With CNN’s Candy Crowley shamelessly throwing President Obama a Libya life-preserver at Tuesday night’s debate, the so-called Mohammed video is back in the news. That ought to offend sensible people — and not just because the president, aided and abetted by Ms. Crowley, is lying when he now claims, despite weeks of denials, to have regarded the Benghazi massacre from the first as a pre-planned terrorist attack.
For weeks, Obama and his minions attempted to hoodwink the country into believing that the murders of our ambassador and three other Americans were triggered when Muslim protests over a “movie” virtually no one had seen spontaneously erupted into rioting. In fact, these Americans were killed precisely because Obama’s high-priority policy of embracing Islamists, in Libya and elsewhere, has empowered al-Qaeda and other Muslim militants. The policy’s current implosion, in the presidential campaign’s final days, has made a mockery of Obama’s pretensions about having decimated al-Qaeda — the only part of his record that the president thought it was safe to run on.
The video was the heart of the administration’s initial lie and subsequent cover-up. The assertion that it caused the latest atrocity was always untenable. Now that this causation claim has been blown out of the water, you might think that the video’s relevance has been destroyed along with it. But in a significant way, it has not.
Obama’s emphasis on the video as causation was so demonstratively false that detractors have focused myopically on the lying. This serves short-term political objectives: a president who richly deserves to lose is reeling with the election just 19 days away.
Nevertheless, long-term societal needs are being disserved. Focus on the administration’s serial lies has left unrefuted the obnoxious premise of these lies.
It is as though we have conceded that if the movie had actually triggered protests that led to violence (as Islamist protests are wont to do), responsibility for that violence would lie with the filmmakers. The culprit would be our culture of liberty and reason, not the anti-democratic culture of the Muslim Middle East.
That is dangerous nonsense.
Constitutionally protected speech can never be legitimized as a cause of violence. Period.
The administration has attempted to walk a disgraceful line on this. First, it has worked closely with Islamist governments for four years, endeavoring to carve out of the First Amendment’s carapace the protection of speech that criticizes Islam. Clearly aware that this is a rogue effort, Obama and his minions further suggest that the Constitution limits only what laws government may enact, not any extra-legal methods — what Secretary of State Clinton euphemistically calls “shaming” — by which government pursues ends the Constitution forbids.
We see this raw, bullying power in the speeches and nauseating Pakistani television commercials Obama and Clinton produced to reprove the video at taxpayer expense. These fundamentally betray the federal government’s principal duty to safeguard American liberties against foreign threats. We also see it in the Kafkaesque prosecution and detention of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, alleged producer of the video, on a mere probation violation. “Violations of supervised release,” as they are called in the biz, are numbingly routine. Convicts are rarely re-imprisoned over them absent a truly severe infraction. And even when such infractions occur, there is almost never any rush to adjudicate them — generally, the probationer is given a summons with notice to appear in court on his own recognizance with counsel; he is not arrested in his home by armed police in the middle of the night, as Nakoula was, as if he were a terrorist or a drug lord. That is not responsible law enforcement; it is abuse of power.
Finally, while the administration winks at the Muslim Brotherhood and prostrates itself before Islamist audiences, Obama lamely claims that his detractors are wrong: no, he maintains, he is not really saying that speech critical of Islam justifies violence; just that such speech is wrong and somehow blameworthy. But while there is never a whisper of complaint about the savagery of Islamists who kill — who brazenly declare the right to kill — over trivial slights, the president spares no indignant syllable in condemning free expression. The contrast is stark. Its inevitable effect is to immunize the marauders. This only intensifies the danger to Nakoula (whose movie no one would ever have heard of absent Obama’s promotional campaign) and to Americans who lawfully grapple with a threat over which the administration prefers to slobber — the ideology rooted in Islamic scripture that has led to the killings of thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of people (many of them Muslims) worldwide.
Put aside, if you can, the administration’s banana republic repression tactics. To accept the premise that a video, rather than the malevolent culture of Islamic supremacism, could possibly have caused the murderous attacks in Benghazi is not only to accept sharia’s suffocating blasphemy standards, it is to instill in our culture classical sharia’s noxious caste system in which Muslims, and only Muslims, are licensed to respond violently to criticism of their beliefs and icons. It is to eviscerate our constitutional commitment to equal protection under the law.
The last point would be bad enough — in fact, intolerable — even if Islam were only a religion.
In that case, we would “only” be excusing violent reactions to negative speech about Islamic spiritual principles — the kind of speech all other religious believers are expected to abide without forcible protest. But, as I explain in Spring Fever: The Illusion of Islamic Democracy, the predominant Islam of the Middle East aspires to be far more than a religion.
That form of Islam, Islamic supremacism (or what we call “Islamist” ideology), is a thoroughgoing societal system. It dictates behavior in every aspect of life, including economics, finance, military combat, crime and punishment, legal evidence, social relations, hygiene — in short, the plethora of affairs that in the West are consigned to the judgment of the body politic, outside the control of any creed. Obama’s “no criticism of Islam” standard would thus render unfit for public discussion not only religious tenets but innumerable matters of great public importance. Naturally, the most urgent of these involve national defense, because Islamist ideology fuels the terrorist threat. But it is not just our security that is at stake; it is our capacity to maintain the free flow of ideas a self-governing people must have in order to flourish.
There is nothing new about crass provocation being passed off as art. What is new, and perilous, is the notion that it has become government’s place to condemn free expression, and based not on community standards of decency but on the political tastes of government officials. Government’s only proper role here is to protect the right to provoke. When government’s coercive power is put in the service of the heckler’s veto, when it becomes the “ad hoc nullification machine” by which corrupt officials smother constitutional protections that inconvenience their cronies, then that government is no longer legitimate.
It is not enough to reject Obama’s lies. It is essential to reject the premise of his lies. In our society, we get to say unkind things about icons, just as we get to speak vigorously in their defense. It is for us, the sovereign people, to weigh the merits of these competing claims without government’s meddling thumb on the scale. That is a big part of what makes Western civilization civilized.