Monday, December 6, 2010

It CAN Happen Here

Some of you may not remember the death threats against Salman Rushdie after he published a novel that some people deemed offensive to Islam. You may not have been too concerned about the murder of Theo van Gogh for making a film critical of Islam's treatment of women. You may feel that Geert Wilders deserves to be put on trial in Amsterdam for "inciting racial hatred against Muslims," because he criticized the Qur'an... and anyway, all that's over in Europe. We have free speech in America.

Do we?

In mid-September of this year, a cartoonist named Molly Norris changed her name and went into hiding. The reason? Death threats against her from that lovable cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki, fan of those good ol' boys Al Qaeda, currently believed to be hiding out in Yemen - threats that the FBI advised Norris to take very seriously (though they offered her no help whatsoever). The inspiration for the death threats? In an attempt to satirize exactly this kind of censorship-by-intimidation, she suggested an "Everybody draw Muhammed Day."

An American citizen is forced underground in America by threats from a religious extremist.

In August of this year, President Obama found time to weigh in on the constitutional right to build a mosque in New York. In September, he found time to comment on an obscure whackjob in Florida who threatened to burn a Qur'an. So what did he say in defense of an American citizen exercising her right of free speech?

Not. One. Word.

The New York Times? Buried the story in "Local News." No columnist felt it worth mentioning.

The ACLU? In the month following Norris' disappearance, they found time to speak up for the freedom of teenagers to send naked pictures of each other by cell phone, for the right of Westboro Baptist Church to picket military funerals with signs saying "God Hates Gays," against the idea of banning websites that openly sponsor jihad against America.

But for Molly Norris?

Not. One. Word.

Freedom of speech is being eroded in Europe. Here, we have a Constitutional amendment that explicitly guarantees free speech. But the First Amendment is just words on parchment if we do not exercise our rights and speak out in support of everybody who voices unpopular opinions. Not just the unpopular opinions we agree with, or the ones that don't inconvenience us. All of them.

Freedom of speech: use it or lose it. Which are we going to do?

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