2013: The Death of Free Speech

It is February 27, 2013. Barack Obama, having been safely reelected, awakens one morning to news that Muslims in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Egypt, and elsewhere are rioting and storming U.S. embassies, tearing down the American flag and raising the black flag of jihad. They’re in a rage over a book that depicts Muhammad as waging war against his enemies, consummating a marriage with a nine-year-old girl when in his fifties, and raining down curses upon Jews, Christians, and others. A grim-faced Obama immediately takes to the airwaves.

“This book is reprehensible and disgusting,” Obama tells the world, his eyes flashing with indignation. “It does not represent the position of the government of the United States, and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms. This unseemly provocation of the noble believers in the Holy Qur’an has to end. This is America. We are better than this. We are not a people who condone hate. We are a people who offer a welcoming, helping hand to those in need. And it is high time that we afford religious minorities the same protections that we strive so hard to offer to racial minorities.”

The Obama administration quickly drafts a law that would criminalize the “use of any means to broadcast, write, produce, publish or distribute material that encourages or incites terrorism, including a website and public speaking, and of material that incites hatred that is likely to lead to violence against or stigmatization of a specific group.”

The international community is thrilled. European heads of state rush to congratulate and thank Obama. British Prime Minister David Cameron calls him “far-seeing.” Germany’s Angela Merkel says he is “a true statesman.” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte opines that Obama is “richly deserving of his Nobel Peace Prize,” and predicts that a new era of peace will soon dawn between the West and the Islamic world. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), announces that he is “gratified” that the United States has finally recognized the “red lines that cannot be crossed regarding discussion of the holy figures of the world’s great religions.”

The mainstream media is just as happy. Eric Posner writes in Slate that finally Americans have come around to the rest of the world’s point of view, that there is “no sense in the First Amendment” and that we need not be “paralyzed by constitutional symbolism.” Sarah Chayes in the Los Angeles Times hails the new clarity about the “distinction between speech that is simply offensive and speech that is deliberately tailored to put lives and property at immediate risk.” In the Washington Post, Nathan Lean effuses that the U.S. has “recognized the power of our multiculturalism” and will finally “reach our true potential as a nation” now that “the voices of intolerance that wish to divide us along religious lines” have been “drowned out by overwhelming calls for pluralism and co-existence.”

Muslim spokesmen in the U.S. are enthusiastic as well. Haris Tarin of the Muslim Public Affairs Council heralds the imminent demise of the “hate-mongering industry in the United States that sees Islam as the problem.” Imam Husham Al-Husainy of the Karbalaa Islamic Educational Center in Dearborn expresses his satisfaction that the U.S. has finally “put a law not to insult a spiritual leader.” Mohammad Qatanani of the Islamic Center of Passaic County, New Jersey, is likewise pleased that “we, as Americans, have put limits and borders on freedom of speech,” recognizing that non-Muslims “have no right to talk about Muslim holy issues,” as doing so will incite “hatred or war among people.”