Slandering Muhammad Is Not a Crime

Obama undermines his defense of free speech by pandering to Muslim rioters.

Addressing the U.N. General Assembly last week, President Obama tried to explain this strange attachment that Americans have to freedom of speech. He was handicapped by his attraction to a moral principle whose dangers the journalist Jonathan Rauch presciently highlighted in his 1993 book Kindly Inquisitors: "Thou shalt not hurt others with words."

During the last few weeks, the widespread, often violent, and sometimes deadly protests against The Innocence of Muslims, a laughably amateurish trailer for a seemingly nonexistent film mocking the prophet Muhammad, have demonstrated the alarming extent to which citizens of Muslim countries, including peaceful moderates as well as violent extremists, embrace this injunction against offending people. "We don’t think that depictions of the prophets are freedom of expression," a Muslim scholar explained to The New York Times. "We think it is an offense against our rights."

This notion of rights cannot be reconciled with the classical liberal tradition of free inquiry and free expression. But instead of saying that plainly, Obama delivered a muddled message, mixing a defense of free speech with an implicit endorsement of expectations that threaten to destroy it.

"The strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression," Obama said. "It is more speech." So far, so good. "There is no speech that justifies mindless violence," he added. "There are no words that excuse the killing of innocents. There's no video that justifies an attack on an embassy." Although it is sad that such things need to be said in the 21st century, Obama was right to say them.

But Obama undermined his own point by pandering to the rioters and their sympathizers. "The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam," he declared, condemning this "crude and disgusting video," which he said "must be rejected by all who respect our common humanity." He seemed to conflate tolerance of religious differences, which freedom of conscience requires, with respect for other people's beliefs, which cannot be enforced without destroying freedom of conscience.

Obama muddied matters further by quoting Mohandas Gandhi's puzzling declaration that "intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit." This statement appears in a 1921 Young India article where Gandhi chastises "non-cooperating" lawyers for looking down on colleagues who did not join them in protesting British rule by refusing to participate in the legal system. That "arrogant assumption of superiority" was crucially different from violence, and Gandhi's sloppy equation of the two is precisely the sort of confusion that defenders of free speech should be keen to correct.

Rauch explains why in Kindly Inquisitors. Quoting a law professor's comparison of racial epithets to bullets, he notes the implication: "If you hurt me with words, I reply with bullets, and the exchange is even."

Rauch's book was largely inspired by the tepid Western response to the death decree that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued against Salman Rushdie in 1989 as punishment for the insufficient respect he showed Muhammad in his novel The Satanic Verses. While Khomeini was wrong to call for Rushdie's murder, many commentators said, Rushdie was wrong to be so reckless with Muslim sensitivities.

This pathetic pattern, which was repeated after the manufactured outrage over the Muhammad cartoons published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005, is playing out yet again as American officials ritually reject the "intolerance" embodied in a ridiculous YouTube video, as if they have a duty to condemn cultural artifacts that upset people. As Rushdie himself told New York Times columnist Bill Keller, "It's not for the American government to regret what American citizens do."

That's the appropriate response to people who insist, as an Egyptian protester quoted by the Times did, that "Obama is the president, so he should have to apologize!" No. That is not our president's job. Neither is lecturing us about being nice to people who think trashing a school or burning down a restaurant is an understandable response to hurt feelings. 

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    He was handicapped by his attraction to a moral principle...

    He was handicapped by the fact that he doesn't believe in the concept of free expression of ideas. Surrounding himself with Windy City thuggery and being extremely thin-skinned, Obama empathizes with those who would shut down opposition speech.

  • WTF||

    I think it was also an attempt on his part to try to vote 'present' and hope the issue would just go away.

  • RBS||

    This. What better place for Obama to showcase his lack of conviction than the UN?

  • ||

    He's already got a Nobel Peace Prize, why try harder?

  • Drake||

    Yes - It was spoken like a man trying to pretend he believes in free-speech and failing.

    Whether it's his childhood split between Islamic and Communists schools, or his adulthood in the Chicago political machine makes little difference. Freedom just isn't one of his priorities.

  • ||

    I still can't believe he was elected President of the United States. Someone slap me and wake me from this nightmare.

  • SugarFree||

    Or this is a beautiful dream you are having to escape an even worse reality.

  • ||

    Feinstein or Pelosi as President? Fuck. Alright. NOBODY WAKE ME. THIS DREAM AIN'T SO BAD AFTER ALL. *Gulp*.

  • Drake||

    Feinstein would probably be better, although perhaps more dangerous as she is somewhat competent.

  • ||

    Better? She'd incinerate the universe with her debilitating stupidity.

  • SugarFree||

    STEVE SMITH as president and hordes of Rapesquatches roaming a land with no 2nd Amendment.

    The law is the law. Get on your knees.

  • ||

    Phew. As long as Pelosi ain't there, I'm in.

  • SugarFree||

    She is what they rape you with.

  • ||

    Are you trying to induce cranial detonation? Because that's what that mental image is about to cause. Thanks a bunch.

  • SugarFree||

    She's wrinkled for your pleasure.

  • LTC(ret) John||

    Thanks for that - I think I will go drink hemlock now.

  • John Tagliaferro||

    No Leftist believes in freedom, including the freedom of speech. That is what makes them Left instead of Right.

  • Watoosh88||

    I always did suspect Glenn Greenwald was a hardcore right-winger. Thanks for confirming my suspicions.

  • Whiterun Guard||

    Cowards acting cowardly. Of course, that's now a virtue instead of a flaw, so par for the course.

  • ||

    Peaceful moderates? Like the ones who had nothing to say about 9/11 other than it was probably perpetrated by Jews?

    "... must be rejected by all who respect our common humanity."

    I abhor them and their culture. They should be content with our acknowledgement of their membership in the human species, because they really don't deserve anything else. I'd sooner hang myself with a barbed wire than be respectful of 13th-century degenerates and their hellish ideology.

  • wef||

    "Thou shalt not hurt others with words."

    Lisa Lampanelli should be the US ambassador to the freak show at the UN:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UPjl-Vl6PtU

  • Heroic Mulatto||

  • ||

    His own government would classify him a hatemonger, so, unfortunately, that's not a possibility.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    That's true, sadly. We're not much better.

  • ||

    "We don’t think that depictions of the prophets are freedom of expression,"

    Same ole, same ole argument against freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is you being free to say anything I like.

    "While Khomeini was wrong to call for Rushdie's murder, many commentators said, Rushdie was wrong to be so reckless with Muslim sensitivities."

    I was going to say much about this, but I will just stick with this; Fuck Muslim sensitivities.

  • ||

    You know what I find fucking hilarious? These sons of bitches are provoking a superpower with their bullshit, and if and when the federal government finally snaps and engulfs the Middle East in a nuclear fire, say, they'll be totally confused as to why it all happened.

  • Drake||

    Have you been reading "Caliphate"?

    http://www.amazon.com/Caliphat.....=caliphate

  • ||

    Never heard of it.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Wow, you whackjobs just miss Obama being the slippery politician they all try to be in your effort to deny that he supports the First Amendment. Especially this part:

    Here in the United States, countless publications provoke offense. Like me, the majority of Americans are Christian, and yet we do not ban blasphemy against our most sacred beliefs. As President of our country and Commander-in-Chief of our military, I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day -- (laughter) -- and I will always defend their right to do so. (Applause.)

    He defends the most American of speech - blasphemy, in the tradition of Thomas Paine.

  • ||

    That's not the problem. The problem is that he should make no apologies, no concessions, and surrender not an inch of ground on the matter.

    In fact, he should have extended his middle finger and said "Eat shit and die". Instead, we get a apologetics. Fuck him sideways.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    There was no apology in that muddle.

    Did you say the same about Bush when he repeatedly called Islam the "religion of peace"?

    Less muddled bullshit.

  • ||

    You can't possibly be this retarded.

  • SugarFree||

    Fuck you. He is twice as retarded as you can even imagine.

  • ||

    Ten bucks says he attended a big-city public school.

  • WTF||

    Twenty says he rode the short bus.

  • Tom C.||

    Oh yes, he must be mentally insane for having a differing opinion.

    Four back to back posts of derogatory name calling without a lick of substance is what makes you heathens the "retards" in this discussion. Hope you were amused, because you looking fucking stupid.

  • Ayn Random Variation||

    He's mocked for sucking on Obama's cock at every opportunity, not for his paid opinions.

  • Jordan||

    Did you say the same about Bush when he repeatedly called Islam the "religion of peace"?

    Yes, you fucking retard. Seriously, don't you have anything else besides "But... But... Bush!!!11"?

  • Jerry on the road||

    Which was preceded by this utterly BS crap BS:

    That is what we saw play out in the last two weeks, as a crude and disgusting video sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world. Now, I have made it clear that the United States government had nothing to do with this video, and I believe its message must be rejected by all who respect our common humanity.
  • Agile Cyborg||

    He defends the most American of speech

    Sure, genius, and he completely unravels his diatribe with this...

    "The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam"

    I don't care about the rest of the hooey when the previous is inserted into it.

  • ||

    Yeah, that's the killer line. Obama jumped the shark spectacularly.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    The sons of the Prophet are vicious men and bold
    And quite accustomed to drama,
    But the most evil by far in the ranks of the Shah,
    Was Barack Hussein Obama.

    If you wanted a yob to encourage the mob,
    Or politically exploit tragedy or trauma,
    Storm fort or redoubt, you had only to shout
    For Barack Hussein Obama.

  • Bardas Phocas||

    I heard that line and remembered the Star Trek joke about Arabs.

    The Saudi King is meeting with Obama. After the meeting they are drinking tea and having small talk. The King notes that Obama is big Star Trek fan. Obama laughs and agrees he knows everything about Star Trek. The King says his great-grandson is also a Trekkie but he has a question. "Why, in all the Treks, are there no Arabs?" Obama, uncomfortably replies "Becuase it's in the future."

    I'm pretty sure the future will belong to people who slander the prophets.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Obama obviously had never watched DS9.

  • Bardas Phocas||

    He was genetically enhanced. He's not even human anymore.

  • ant1sthenes||

    No, he doesn't, at least not in that passage. He describes the status quo under American law. That isn't a defense of the law, or the principles underlying it.

    He also said that the future does not belong to those who slander his the prophet, and he certainly thinks of himself as a transformational president, so...

  • Agile Cyborg||

    "The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam"

    Man, whoever wrote this is a turd tank and nothing else. Additionally, this statement uttered from the mouth of a U.S. president with ZERO repercussion from his democratic minions is a telling indicator of just how deeply into the gaping hole of spineless submission the so-called Democratic press and voter has fallen.

    Historically, free speech has been violently stripped by liberal passion from the iron grip of the crusading religious autocrat. This is no longer the case- the modern Democrat is a wasteland of milquetoast and nose rings. I've come to find Democratically-aligned places of communication as revolting as the media bastions of conservative hypocrisy.

  • wef||

    What in the hell are you doing up this early?

    I know you must be still groggy, but please try to note that the dormroom bullshit artist says, about christers, that, "we do not ban blasphemy against our most sacred beliefs" - not that he is defending blasphemy against the Prophet, pbuh.

    Now take a shower and get to campus.

  • Fluffy||

    Wow, you whackjobs just miss Obama being the slippery politician they all try to be in your effort to deny that he supports the First Amendment.

    My problem is that the speech is literally shot through with repeated assertions that blasphemy is evil and all good people should unite against it to denounce it.

    The form of his argument is, "This is evil, but we have to tolerate it even though it's evil."

    So basically the President of the United States is saying that if I stand up and say, "The Prophet Mohammad was a pedophile, a slaver, and a sacker of cities," all of which is indisputably true by the Muslims' own account, I'm evil and everyone worldwide should unite to denounce me.

    So he can go fuck himself.

  • Hneckone||

    Now the Pakistanis have upped the bounty for the film maker's killing. This from the CNN website:

    "Former Pakistani lawmaker Ikramullah Shahid told demonstrators protesting the movie in Peshawar on Monday that he'd pay $200,000 to anyone who kills the filmmaker, according to Siraj Ul Haq, a senior leader of the religious group that organized the rally."

    Our country continues to send millions of dollars of "aid" to Pakistan. They're probably funding the bounty offers with our money.

  • T o n y||

    No, your message is muddled. Nobody, not Obama, nobody in his government, has called for silencing anyone. He explicitly said such a thing is not permissible under our values and constitution, and that it wouldn't even be possible in the Internet age.

    He also said, which is true, that free speech does not mean you have to accept all speech as valid or worthy of a place in discourse. If intolerance wants to try to push itself into discourse, it is allowed to in this country, but it is not entitled to be taken seriously, especially not by a president, among whose roles is protecting American lives abroad.

    Gandhi's sentiment is almost blandly true by now. Democratic freedom is a precarious thing. It doesn't survive just by having democratic institutions. It also requires a free and open society that is not overly torn by religious or other bigotries. It is good for those things to be discouraged. What makes American values superior is not just freedom but a tolerance of plurality.

  • Azathoth!!||

    No, your message is muddled. Nobody, not Obama, nobody in his government, has called for silencing anyone

    The future must not belong to those who would slander the Prophet of Islam

    Sorry, you lose. Thanks for playing.

  • ThatSkepticGuy||

    The old adage was completely wrong. Fascism has arrived in America, and it did so in the form of multiculturalism and policitcal correctness.

  • Watoosh88||

    Let's say he had said "The future must not belong to those who would deny the Holocaust" - that would be a statement I'd agree with. Would that be equivalent to "We must make Holocaust denial illegal"?

    Of course not. It only means "Fuck Holocaust deniers". You are dangerously thick if that's a distinction too difficult to make.

    I don't really agree with his denunciation of blasphemy against Islam, but as a political move this is pretty much the smartest thing Obama could have said. He has an international image to maintain, and he can't exactly invite Mohammed-lovers to suck his dick if they don't like that kind of blasphemy. This is a rare opportunity for him to have his cake and eat it too - defend free speech and speak against blasphemy. (If I were President in this day and age, I might personally defend blasphemy, which is why I'd be the least successful statesman ever.)

    Don't forget, a significant chunk of the Islamic world (and Western nanny-staters, unfortunately) doesn't understand the idea of freedom of speech AT ALL. They think it means the freedom to say nice things, but not much else. Obama did a reasonably good job of explaining why the US government can't and will not ban speech*, and why that is a good thing, while distancing himself from blasphemy to keep influential Muslim allies happy. If any minds were swayed by his speech, I'd consider that a net win.

    *Well, it does sometimes anyway. But that's another topic.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    "Thou shalt not hurt others with words."

    That's what weapons are for.

    Seriously; why are we talking to these people? Why os this even a matter for discussion? The proper response was "Yes, the guy who made this is a jerk. Now, we're sending a division of Marines to discuss your poor judgement in hurting our people. That's how it works. You damage our embassy or our people, we come and thump you. We'll talk about freedom of speech and blasphemy when you've learned not to behave like excited chimps."

  • ThatSkepticGuy||

    "Mohandas Gandhi's puzzling declaration that "intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit." This statement appears in a 1921 Young India article"

    If I'm not mistaken, is that not the same publication in which Gandhi routinely published articles condemning blacks for being lazy and a drain to Indian society?

  • ant1sthenes||

    If he ever runs for president, those newsletters are going to fuck him, big time.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    *snerk*

  • Technomad||

    I wonder what would happen if the evil Muslims decided to respond in kind, producing:

    Birth of a Nation: The Reboot

    The Turner Diaries: The Movie Version

    and a few others along those lines? Care to bet there wouldn't be major fireworks here?

  • He Apologia Tou Timotheou||

    Islamic cyberterrorists are hacking into banking websites and will continue to do so until the Innocence of Muslims is removed from the internet. Hahahahaha! That's like trying to remove metastasized cancer from the terminally ill. The video's out, and it's going to work like a cancer against Islam, which itself is an even worse form of cancer on humanity.

    We make no apologies for that film. Well, we're sorry the cinematic quality is so bad; otherwise, we make no apologies for a film that speaks the truth about the pederast prophet and his god of terror.

    Here it is again, in case you want to critically examine the film for its factual correctness: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MAiOEV0v2RM

    And here's a list of the authoritative Islamic sources used in its production: http://islam-watch.org/authors.....fense.html

  • buybuydandavis||

    What he is doing is speaking out of both sides of his mouth. "I'm for A." "I'm against A."

  • KPres||

    "Slandering Muhammad Is Not a Crime"

    Uh, I don't know what country you live in, but this country has hate crimes laws, meaning it most certainly is a crime.

  • 4thaugust1932||

    God can protect himself from infidels.
    No need for you to beat/bomb/behead anybody.

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