Muslims in twenty-one countries demonstrated against a YouTube movie about Muhammad Friday. Adding to the death toll that began with Ambassador Chris Stevens and his associates in Libya, three people were killed as Islamic supremacists stormed the U.S. embassy in Tunisia, and one was killed in Lebanon as Muslims marched from a mosque, stoned police, and set fire to a KFC restaurant, apparently as a symbol of the hated United States. The savage and random murders were all in service of an overarching goal: to intimidate the United States into abandoning the freedom of speech. And worst of all, Barack Obama seems willing.
Islamic leaders worldwide called for an end to the freedom of speech. Dr. Ahmed el-Tayyeb, the grand imam of the most prestigious and influential institution in Sunni Islam, Al-Azhar in Cairo, on Saturday asked the secretary general of the United Nations to pass a UN resolution that would “prohibit insulting symbols and sanctities of Islam by some fools and misguided, who do not know the value of social peace among peoples and agitate seditions among them.” Tayyeb called for “criminalizing insulting symbols of Islam and other religions” and “punishing those who committed such heinous acts and insulted Prophet Muhammad of Islam,” although he didn’t specify what punishments he had in mind.
Meanwhile, Arab News reported that Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh, the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, “called on the international community to criminalize acts of abusing great prophets and messengers such as Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad.”
The Muslim Brotherhood said that “hurting the feelings of one and a half billion Muslims cannot be tolerated, and the people’s anger and fury for their faith is invariably predictable, often unstoppable,” and declared that “assaults on the sanctities of all heavenly religions” should be rendered illegal.
Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), the 57-government Muslim body that has been pushing for years now at the United Nations for restrictions on the freedom of speech, was in I-told-you-so mode, saying that the violence “demonstrated serious repercussions of abuse of freedom of expression that OIC had consistently been warning against.”
In response to all this, Barack Obama did not reaffirm the importance of the freedom of speech. He did not explain that it is the right to say things that are unwelcome and unpopular that safeguards Western societies against authoritarianism and tyranny. He did not say that in pluralistic societies, we all have to put up with speech that we dislike without resorting to censorship or violence.