Last Thursday was “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day,” and Muslims, predictably, are outraged. Thousands of Pakistanis demonstrated against the drawings of Muhammad, and the Pakistani government shut down access to Facebook and YouTube to prevent its citizens from seeing the offending images. (Interestingly enough, images of beheadings and suicide bombings have never given rise to similar acts of censorship anywhere in the Islamic world.)
Since then, several Facebook sites have sprung up announcing an “Everybody Draw the Holocaust Day,” in the mistaken view that anyone in the West will react as strongly to mockery as Muslims will. And the Obama State Department is doing all it can to soothe offended Muslim sensibilities. Assistant Secretary of State Philip J. Crowley said Thursday: “Obviously, this is a difficult and challenging issue. Many of the images that appear today on Facebook were deeply offensive to Muslims and non-Muslims alike.”
Pakistan’s Daily Times added: “The U.S. State Department also expressed respect for any actions that need to be taken under Pakistani law to protect their citizens from offensive speech, but expected a balance between restricting offensive material and ensuring flow of information for the Internet users.”
Did the U.S. State Department ever condemn Andres Serrano’s “artwork” that consisted of a crucifix submerged in a jar of urine, or Chris Ofili’s dung-encrusted portrait of the Virgin Mary? Of course not. The Obama Administration only moved to condemn the cartoons of Muhammad because of the anti-free speech campaign of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which kicked into high gear in 2006 in response to the original Danish cartoons of Muhammad.
That campaign is an attempt to compel the West to criminalize criticism of Islam. In 2008, OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu issued a warning in terms that made it clear that he knew which party was in charge, and which was in the position of accepting orders: “We sent a clear message to the West regarding the red lines that should not be crossed” regarding free speech about Islam and terrorism. And he reported success: “The official West and its public opinion are all now well aware of the sensitivities of these issues. They have also started to look seriously into the question of freedom of expression from the perspective of its inherent responsibility, which should not be overlooked.”
And now the State Department has acted fully in compliance with this dictation. In response to “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day,” the Obama Administration has demonstrated that violence and intimidation work—which only ensures that we will see more of it.
In calling for a “balance between restricting offensive material and ensuring flow of information for the Internet users,” the State Department was trying to have it both ways: condemning the cartoons while offering a weak, fig-leaf defense of the freedom of speech. But issued in the context of deploring and denouncing the cartoons, all this statement amounted to was a call for self-censorship.
Self-censorship is something we all do all the time, in innumerable contexts: If everyone always said what he thought, there would be a lot more broken relationships and lost jobs. But politeness and respect are not what are at issue here. The point of publishing cartoons of Muhammad nowadays is not to cause offense, although they certainly do that. The key fact is that the cartoons arouse in Muslims not only murderous rage but attempts to restrict the freedom of speech through legal avenues. As such, self-censorship amounts only to self-imposed dhimmitude, and to acquiescence to the supremacy and rule of Sharia—Islamic law.
That’s why the Muhammad cartoons published last week all over the Internet were not a stunt, not a joke, not a raspberry to anyone, not an exercise in obnoxiousness or gratuitous offense. They are, rather, the foremost battleground in the defense of the freedom of speech today. Every newspaper in the country should be printing them today, to show they are not cowed and will defend free speech. The State Department should be explaining what I am explaining now. Instead, they bowed no less unmistakably than did Obama to the Saudi King.