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.”

A few roadblocks still remain on the road to peace. Some radio hosts object, but local stations drop their programs for fear of losing their advertisers and FCC licenses. A teary-eyed House Minority Leader John Boehner says at a press conference: “Look, I agree with the president that the Muhammad book is reprehensible and disgusting, and I don’t condone hate speech in any way, shape, or form, but I am concerned about the First Amendment implications of this new bill.” After a firestorm in the press, however, charging that Boehner and the Republicans favor hate speech and are sowing division among people, Boehner backs down and agrees to support the bill. A Supreme Court challenge is quickly defeated when Justices Sotomayor, Kagan, and Sunstein lead a 6-3 majority vote in favor of the proposition that “hate speech” is not entitled to First Amendment protections and can lawfully be subject to restrictions.


The change is immediate. Books critical of Islam and Muhammad disappear from the shelves. Websites tracking jihad terror activity are shut down, and, after vowing to continue to call attention to Islamization and the spread of Sharia in the West, a few bloggers are quietly imprisoned. The mainstream media is unperturbed – these people were, after all, purveyors of “hate speech.”

But when Washington Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli is taken into custody over a story reporting on new statements calling for jihad by the Taliban’s Mullah Omar, Post publisher Katharine Weymouth is outraged. “The story,” she writes in a front-page Post editorial, “was merely reporting on Mullah Omar’s words. If there was any incitement to hatred, it was on the part of Omar, not the Post.” White House press secretary Jay Carney, however, explains: “The president feels that this kind of reporting can tend to stigmatize and increase suspicion of the Muslim community in the United States. The Post, and the rest of the media, has to learn to be more inclusive.”

The media quickly learns to abide by the new rules. Jihad terror attacks in Thailand, Nigeria, and Chechnya go unreported in the U.S., or are noted in carefully circumspect terms in news articles that speak in warmly positive terms about Islam and Muslims and explain that their struggle against non-Muslim oppression is justified in each particular case. Muslim groups in the U.S. begin to demand restrictions on women’s rights, calling for women to cover their heads in public as a gesture of modesty and defending those who brutalize women who venture out with heads uncovered as merely overzealous for a return to much-needed moral standards. When feminists complain, they are reminded that some of their leading lights, such as Naomi Wolf, have defended the hijab and denounced opposition to it as “Islamophobic.” On the grounds that they’re promoting “Islamophobia,” feminists who speak out against the forced head coverings and brutalization are swiftly arrested and prosecuted.


Other Sharia demands follow. Pork and alcohol products disappear from grocery shelves. New laws are enacted that restrict the movements, educational opportunities, and employment opportunities of women. All the new laws are sold as preventing hatred against Muslims. No one dares speak out.

Of course, this is a hysterical, nightmare scenario. It could never, ever happen in the United States. We will never enact hate speech laws, and if we did, they would never be abused in this way. Right?


Thumbnail image courtesy shutterstock / Mayovskyy Andrew


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