It’s a distressingly common fantasy that oppression and conquest are difficult, because the hunger for freedom is fierce and nearly universal, especially with modern communications technology, and particularly in America.
On the contrary, the latter half of the Twentieth Century offers many illustrations of how oppression is both easy and quite sustainable. The Internet can be used to strangle freedom as easily as it can serve as a rope for ringing the Liberty Bell.
Oppressors across the world studied, and learned from, the defeat of totalitarian ideologies following World War II. Sad to say, the defenders of liberty haven’t learned as much in the postwar era as those who would take it away. That might have something to do with the fact that Western politics, entertainment and academia are dominated by people who aren’t really wild about liberty, especially the liberty of people they disagree with.
Our debased culture rallies around an allegedly core value like free speech with all the enthusiasm of a kazoo buzzing, rather than a mighty blast of trumpets. Look at the treatment of Pamela Geller, whose Mohammed Art Exhibit was attacked by heavily-armed jihadis intent on committing mass murder. If the security response hadn’t been so astoundingly effective – the self-appointed enforcers of sharia law certainly certainly seemed surprised! – we’d be counting bodies by the dozens right now.
The response from our Left-dominated culture is, at best, a grudging concession that Geller has some theoretical right to free speech, but she probably shouldn’t use it. Outrage over an apparently ISIS-linked attack on American soil is hard to find among liberals. The mainstream media treats Geller and her fellow conference organizers more as perpetrators than victims.
On the Right, we like to say that a defense of free speech against violent oppression runs out of gas as soon as it hits the first “but…”
Alas, the “but” often comes at the beginning of the defense. There’s a whole subgenre of Texas Terror response that begins with long, windy, self-serving denunciations of Geller for her alleged insensitivity and fiery rhetoric, and then eventually gets around to grudgingly admitting that she probably shouldn’t be executed for those offenses.
For example, James Kirchick at the Daily Beast spends six long paragraphs telling us how horrible Geller is – he quite literally says she should be too ashamed of herself to speak in public, using the Yiddish term shanda for “shame” – before grudgingly admitting that she has a right to put on her art exhibits.
This is followed by a long discourse on the Nazis marching in Skokie, which Kirchick correctly treats as an ancient tale liberals barely remember now, even though it used to be considered an essential chapter in the heroic saga of free speech in America. He seems comfortable with withered has-been Garry Trudeau proclaiming that Charlie Hebdo magazine was an example of “hate speech and unworthy of our regard.” He doesn’t have a single blessed word to say about the jihadis who expressed themselves with bullets, or the speech code they sought to enforce.
“Pamela Geller is no hero, and, unlike the staff of Charlie—whose irreverent work has artistic merit—she doesn’t deserve any sort of prize,” Kirchick concludes. “What she does deserve, and nothing more, is the protection of her right to say what she wants, especially by those of us who detest what she has to say.”
Pam Geller deserves the right to say what she wants, just like the Nazis.
What a stirring defense of free speech rights! Really, Mr. Kirchick, don’t strain yourself. Just relax back into your easy chair. You and the others taking this line are of little use against the Islamists, or anyone else trying to control speech and thought in America. Your tepid contributions aren’t the caliber of rhetorical ammunition we need, especially when the censors are using actual ammunition.
We’re not talking about defending Geller against criticism here. We’re talking about defending her against murder. No value judgment about her opinion of Islamic radicalism, or the tactics she chooses to express her opinion, is needed.
Offering such a judgment implicitly gives support to the jihadis, which is something liberals would instinctively understand if Geller was a woman of the Left. (By the way, whatever happened to the “War on Women,” fellas? No feminist support for a determined woman who champions her ideas against credible threats of violence from people who happen to believe in the virtual enslavement of women, huh?)
If Geller was a liberal of even the most obnoxious stripe, so far out on the edge of the political galaxy that the light of centrism took years to reach her, it would be understood that describing her as beyond the pale, a shameful outlaw, was a major concession to the belief system of the people who tried to kill her. It would be understood that depriving such a loathsome belief system of all oxygen was vital.
The rush to classify Geller’s Mohammed Art Exhibit as “hate speech” implicitly accepts the premises of sharia law, and holds them binding upon non-believers. In case you haven’t seen it yet, this was the winning entry from the contest:
That’s not hate speech – it’s a valid socio-political point, whose accuracy is made crystal clear by subsequent events. In fact, it’s so accurate that it doesn’t really qualify as satire, because that relies upon absurd exaggeration for comic effect. Islamists are going to read these tepid, grudging defenses of Geller as an admission that they are correct to demand her silence, and the rest of supposedly secular, irreverent mainstream American culture knows it.
“You guys have a point, but you really shouldn’t try to shoot her” is not a rousing defense of classically liberal culture against fanatical oppression. The perception is created of an American culture wracked by guilt and unwilling to energetically defend its core values. Our liberal-dominated culture scarcely pretends to respect the Bill of Rights any more, beyond the First Amendment, and it only likes half of that one on a good day. Now they’re treating freedom of speech like fire that some of their child-citizen subjects really shouldn’t be playing with.
The Daily Beast piece includes this curious passage:
For those of us who genuinely want to combat extremism and promote liberalism in the Muslim world, Geller is a uniquely toxic presence in the public discourse. She makes it easy for Islamist apologists to avoid debate, as they can always point to Geller and her outrageous behavior for ready examples of how pervasive “Islamophobia” has become in American society.
So Pamela Geller, all by herself, outweighs virtually the entire American political establishment – not just under Barack Obama, but George Bush as well – plus the combined voices of our trillion-dollar entertainment/news media complex? Let me gently suggest to anyone who feels this way that if the Islamic world can’t hear the “Religion of Peace” message blasted through the loudspeakers of America’s official culture over the sound of Pamela Geller’s voice, they’re not listening very hard.
If “Islamist apologists” can sway the vast sea of moderate Muslims that supposedly blanket the world by pointing at Geller, they’re not really “apologizing” for anything, and the story we’ve been told about a tiny minority of extremists hijacking a peaceful, compassionate, pluralistic, co-existence-minded Islamic diaspora isn’t holding up very well. We aren’t making a strong case for tolerance by treating it like a vice to be grudgingly tolerated because we haven’t gotten around to repealing the constitutional amendment that requires it.
The Left remains besotted with power calculations that weigh all virtues upon the scales of politicized “justice.” That’s why Trudeau’s bilge about satire invalidated by “punching down” is so popular with liberals. They’re quite comfortable with the idea that who you are matters more than what you do. Words that one person can say freely become crimes in the mouth of another. Everything, including the supposedly sacred value of free speech, is secondary to political calculations. Islamists aren’t the only ones using coercion, including physical violence, to write themselves into those calculations. They’re perfectly capable of seeing how other religions can be not merely defied, but actively insulted, with impunity. They know Barack Obama’s famous declaration that “the future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam” was meaningful, while his subsequent footnotes about how it shouldn’t belong to those who insult Christianity, Judaism, etc. were empty rhetoric.
This idea that defending Pamela Geller’s right to not be pumped full of hot lead for holding an art exhibit somehow connotes approval of her entire philosophy, absent copious disclaimers to the contrary, is another political calculation. It’s sadly predictable from those who think everything tolerable should also be mandatory, while everything that is not embraced should be forbidden. Don’t hurt yourselves trying to chisel out of that ideological prison, guys. We’ll defend free speech, and the rest of the Bill of Rights, without you.