A Leaden Silence on the Islamic
Threat to Free Speech
The realm of ideas and rights seems too
frightening for most politicians to venture into.
[February 17, 2006]
ominous silence has followed the initial uproar over the Danish cartoons
of the Muslim prophet Mohammed. The silence is deafening, emanating from
two quarters that properly should be the most concerned: the news media
and the government. They are either oblivious or indifferent to the
crucial issue of the inviolability of the First Amendment.
Instead, they are obsessed with issues far removed
from the question of whether or not anyone has the right to mock an idea
or an icon or simply express thoughtful criticism of it. New Orleans and
the Katrina victims, Vice President Cheney's hunting accident, videos of
state policemen hit by passing cars while writing speeding tickets, obese
children, and truth in multi-grain cereal labels, comprise just a fraction
of the myopic fare offered on primetime news. So many deserving scrub
pines obscure the redwoods in the distance.
The continuing destructive and deadly riots against
the cartoons in Pakistan, Afghanistan and other locales now only merit
incidental reportage, if any at all. Our politicians as well have tiptoed
around the cartoon subject with a pusillanimity hard to credit them. They
are otherwise so voluble about everything else, such as the necessity of
smoking bans, gun control, reducing high cholesterol, punishing oil
companies for their profits, and simpler Medicare prescription drug
One should not blame semi-clueless, photogenic news
anchors too much; they are just highly paid teleprompter readers posing as
reporters cum entertainers. They read whatever their highly paid,
politically correct house news writers churn out on orders from their
editors. Who are they to initiate a probe into the speech restrictions of
the Campaign Finance Law?
One can, however, charge a heavier responsibility to
our politicians. Every one of them is sworn to uphold the Constitution,
but not one has dared say much about the Danish cartoonists and how their
predicament and jeopardy might just as easily be imported to the U.S. and
experienced by American cartoonists. A veritable "clash of civilizations"
is underway. Not one governor, senator, or representative has shown the
least inclination to enter the fray on behalf of his electorate or
constituents, or even demonstrated awareness of the clash.
One might be tempted to think they are exercising
discretion as the better part of valor; after all, they could very well be
targeted for Islamic violence or at least a noisy demonstration by Muslims
if they publicly took the side of free speech and never minded anyone's
offended feelings. But that temptation would be brief, given the venal and
pragmatic character of most politicians. Their philosophy of serving and
protecting productive Americans is to manage and regulate their lives for
their own good, in exchange for handsome salaries, generous medical
benefits, bountiful retirement plans, and innumerable perquisites. All
paid for by fettered and yoked tax cows.
The realm of ideas and rights seems too frightening
for most politicians to venture into. They fear it for one of two reasons:
they might discover principles which they might otherwise feel compelled
to champion, but would not want to for various reasons ranging from party
loyalty to careerist inconvenience; or because they might anticipate the
shame of ignorance and a sense of inferiority that can only be assuaged by
a pragmatic disdain projecting a sense of superiority. As one Oxford don,
a professor of logic, remarked: "Philosophy teaches you how to detect bad
arguments, so it is no surprise when politicians are not keen for it to be
studied." Nor keen to study it, either.
Silence is golden, goes the proverb. Golden,
perhaps, for a spell of contemplation and cogitation. Silence can be
leaden, too, signaling a baleful ignorance or a pernicious turpitude when
the times demand the knowledge, courage and character of our Founders.
Listen carefully; you might in time hear the dull thud of the First
Amendment as it falls behind a diverting forest of the pedestrian and
mundane, unheralded by our pseudo-Solons and unnoticed by the news media.
Edward Cline is the
author the Sparrowhawk series of novels set in England and Virginia
in the Revolutionary period, the detective novel First Prize, the
suspense novel Whisper the Guns, and of numerous published
articles, book reviews and essays.
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