‘Slander’ and free speech one and the same
October 17, 2012
Who said the following: "The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam."
Iran's Ahmadinejad? Egypt's Morsi? Some little-known, fatwa-flinging cleric increasing the bounty on Salman Rushdie's head?
None of the above. The words are President Obama's, and he spoke them this week to the U.N. General Assembly.
No Big Media outlet reported this stunning pronouncement. It's as if Ronald Reagan addressed the National Association of Evangelicals in 1983 and the media failed to report that he used the phrase "evil empire." To make the comparison more direct, imagine if a Republican president declared that "the future must not belong to those who slander the messiah of Christianity" — or, for that matter, the prophet of Latter-day Saints. We would have heard all about it, and for the rest of our lives.
I can’t think of another instance in which an American president has publicly uttered such a rank betrayal of American principles. And the media censored it!
Of course, the Islam-Christianity comparison isn't a perfect match, given the peculiar definition of "slander" under Islamic law (Shariah). According to such authoritative sources as "Reliance of the Traveller," a standard Sunni law book approved by Cairo's Al-Azhar University, "slander" in Islam includes anything that Muslims perceive to reflect badly on Islam and its prophet, including the truth. In other words, any negative fact about Islam and Muhammad is, under Islamic law, deemed "slander."
Does the president, son of a Muslim father and raised for four years as a Muslim by his stepfather in Indonesia, understand this? Shouldn't someone in the White House press corps bother to ask?
Whether the president is ignorant or knowing, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the Islamic bloc of 56 nations and the Palestinian Authority, certainly understood the Islamic meaning as its representatives sat in the General Assembly. They heard the U.S. president declare that the future "must not belong" to those who analytically or critically approach Muhammad and, by natural extension, Muhammad's totalitarian religious/legal system of governance.
According to this understanding, We the People who prize the First Amendment are out. Those who enforce and follow Shariah are in. I can't think of another instance in which an American president has publicly uttered such a rank betrayal of American principles. And the media censored it!
But, but, but … the president also said the future "must not belong" to those who "target Coptic Christians in Egypt" (no word on Christians "targeted" in other Islamic countries) and "bully women."
First of all, "target" and "bully" are wan verbs to describe the terror, bloodletting and systemic abuse that Christian populations and women suffer at the hands of Islam. More important, though, the violence inherent to religious cleansing and female oppression is in no way comparable to the most critical words or pictures on a page or screen. Such an equivalence is immoral. The president should be ashamed.
But we should be afraid. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last December, the Obama administration has been working with the OIC to "move to implementation" of U.N. Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18, an international law that would criminalize criticism of Islam. Obama's "slander" speech just greases the skids.
But, but, but … the president also said: "The strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression; it is more speech — the voices of tolerance that rally against bigotry and blasphemy, and lift up the values of understanding and mutual respect."
Let's crack that code. "More speech" as a weapon sounds perfectly fine until the president defines it. What does he mean by "voices of tolerance" rallying against "blasphemy"? (Since when does a supposedly secular politician decry "blasphemy"?) Obama's "voices of tolerance" sound like the public pressure-cooker Hillary Clinton described when proposing to enforce the U.N. blasphemy resolution through "some old-fashioned techniques of peer pressure and shaming, so that people don't feel that they have the support to do what we abhor."
Excuse me, but who's "we"? The Obama administration and the Islamic bloc? Are these the progenitors of what President Obama calls "the values of understanding and mutual respect" that must triumph over "hateful speech"?
Clearly, this president is not protecting free speech as our founders guaranteed it, and, in fact, he gravely endangers it. Meanwhile, if I choose to write against child rape as condoned under Islamic law with roots in Muhammad's consummation of a marriage with a 9-year-old — Islamic "slander," for sure — in what way is the "mutual respect" President Obama calls for even conceivable as an antidote?
Here's the secret that blasphemy laws are written to smother: Regarding the fundamentals of freedom of conscience, the autonomy of the individual, protection of children and equality of women, Islamic and Western doctrines have nothing in common and are, in fact, at irreconcilable, dagger's-point odds. Silence — Shariah blasphemy laws — is the Obama-Clinton-OIC Islamic answer. Indeed, in the Shariah-compliant end, silence will replace the questions, too.
But we're already used to it. Don't believe me? Afshin Ellian, an Iranian-born Dutch law professor, poet and columnist, puts it this way: "If you cannot say that Islam is a backward religion and that Muhammad is a criminal, then you are living in an Islamic country, my friend, because there you also cannot say such things. I may say Christ was a homosexual and Mary was a prostitute, but apparently I should stay off of Muhammad."
Diana West is a nationally syndiacted columnist. You can reach West at firstname.lastname@example.org.