that they could not protect him, his staff, or his offices from attack — so the magazine removed the cartoons from its website. (A few days later, Murray notes, “the police provided 500 officers to protect a ‘peaceful’ Muslim protest in Trafalgar Square.”)

In the face of such outrages, we must demand that the U.S. government reverse its disgraceful stand and fulfill is obligation to protect our right to free speech.

Freedom of speech means the right to express one’s ideas without danger of physical coercion from anyone. This freedom includes the right to make movies, write books, draw pictures, voice political opinions — and satirize religion. This right flows from the right to think: the right to observe, to follow the evidence, to reach the conclusions you judge the facts warrant — and then to convey your thoughts to others.

In a free society, anyone angered by someone else’s ideas has a simple and powerful recourse: don’t buy his books, watch his movies, or read his newspapers. If one judges his ideas dangerous, argue against them. The purveyor of evil ideas is no threat to those who remain free to counter them with rational ones.

But the moment someone decides to answer those he finds offensive with a knife or a homemade explosive, not an argument, he removes himself from civilized society.

Against such a threat to our rights, our government must respond with force. If it fails to do so, it fails to fulfill its reason for being: “to secure these rights,” Jefferson wrote, “Governments are instituted among Men.” And if it fails to do so, we the people must hold it to account.

We must vociferously demand that our government declare publicly that, from this day forward, it will defend by force any American who receives death threats for criticizing Islam — or religion — or any other idea. We must demand that the government protect the stores and employees of Borders, of Waldenbooks, and of any other organization that reprints the cartoons.

We must demand this, because nothing less will prevent America’s climate of freedom from disintegrating into Europe’s climate of fear.

About The Author

Onkar Ghate

Chief Philosophy Officer and Senior Fellow, Ayn Rand Institute