When a Constitutional Scholar Goes Bad
by Adam Turner
On September 11 and 12, 2012, all hell broke loose in the Arab world. On September 11, the U.S. Embassy in Egypt was invaded by hordes of Islamists, who tore down the American flag and unfurled a black Islamist triumphalist flag similar to that of al-Qaeda. On September 12, in Libya, in an organized attack, Libyans destroyed the American consulate in Benghazi and killed four Americans, including the U.S. Ambassador. Since then, Yemen, Pakistan, Indonesia, Tunisia, the Sudan, India, the United Kingdom, Germany, and many more nations have seen tremendous protests and/or riots on the street.
The cause of this outbreak of violence, supposedly, but not really, was over a California based filmmaker's amateurish film depicting the Muslim prophet Mohammed. Islam, of course, frowns on any depictions of their prophet; let alone the extremely negative portrayal found in this picture.
As the offensive picture originally came out months ago, the film – called "The Innocence of Muslims" – was clearly a pretext for Islamists to coordinate a campaign of violence against American free speech regarding Islam. In that, it is very similar situation to what happened in the aftermath of the publication of the Danish cartoons in 2005. This should not be too surprising, since Islamists have had great success from their Danish campaign – few papers in the West reprinted the Danish cartoons and other Western press and media organizations have self-censored their own Danish cartoons related speech, including Yale Press. Further, the Danish Cartoon Controversy is not the only successful Islamist pressure campaign success against free speech over the years – see the campaigns against Pope Benedict's speech; Molly Norris and Americans' who have burned Korans, either deliberately to provoke a reaction or accidentally. So, it must be asked, why should Islamists stop using a tactic that clearly works for them?
Indeed, in the United States, thanks to the Obama Administration, the anti-free speech Islamist pressure campaign worked even better than before. What is so disturbing about this is that President Obama should know better; he has often been praised for his brilliance as a constitutional scholar. But the Obama Administration has done almost nothing but appease the Islamist speech bullies, while showing only the most tepid support for our First Amendment rights.
Let's look at the Obama Administration's record regarding this situation.
Given the overwhelming reaction from multiple agencies of the executive branch, this appeasement is more than just a one-time error, but a policy. The Obama Administration has consistently shown poor instincts when it comes to protecting free speech. The Administration has participated in the "Istanbul Process" that seeks to implement UN Resolution 16/18, which seeks to restrict speech that "denigrates" Islam. The Department of Justice has also refused to affirm free speech before Congress. And most shockingly, the Administration has signed onto an Interpol Agreement which makes that international police force immune from the restraints of American law, theoretically allowing Egypt, which is seeking a warrant against "the eight defendants implicated in producing an amateur film that denigrates Islam and Prophet Mohamed," to enforce their blasphemy law in the U.S. And this wouldn't be the first time that a Muslim country used Interpol to arrest a blasphemer.
All in all, this is a disappointing record on free speech for a president who once taught constitutional law. Then again, I know the president lectured primarily on civil rights law, and not free speech. However, considering how badly he seems to understand and value the First Amendment, one can only hope that his lectures on civil rights law were more grounded in the U.S. Constitution and the established law. Otherwise, his former law students might want to demand a refund.
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