Burning books is silly but freedom of speech is precious

There is something wrong when 50 people on the margins make the headlines around the planet and threaten world peace for simply exercising their First Amendment Right to freedom of expression.  There is something wrong when they are pressured not to do it because it will spark violence among people who reject our notions of freedom.  There is something fundamentally wrong when we are willing to sacrifice our freedoms for fear of attack from those who don’t like our ‘civilization’.

 Yesterday, a colleague from one of the French islands asked me “What is wrong with Americans?” as if the childish action of 50 people characterize 350 million.  The debate is totally one-sided and freedom is on the defensive.

 When a French Philosophy professor had to go into hiding under police protection in 2008 because he received death threats after an Op Ed in the Le Figaro, another colleague came into the office to complain of the philosopher’s provocation.  The colleague is Muslim.  The Op Ed concerned the Danish drawing of Mohammed and Europe’s surrendering its freedom of speech to Islamic Fundamentalism.  He never voiced support for freedom of speech.

 I told this colleague I would take him much more seriously if he complained, even in a whisper, about attacks against freedom of speech (such as the Danish Mohammed cartoons), about throwing acid in girls’ faces because they go to school, about honor killings and excision (in European countries too), about bombing markets and stoning to death and amputating limbs (Saudi Arabia) or removing eyes (Iran), or beheading reporters and the list goes on.

 This French national of Moroccan descent benefits from all the freedoms won through the centuries in Europe and yet he is willing to sacrifice them to comfort his religion.  I suspect that if he criticized Muslim fanatics, he would feel he is doing a disservice to his brethren.  Otherwise, why is he not voicing his outrage?

Muslims in the US decided to build a center near Ground Zero in New York without first studying how this would be received.  Now that there is large scale protest to the plan, they tell us there will be violence if the Center is not built (Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf ).  However, those protesting the center are not threatening violence.  They are exercising their freedom of expression.

 Of course they have the right to build a center if they own the land and meet zoning rules.  That is not the question.  What is the point is now we must fear violence if we oppose it.

 However, Muslims could not have hurt their cause more than the way they have carried out their Ground Zero campaign.  They would have done better to organize massive Muslim rallies to protest Islamic violence and uphold the American Constitution and reach out to others to support them.

 US flags are burned around the world, including in the US, every day.  I consider this a legitimate form of expression.  I have enough substance that I need not clutch at symbols.  I do not consider killing a Jew or a Christian because they are of the wrong faith a legitimate form of expression.  And I don’t really see in 2010 a worldwide movement to kill Muslims because they are of the wrong faith.

 That Muslims are angry at US behavior and wars and blind support for Israel is understandable.  The Bush – Cheney ‘crusade’ in Iraq was a fiasco meant to make billions for their corporate friends.  Israel’s proposal to give Palestinians only 22% of the Arab land they occupy is an insult. (Self-censorship prevents me from elaborating more on what I think of Israel)

 But Americans have protested more than any other country against its government’s policies and wars.  These protests, a fundamental form of freedom, have made a difference. All the atrocities committed by US troops were revealed to the world by the American press, even given its severe limitations due to corporate cutbacks and editorial agendas.

 Yes, burning books is a silly form of protest but it is not the same thing as banning books.  And if the action of 50 people threatens the Unites States around the world, then there is something wrong with the US and the World.