This column by ACRU Senior Fellow Robert Knight was published January 18, 2015 at The Washington Times.
The massacre in Paris by Muslim militants at the Charlie Hebdo magazine office was about much more than freedom of speech. After all, militants also killed four hostages at a Jewish market, and that was not about freedom to buy kosher food.
Both incidents are about using violence to intimidate people into surrendering to Muslim domination in the form of Shariah law. It is a war that is being waged on all continents by several radicalized Muslim groups whose dictionaries omit the word “mercy.”
While the slaughter in Paris was going on, a far larger massacre was unfolding in Nigeria, where Boko Haram systematically killed as many as 2,000 non-Muslims and then torched what was left of their village. The dead, many of whom reportedly were women, children and elderly, will never speak again.
In fact, freedom of speech was probably not on the victims’ minds as the killers went from building to building, executing them. Because it occurred in Africa, where violence has been endemic for generations, news media gave the massacre relatively little coverage.
Likewise, when Muslim militants invaded a school in Pakistan, killing 145, mostly children, it was one more international news item. Open a newspaper or go online every day and you will find similar incidents somewhere amid the “foreign” news. It took the murders at a Paris publication to finally shake our sensibilities. More people are speaking clearly about who is behind the terror in virtually every instance. Perhaps the welcome concern over the value of free speech will morph into greater valuing of human life itself.
It was good to see world leaders, minus the United States, march with more than a million people in the Paris rally for freedom of speech. It would be heartening to see the same commitment here in America, where we have learned to lie lest we offend.
On Tuesday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest lobbed this absurdity to explain why the Obama administration has been mealy-mouthed in the face of Islamic terrorism: “Let’s call them what they are — these terrorists are individuals who would like to cloak themselves in the veil of a particular religion.”
Well, that takes terrorism sponsors like Iran off the hook. It’s just some disturbed individuals. Perhaps they play too many violent video games. The wonderfully and ironically named Mr. Earnest declined to elaborate on what the “religion” might be that inspires all the carnage — Presbyterianism? Catholicism? Taoism? Methodists gone wild?
The sheer dishonesty that permeates the administration’s approach to the Islamist militants’ war on the West and on insufficiently zealous Muslims is not unique.
On America’s campuses, weasel words in the service of leftist ideology have replaced freedom of speech and honest inquiry. Anyone questioning extreme environmental, Islamist, feminist, homosexual or Marxist economic orthodoxy faces harassment or outright silencing.
Barry A. Fisher, a free speech attorney, recently wrote in The Wall Street Journal, “There is growing support, including among academics and racial and religious advocacy groups, that what they define as hate speech is simply outside the First Amendment’s protection. Law professors have concocted influential concepts like ‘outsider jurisprudence,’ ‘critical race theory,’ ‘critical feminist theory’ and ‘storytelling theory’ to define some kinds of politically incorrect speech as not speech at all but ‘mechanisms of subordination.’”
As such, protesters armed with faux intellectual justification shut down people they don’t like, such as PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, who a Ferguson-inspired mob prevented from speaking in December at the University of California, Berkeley. In Atlanta, Mayor Kasim Reed fired Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran on Jan. 6 over a book Mr. Cochran wrote for a Bible study group that is critical of sex outside marriage, including homosexuality.
The enforcers of political correctness have become so effective at limiting public discussion that a blogger was able to get Fox News anchor Bret Baier, actor Gary Sinise and MillerCoors President Peter Coors to withdraw from a Catholic conference in Florida later this month because the conference featured a speaker who upholds Catholic teaching on homosexuality, marriage and chastity.
Increasingly, heavily funded leftist groups are telling Americans what not to say if they know what’s good for them. It hasn’t required the threat of violence. The soft tyranny of lost jobs, bad grades, media shaming and other punishments for expressing biblical morality or doubt about the left’s multicultural agenda is enough to keep most people in line. The home of the brave is becoming the land of the tongue-tied.
Officially enforced dishonesty takes a toll. In Dr. Zhivago, Russian author Boris Pasternak in 1952 painted a powerful picture of a man coming to terms with the reality of life under the Soviets, as related in a recent book review by novelist Alan Furst.
Initially sympathetic to communist revolutionaries before their murderous regime took hold, Yuri Zhivago voiced the cost of submission: “Constant systematic dissembling is required of the vast majority of us. It’s impossible, without its affecting your health, to show yourself day after day contrary to what you feel, to lay yourself out for what you don’t love, to rejoice over what brings you misfortune . Our soul takes up room in space and sits inside us like the teeth in our mouth. It cannot be endlessly violated with impunity.”
With a few exceptions, perhaps the jihadis and their totalitarian-minded friends are biding their time in America, if self-censorship fails to do the job.