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A Bad Week at the UN

Several of the world’s leaders addressed the United Nations this week, and it was a frightening spectacle.

The president of Iran delivered an eschatological rant about the coming return of both Jesus Christ and the Twelfth Imam, called for a new world order organized in opposition to the west, predicted that the Islamist uprising known as the “Arab spring” will spread across the globe, and later told reporters that Israel will eventually be “eliminated.” The newly-installed president of Egypt demanded that freedom of expression be restricted to prevent criticism of Islam, and the president of Yemen echoed the call. Continuing in a disconcertingly similar vein, the president of the United States went so far as to say that “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.”

Obama went on to condemn the destruction of Christian churches and denial of the Holocaust, both of which are all-too-common forms of expression in the Middle East, and he also gave a brief defense of the first amendment to America’s constitution, which he noted is so permissive that it even allows for criticism of himself. Still, there was something unsettling about the specific deference to the prophet of Islam.

Along with some full-throated and harshly worded denunciations of the little-known home movie that the administration continues to blame for the outbreak of deadly rioting at American embassies around the world, the president’s concern for Islam’s reputation is clearly an attempt at placating a lunatic mob. Elsewhere the administration is now conceding the obvious fact that the deadly attack on the vulnerable American embassy in Libya was a long-planned terrorism attack that merely used the movie as a pretext, and the past weeks of thumbs-down reviews of the movie have not stopped the demonstrations, but the president’s faith in the power of appeasement apparently remains strong.

Even if the violence could be quelled by the submissive silence of all Americans, it would not be nearly worth the price. Better men that Barack Obama have fought and died to protect the right to free speech, and more of them stand ready to do the same..

Obama is now careful to tout the American tradition of protecting the right of free expression, but his words will surely ring hollow to the man who made that much-maligned movie, now residing behind bars after the administration found his work “reprehensible and disgusting.” Officially the filmmaker is being held for a violation of his probation on a charge of bank fraud, which reportedly forbade him to post anything on the internet, but the notion that his imprisonment has nothing to do with the administration’s desire to demonstrate its respect for the religious sensibilities of the howling mob is as far-fetched as the notion that numerous spontaneous riots against the months-old movie just happened to break out on the eleventh of September.

The cost of sacrificing free speech to the mobs of the Middle East would especially dear. Those mobs have made clear over the past centuries that anyone who doesn’t believe that Islam is the one true religion, which includes the vast majorty of Americans, is slandering its prophet by saying so. They also regard as slander any statement that takes issue with the misogyny, poverty, disease, illiteracy, technological backwardness, xenophobia, and brutality that prevail wherever the religion has become dominant. One can only hope that futures does indeed belong to those who are willing to take such a stand.

— Bud Norman

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