A memorable line from Obama’s 2012 speech to the UN made fresh anew this morning by two degenerates in Paris who strongly, strongly agree. This quote is all over conservative Twitter this afternoon for understandable reasons: It’s an especially creepy expression of the American political establishment’s instinct to soothe Muslims at moments when people somewhere are lying dead, murdered in Islam’s name. Remember, Obama gave this speech just two weeks after protesters stormed the U.S. embassy in Cairo and jihadis killed Chris Stevens in Benghazi. None other than Charlie Hebdo magazine responded to that by publishing new goofs on Mohammed and Islam. The White House, in the person of Jay Carney, criticized them for doing so less than a week before Obama delivered this line.
Before we get into it, though, let’s be fair. This same speech also contained this passage:
Now, I know that not all countries in this body share this particular understanding of the protection of free speech. We recognize that. But in 2012, at a time when anyone with a cell phone can spread offensive views around the world with the click of a button, the notion that we can control the flow of information is obsolete. The question, then, is how do we respond?
And on this we must agree: There is no speech that justifies mindless violence. (Applause.) There are no words that excuse the killing of innocents. There’s no video that justifies an attack on an embassy. There’s no slander that provides an excuse for people to burn a restaurant in Lebanon, or destroy a school in Tunis, or cause death and destruction in Pakistan.
In this modern world with modern technologies, for us to respond in that way to hateful speech empowers any individual who engages in such speech to create chaos around the world. We empower the worst of us if that’s how we respond.
The line about slandering Mohammed was also in service to a point:
The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam. But to be credible, those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we see in the images of Jesus Christ that are desecrated, or churches that are destroyed, or the Holocaust that is denied.
Okay, but the proper response, per David Harsanyi, is that the future should belong to those who can slander the prophet of Islam, the savior of Christianity, and any other sacred cow without apology. As it is, Obama’s essentially proposing a deal here — if Muslims and their leaders will renounce violence as a penalty for blasphemy, westerners will reintroduce moral sanctions for blasphemy into respectable liberal thought, especially among progressives. He’s trading away a piece of the Enlightenment, the principle that not even the greatest idols should be beyond public criticism, for a pledge that violators won’t be killed at least. (Interestingly, he was less willing to hand over that principle a few weeks ago when Kim Jong-un was on the other side of the bargaining table.) That’s what the “future” rhetoric is all about: Whenever O starts mumbling about who the future “belongs to” or his opponents being on “the wrong side of history,” he’s telling you which way progressive orthodoxy points. And right now, it points towards anti-blasphemy. Appalling, but if he’s going to presume to make this deal on the west’s behalf, he should at least be honest about the terms and acknowledge that the anti-blasphemy ethic extends only to Islam. The reasons for that are complicated — much of it is the special threat of violence from Islam’s more jihad-minded adherents but some of it is due to the fact that Muslims enjoy a Victim Class status that followers of other faiths with more power in the west, like Christianity and Judaism, do not. If anything, the fact that two animals would shoot up an editorial meeting only reinforces that status: They must have some awfully legitimate grievances to be so angry! Refraining from doodling Mohammed taking a dump is the least we can do for them. “The future” sounds grand.
But listen. Whatever else you want to say about Obama’s line, it does seem to be increasingly actually true. As a strictly factual matter, whether or not the future “must not” belong to those who slander Mohammed, it does not belong to them. Exhibit A:
The New York Daily News is doing the same thing:
The man holding the now-pixellated copy of Charlie Hebdo in that altered photo is Hebdo editor Stephane Charbonnier, murdered today precisely because he was willing to stand behind that image. This is how colleagues in the western publishing industry are honoring his memory.
One more from the AP, which is yanking down images of Charlie Hebdo that it sent out over the wires earlier today:
— Miriam Elder (@MiriamElder) January 7, 2015
Like Obama’s line about condemning desecrations of images of Jesus, the AP’s line about eschewing provocative images is a lie. Nick Rizzuto notes that “Piss Christ,” the famous photo of a crucifix in a vat of urine, is actually available for sale through the AP’s website. I hope it stays that way too, not just because we should want to keep the “silencing blasphemy is cool again” trend as constrained as possible but because it’s healthy for us to feel shame whenever this egregious double standard is exposed, as it periodically is. If we’re no longer ashamed to censor ourselves in fear of being machine-gunned, let’s at least be ashamed at what hypocrites we are in dressing up our fear as a transparently phony principle.
In sum, terrorism works. That’s today’s lesson.