The US Supreme court recently struck down a law banning animal abuse videos, videos so bad that just the idea is nauseating. I was distressed, but I understood. The principle of free speech is one of the foundations of our free society, and there is probably no place in the world where it is taken more seriously.
Some time ago I went to a talk by a Holocaust denier in my own neighborhood. That, too, was nauseating. But I understood why it was impossible to prevent this person from speaking. Unfortunately, this is the price we pay for the kind of society we want. Other nations have made different choices; Holocaust denial can get you put in jail in some European countries.
So when a young man warned the producers of South Park (of which I am not particularly a fan) that they might end up dead for depicting the Prophet Mohammad, he in effect crashed an airliner into one of the most important edifices of our American culture (please read what Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who should know, wrote about this).
Threats of lawsuits, boycotts, nasty blogs, etc. are one thing. They may or may not have what lawyers like to call a ‘chilling effect’ on free speech. But threats of murder are something else entirely, especially since there are numerous precedents that threats like this will be carried out. Think of Salman Rushdie, Theo Van Gogh, Kurt Westergaard, Hirsi Ali herself, etc. Indeed, Comedy Central bleeped out the mention of the name ‘Mohammad’ in a follow-up episode.
The first episode did not actually present an image of Mohammad, but had his voice come from inside a bear suit. In the same episode, Jesus is shown watching porn and Buddah snorting cocaine. The relatively mild treatment of Mohammad may already imply a degree of self-censorship.
The individual who made the threats, as well as publishing the names, addresses and pictures of the producers, is Abu Talhah al-Amrikee — Abu Talhah the American — who used to be called Zachary Adam Chesser, and was a student at George Mason University. His nom de guerre is ironic, since his actions are about as anti-American as anything one can imagine. And it doesn’t matter how marginal or crazy he is. It doesn’t take a sane man to pull a trigger.
The strategy of responding to self-defined insults with murderous violence is an attack on a principle that Western culture has developed over several centuries at great cost; as I said, a foundation of our free society. The intent is to propel us back into the Middle Ages, where radical Islam lives.
It must be resisted as strongly as we resist attempts to crash airliners into our physical structures.