by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Free speech and artistic and intellectual expression have been controversial Western traditions since the rise of the classical-Greek city-state. When our Founding Fathers introduced guarantees of such freedoms to our new nation, they were never intended to protect thinkers whom we all admire or traditionalists who produce beloved movies like The Sound of Music.
The First Amendment to the Constitution instead was designed to protect the obnoxious, the provocative, the uncouth, and the creepy — on the principle that if the foulmouths can say or express what they wish and the public can put up with it, then everyone else is assured of free speech.
Every time the West has forgotten that fact — from putting on trial cranky Socrates or incendiary Jesus to routinely burning books in the Third Reich — we have come to regret what followed. Censorship, of course, is never branded as extreme and dangerous, but rather as a moderate and helpful means to curb the hate speech of a bald, barefooted crank philosopher who pollutes young minds and introduces wacky and dangerous cults, or a hatemonger who whips innocent people in front of a temple in between his faked and hokey miracles, or traitorous Jews who scribble and call their first-grade art the equivalent of Rembrandt or their perverted sexual fantasies the stuff of Hegel. Banning free expression is never presented as provocative, but always the final act of an aggrieved and understandably provoked society.
Lately, the West in general and America in particular seems to have forgotten the free-speech pillar of Western constitutional government. In 2012 an obscure Egyptian-born videomaker, Nakoula Nakoula, made an amateurish Internet video criticizing Islam. Innocence of Muslims went global and viral. Violent demonstrations in the Islamic world followed. In an effort to placate Muslims, the Obama administration falsely blamed Nakoula’s video for the storming of the American consulate in Benghazi. Leading the Obama pack was the opportunistic secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, who saw in Nakoula a convenient fall guy to explain away U.S. security lapses in Libya. In reality, the killing of Americans there was the preplanned work of an al-Qaeda terrorist affiliate that took advantage of absent-minded U.S. officials.
No matter. President Obama scapegoated Nakoula at the United Nations — a majority of whose members ban free speech as a rule — with pompous promises that the prophet would not be mocked with impunity in the United States of America. Nakoula was suddenly arrested on a minor parole violation and jailed for over a year.
No one seemed to care that the unsavory firebrand Egyptian had a constitutional right while legally resident in America to freely caricature any religion that he chose.