New York Daily News columnist Harry Siegel may not be a fan of Pamela Geller, but he’s much less a fan of those rushing to condemn her for her speech rather than lay blame at the feet of terrorists seeking to silence her. Having lived through the last round of Mohammed cartoon publications, Siegel blasts the media elite for missing the real threat while stroking their own egos by prioritizing their sneering at Geller over the threat to freedom of speech. In doing so, they are embracing the assassin’s veto, Siegel warns — after indulging in a short bout of sneering himself:
But the assassin’s veto, as historian Timothy Garton Ash termed “the use of violence to impose your taboos,” is pointed at her neck. The nastiness of her words, about “the savages” trying to impose Sharia law here, is no longer the issue.
The threat to Geller’s life for speaking is.
Yet many among the literati, who typically fancy themselves truth tellers and idol smashers, spent the last week competing to disdain the obvious and explain why the murdered Charlie Hebdo cartoonists weren’t worthy recipients of an award from a group dedicated to “defend(ing) writers endangered because of their work.”
One such useful idiot — who admits he’s never even read Hebdo — wrote “it seemed to me that ‘Je suis Charlie’ was a way for (Americans) to re-pledge their commitment to the War on Terror.” …
Flemming Rose, the editor who commissioned the 2006 Danish cartoons with little idea what he was getting into, and who a decade later still needs an armed guard (he and three colleagues are on an Al Qaeda-published hit list that also included Hebdo staffers), having survived several attempts on his life, explained why his paper didn’t run the French cartoons after those cartoonists were slaughtered: “Violence works. And sometimes the sword is mightier than the pen.”
He elaborated: “We caved in to intimidation. And I don’t think that we will get less intimidation because of that. Because we are telling the extremists that it works.”
We seem to have lost the sense of shared values we once held in free speech. At one time, that support for free speech had nothing to do with content — which is why the ACLU took the side of Nazis when they wanted to demonstrate in Skokie, Illinois in 1977, for instance, a city with a significant Jewish population. We all understood that everyone had a clear right to speak their opinions, especially in the context of a private meeting such as Geller, Robert Spencer, and Geert Wilders put on in Garland. Those who don’t agree don’t have to show up, and others can certainly disagree and criticize the event.
But when the bullets fly, we used to understand that taste was no longer the issue, and liberty is. Now, media elites and others have made defending liberty contingent on content. These same elites would hardly have criticized the speech of some in Ferguson if a couple of pro-police nuts showed up to shoot the crowd, and yet in this case the content of the speech is somehow the bigger problem than the violence two people attempted to use to silence it. That’s because the elites have decided that violent rhetoric toward the police fits within their tastes, while cartoons satirizing and criticizing Islam constitutes dangerous “hate speech” that offends their tastes. They don’t want to protect dissent — they want to enforce groupthink by putting dissent outside the bounds of free speech, for which the First Amendment was crafted.
It’s part of a pattern among our elites, as I write in my column for The Fiscal Times, one that can be seen in the cheerleading of grossly ignorant positions on First Amendment protections:
Who would get to decide what constitutes “provocative” speech that cannot be exercised? Who decides which opinions are “hate” and cannot bear the light of day?
The answer appears to be the cultural elite who keep getting free speech wrong – and not just in the media. We have seen political correctness expand into stultifying speech codes on college campuses, pushed by progressive groups and enabled by administrators that have made a mockery out of higher education. That cone of silence has begun to extend into politics in general, ironically as more and more activists demand “conversations” on controversial topics but then demand that the opposing side be silenced or forced into byzantine processes to avoid “triggers.”
All of this amounts to an attempt to control the political sphere by either silencing dissent or demonizing it as “bullying,” “bigoted,” and worse. The same applies in other First Amendment freedoms as well, especially the freedom of religious expression. The same pattern holds when people wish to live their faith in the entirety of their lives. Whether it comes from the government in contraception mandates or forced participation in same-sex marriage events, the media and political elites have decided that the liberty guaranteed in plain English in the Constitution no longer applies – as long as they can redefine the language to suit their purposes.
As Damon Linker (a supporter of same-sex marriage) wrote earlier this month, the religious have become the new secular heretics to be shunned and destroyed. Those demanding not tolerance but surrender and forced participation may think they are the Enlightenment, but in reality, they are becoming cut-rate Robespierres. They act “more than a little like bullies distressingly eager to treat millions of their fellow citizens like heretics — and to use government power to force them to conform, at least in public, to the dogmas of a contrary, and in some ways incompatible, faith.”
Given the broad and consistent response to the Garland event, and even to an extent the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, it’s impossible to believe that it’s simply benign ignorance of the breadth and necessity of First Amendment protections. The most pernicious problem isn’t that the elites in the media and academia don’t bother to inform themselves on issues of free speech and religious liberty, or even that they’re misinforming us on them. It’s that they’re not interested in preserving the values of individual liberty, and want to control the culture rather than inform and educate it.
The shared value has shifted among elites from liberty to control. That’s a much bigger and broader problem than a question of taste, and those who would normally defend liberty should consider their priorities.