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Blurred Image: How Even Free Speech’s Defenders Must Defer to Islam

by ANDREW E. HARROD

On March 19, 2013, in Washington, D.C., the Heritage Foundation screened the new film: Silent Conquest:  The End of Freedom of Expression in the West.  A panel discussion by four of the film’s participants, namely Center for Security Policy (CSP) founder Frank Gaffney, the Heritage Foundation’s Steven Groves, Free Press Society president Lars Hedegaard, and Vigilance, Inc.’s Deborah Weiss, followed the film.  Silent Conquest‘s otherwise well-documented and stirring defense of intellectual freedom, however, shocked the four panelists and many audience viewers with one cinematic bow to Islamic sensitivities.  The incident provoked the question of how bad the situation for free speech concerning Islam has become if even freedom’s defenders cannot engage in its forthright validation.

Silent Conquest documents multiple examples of militant Muslims using various legal means both domestically and internationally to suppress criticism and condemnation of Islam.  Appearing along with four panelists in the film are a veritable who’s-who of militant Islam’s opponents in the last years, including Caroline Cox, Nonie Darwish, Mark Durie, Brigitte Gabriel, John Guandolo, Pamela Geller, Lars Hedegaard, Daniel Huff, Zuhdi Jasser, Charles Jacobs, Erza Levant, Clare Lopez, Malcolm Pearson, Daniel Pipes, Fleming Rose, Mark Steyn, Lars Vilks, Allen West, Kurt Westergaard, Geert Wilders, and Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff.  The numerous incidents of speech under assault from defenders of Islam profiled in the film include Pope Benedict XVI’s September 12, 2006 Regensburg address, the South Park Muhammad controversy, and the going into hiding of cartoonist Molly Norris in the face of death threats.

As Groves stated before the screening, Silent Conquest analyzes a “creeping type of censorship” and shows for those who say, “Oh, that can’t happen here” that “it can.”  The Canadian political commentator Steyn in the film similarly speaks of a “soft jihad … chipping away” at Western freedoms that is “at least as devastating as taking out the Twin Towers.”  The end-goal of this jihad described by Islam scholar Pipes is to implement traditional Muslim prohibitions against apostasy and blasphemy in free societies.  Pipes speaks hereby of the “Rushdie Rules,” named after the first notable victim of often violent international Islamic censorship efforts, Salman Rushdie.  This “tyranny of silence” described by the Danish editor Rose appears to the Syrian-American Muslim political activist Jasser as the “beginning of the end of Western Civilization.”….

….One discordant note, though, marred this highly informative and principled event.  During Silent Conquest‘s discussion of the controversial 2005 Danish Muhammad cartoons, the actual cartoons were not visible behind the filmmakers’ technical image blurring.  Informed viewers could not help but immediately think of how possibly violent Muslim opposition to these images prompted Yale University Press to refrain from printing them in precisely a book about their controversy.  Similarly, the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail and other British publications pixelated French Muhammad cartoons in pictures for January 2013 stories on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

The irony of blurred images in a film devoted to free speech was not lost on the panelists.  Expressing “consternation,” Groves noted that the film’s “whole point” was the ability to see things as they are.  Having already seen Silent Conquest with the blurring online and thereby learning of two versions of the film with and without blurring, Groves offered the “speculation” that the producers had made the former for audiences that might take offense at the images.  Groves did not know in advance that the screened version would contain the blurring.

Hedegaard called this blurring a “scandal,” and Gaffney cited the blurring as “evidence of how far down the tubes we are.”  All of the panelists indicated that they did not want this blurred film version to appear again and would withdraw their participation from the project if this demand went unmet.  Such timidity by the film producers in the heart of Weiss’s “last bastion” in the oft-sung “home of the brave” of America ended what would have otherwise been a stirring defense of freedom on a concerned note.

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