by Bruce S. Thornton
One of the most potent weapons in the jihadist arsenal is the failure of nerve that has afflicted the West for the last forty years. Our own doubts about the core values of Western civilization have hamstrung us in defending these goods against those who want to destroy them. Whether the source of this self-loathing is Marxism, postmodernism, or multicultural noble-savage delusions, our failure to acknowledge the superiority of our own way of life, to teach our children the history of the West and its singular achievements, and to fight against the erosion of those defining beliefs has emboldened the jihadists and confirmed them in their belief that we are decadent and doomed.
In Europe, this pathology has advanced far beyond what we see in the United States, bad as that is. Faced with a sullen, unassimilated, underemployed, welfare-subsidized, and growing population of Muslim immigrants, many Europeans have responded to this challenge with one Munich after another, compromising, if not abandoning outright, core Western beliefs in an attempt to appease an alien culture that has nothing but contempt for the nations that have taken them in. Europe is in the midst of an unprecedented historical experiment: whether a civilization can survive when a critical mass of its own people no longer have faith in the rightness and goodness of their own way of life.
The latest act of suicidal appeasement is unfolding in the Netherlands. To the vicious murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Muslim immigrant, and the craven capitulation to Muslims protesting the innocuous Mohammed cartoons, we can now add the prosecution of Geert Wilders, the Dutch member of parliament, for “inciting hatred and discrimination” against Muslims. His crime? Last year Wilders released online a 17-minute film called Fitna, which juxtaposed images of Islamic terrorism, and sermons advocating terrorism, with the verses from the Koran that sanction violence against unbelievers. Wilders has also been a vocal critic of the Islamization of Dutch society. In other words, Wilders is being prosecuted for telling the truth about Islam in its own words, and for defending his own culture against its enemies.
The political principle that the Dutch court is so eager to discard is one of the most important for liberal democracies: freedom of speech. Indeed, the priceless good of political freedom — the autonomy of citizens who run their state without answering to any other earthly power — from the start depended on free speech. In ancient Athens, where political freedom and participation was extended to the largest numbers of people, the right to run the state was intertwined with the right to speak in the Assembly without fear of state persecution or penalty. And the Athenians recognized early on that respecting this right also meant accepting speech that could be offensive to others. Those of us who think our political discourse is tainted by the “politics of personal destruction” should study ancient Athens, where in the Assembly, in the courts, and on the comic stage speakers had no compunctions about savagely attacking not just the policies but the personal lives, parents, and sordid sexual habits of their political enemies. The Athenians understood that in issues of great political import, when different aims and goods collide, people didn’t have time for politeness, decorum, or consideration of feeling.
In our own country as well, political speech has been remarkably vicious and brutal. Think of those cartoons depicting Abraham Lincoln as the “original gorilla.” But sometime around the Sixties, all this began to change. Certain groups were now to be protected from hurt feelings, even if it was the truth doing the hurting. “Hate speech” laws soon protected ethnic minorities, women, homosexuals, and any “oppressed” victim-of-color from anything that might make them feel bad or wound their self-esteem. Self-censorship gradually developed as an informal monitor of unpleasant speech, as shunning and other forms of disapproval made some people think twice about voicing their opinions. Universities were particularly eager to further this trend, passing and enforcing unconstitutional “speech codes” that subjected students to star-chamber trials and other penalties for engaging in the “free play of the mind on all subjects” that Matthew Arnold saw as the great good of liberal education.
Of course, there is no consistency in this tender regard for hurt feelings. White males, Christians, observant Jews, Israelis, poor Southern whites, and Republicans are still fair game for vicious verbal assaults. Pornography, vulgar music videos, television shows, and juvenile bad art likewise are not restricted just because they might offend somebody. Indeed, just complaining about the vulgarity of popular culture or so-called “art” earns one denunciation as a puritanical philistine whose protests create the ever-dreaded “chilling effect” that in fact is downright tropical compared to the effects of speech codes and internal censorship caused by political correctness.
This inconsistent curtailment of free speech serves an ideological function: to control and limit the speech of those who do not share the progressive dogma that sees America’s sins and crimes as historically unique evils responsible for all the world’s ills. This anti-American ideology explains why those who will denigrate and vilify with gusto their own civilization will censor the truth to protect those, like the jihadists, whose own values scorn all the goods — freedom, tolerance, equality — that these two-bit Western Hamlets proclaim to respect. Free speech, then, is under multiple assaults: from the progressive ideologues who despise the liberal democracy and free-market economy that have made America the dominant world power; and from the therapeutic sentimentalists who believe nothing, not even the truth, is more important than protecting the feelings of America’s alleged victims.
Given these numerous enemies, free speech needs defenders if it is to resist its gradual diminishment. David Horowitz’s campaign for an Academic Bill of Rights, and the efforts of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education are leading the fight to defend the right to free speech in universities and colleges. Now an international organization has been created to coordinate this struggle throughout the West: the International Free Press Society. As put in its policy statement, “It is time to confront and reverse the forces, both internal and external, that are now arrayed against free speech, time to organize not just locally and nationally, but also globally in recognition of the common danger imperiling all free societies. The sole purpose of The International Free Press Society (IFPS) is to defend freedom of expression wherever and by whomever it is threatened.”
One of the IFPS’s current causes is the defense of Geert Wilders. Such support is particularly important for Europe, for there are still many Europeans who recognize the threat to their freedoms represented by creeping Islamization. Public intellectuals like Bart Jan Spruyt, the Dutch journalist and historian who helped create the Edmund Burke Foundation in the Netherlands, and many others take great personal risks to protest publicly against the erosion of their political values at the hands of jihadist fellow-travelers and their European enablers. Americans who likewise are concerned about the decay of our foundational political goods like free speech need to find common cause with these Europeans who refuse to accept that the West — the freest, most prosperous, and most dynamic civilization in history — must give way to the Koran and sharia law.
©2009 Bruce S. Thornton