By Clifford D. May
Rights are like muscles. If not exercised, they atrophy. Freedom of speech, a right guaranteed by the First Amendment, is the most fundamental of rights. Without it, how do you even defend your other rights?
Today, free speech is under assault — in many instances with assault weapons. I have long argued that this trend traces back to 1989 when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of Iran’s Islamic revolution, issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, calling for the assassination of Salman Rushdie, whose novel, “The Satanic Verses,” he considered insulting to Islam. In effect, he was proclaiming that Islamic law as he interpreted it henceforth must be obeyed not just in Iran, and not just by Muslims, but by everyone, everywhere….
…OK, but isn’t there, as CNN’s Alisyn Camerota put it, “a fine line between freedom of speech and being intentionally incendiary and provocative”? No, there is not. As The New York Times used to understand, free speech must include provocative speech, speech by provocateurs, speech by people whose opinions and motives may be offensive, bigoted and even hateful.
There can be no exceptions to protect the sensibilities of those perceived as “marginalized, embattled, and victimized,” nor to mollify Islamic State terrorists — who have issued a communique threatening to “slaughter” Ms. Geller — and such characters as Anjem Choudary, the British Muslim activist who on television last week asserted that by now everyone should understand that drawing Muhammad “carries the death penalty in Islam.” His further implication: Islamic law now applies to everyone everywhere. Obey or die.
Exactly what Ayatollah Khomeini told us after the Islamic Revolution. Should we resist? Or should we give in — hoping that will appease rather than embolden those intent on our destruction? As you consider these alternatives, recall what the Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire taught in the 18th century: “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.”