My weekend column profiled Bosch Fawstin, the intrepid cartoonist who won last spring’s “Draw Muhammad” contest that was attacked by two ISIS-inspired jihadists in Garland, Texas. (The terrorists were killed in a shootout with police.) Fawstin compellingly argues that the best way to fight a repulsive conquest ideology such as Islamic supremacism is to expose it. That means an unstinting reliance on our constitutional right to free expression.
Apparently, Twitter has opted to join the campaign to crack down on free expression. And one is left to wonder whether the big Saudi bucks that have come its way are a factor in Twitter’s decision-making.
As I recount in the column, the top agenda item of Islamic supremacists has long been the imposition of sharia blasphemy standards on the West. This campaign is not waged exclusively or even primarily by violent jihadists. Instead, its leading proponents are the Muslim Brotherhood’s network of Islamist activist groups in the West and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (a 57-government bloc of, mainly, majority-Muslim countries).
The West should be fighting these anti-Western Islamic supremacists in defense of our core principles. Instead, the Obama administration — particularly the president and his former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton — has colluded with them. So have other left-leaning governments and institutions that are naturally hostile to free speech and open debate. One prominent result, which I discussed in the column as well as in Islam and Free Speech, is U.N. Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18. This blatantly unconstitutional provision, co-sponsored by Obama, Clinton, and OIC members, calls on all nations to ban speech that could promote mere hostility to Islam. Essentially, this is a codification of sharia, which prohibits all expression that subjects Islam to critical examination.
Twitter has announced new regulations on content communicated via its social-networking service. They are prohibitions on speech similar in effect to Resolution 16/18. As usual, this is shrewdly done under the guise of suppressing “hate” speech. In fact, the regulations cast a much wider net that potentially calls for the suppression of political and educational speech.
Twitter’s policy, called “Hate content, sensitive topics, and violence,” is here. The policy states that it applies to “Twitter Ads,” but goes on to explain that these “paid advertising products” include all “Tweets,” as well as “trends and accounts.”
The policy is then spelled out in question-and-answer form. Here is the relevant part (the italics are mine):
What’s the policy?
Twitter prohibits the promotion of hate content, sensitive topics, and violence globally.
ACM: Note from the get-go: We are not just talking about the incitement of violence here. Twitter is laying the groundwork to regulate discussions of any topics it deems “sensitive.”
What products or services are subject to this policy?
This policy applies, but is not limited, to:
Hate speech or advocacy against an individual, organization or protected group based on race, ethnicity, national origin, color, religion, disability, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, veteran status or other protected status.
ACM: Note that this prohibition expressly goes beyond “hate speech” (which itself is an absurdly subjective term), additionally banning “advocacy against” people or groups based on, among other things, “religion” (as well as “other protected status” — who knows what that means?).
In essence, it is not different from Resolution 16/18’s prohibition of speech that could “incite” mere “hostility” to religion — i.e., anything that could cast Islam in a bad light, regardless of whether it is truthful. If they try to tell you this is just about banning insulting cartoons and patently derogatory statements, don’t buy it. This is about permitting only speech that conforms to the government’s official, smiley-face version of Islam.
Twitter’s list of speech categories to which its suppression policy applies continues:
Violence or threats of violence against people or animals
Glorification of self-harm or related content
Organizations or individuals associated with promoting hate, criminal, or terrorist-related content
ACM: Again, note that Twitter distinguishes “hate” from “terrorist-related content” and seeks to ban both. Remember, it is not just terrorists who engage in “terrorist-related” speech; it is also those of us who write about terrorism and what motivates terrorism. As announced, the policy makes no distinction between ISIS and, say, your humble correspondent.
Before concluding with a ban on “Offensive, vulgar, abusive or obscene content,” the policy also bans “Inflammatory content which is likely to evoke a strong negative reaction or cause harm.” This prohibition continues a dangerous trend: codification of the “heckler’s veto” or the law of the jungle. To the contrary, the First Amendment emphatically rejects the notion that speech obviously not intended to incite violence (indeed, often intended to expose savagery) should be banned simply because uncivilized people might react to it with violence, threats, and other perilous, intimidating behavior.
Twitter elaborates that its suppression policy does not apply to “News and information that calls attention to hate, sensitive topics, or violence, but does not advocate for it.” So does that exemption include commentary on “news and information”? Apparently not. In the next sentence, Twitter provides a separate exemption for “commentary” that is much more narrow: The prohibition does not apply to “commentary about products, services, companies, or brands, including potentially negative commentary.”
The patent implication is that if “commentary” “calls attention to hate, sensitive topics, or violence,” Twitter reserves the right to ban it even if the commentary “does not advocate” hatred, violence, or other offenses to someone’s delicate sensibilities.
The sharia justice system that bin Talal’s family enforces is currently drawing attention due to its mass executions, which include putting to death a prominent Shiite activist, drawing the wrath of rival Iran (another prominent OIC country that imposes sharia law and executes dissenters). For present purposes, though, our focus is blasphemy. The Saudis strictly enforce sharia blasphemy strictures that the OIC — wittingly aided by Obama and Clinton — would thrust on the rest of the world. It is a commonplace for Saudi blasphemy prosecutions to be based on social-media postings on Twitter, Facebook, and the like.
By spreading his fortune around, tens of millions at a clip, Prince bin Talal attracts many admirers in the Western commentariat. He is thus depicted as the tolerant, progressive face of Saudi moderation. The image masks the ugly reality of the royal family and its sharia enforcement. For a more realistic take, and to grasp the perilous specter of Islamic-supremacist influence over Western free-speech standards, here is something worth perusing: last year’s Saudi court ruling that upheld the blasphemy conviction of human-rights activist Raif Badawi. He was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment and a thousand lashes for writing such social-media posts as: “The combination of the sword and the Quran are more dangerous than a nuclear bomb.”
After explaining that “liberalism is parting away from religion according to the Western definition of it,” the court held that Badawi had shown
disparagement of the one who made the Quran and the Sunnah as a guiding light and a law that equates the ruler and the ruled. And based on these thoughts that spread doubt in the fundamentals of the religion and its values, [Badawi] violate[d] the five essentials which sharia came to protect, and spread sedition and conflict among the people in society.
Hence, according to Act 23 of the basic law of governance, which says: “the government protects the Islamic doctrine, applies the laws of the Sharia, and promotes virtue and prevents vice”; and according to Act 11 of the same law, “the Saudi people live based on the tenacity of its individuals to the rope of Allah, and cooperate on righteousness, piety and interdependence among each other, and never be separated” . . .
The statements he confessed to writing . . . contain overall the perverted liberal thought and a call to embrace it and to reject the way of people of goodness and righteousness. It is a call to liberation from the duties of religion and its values, and to disrespect its [tenets].
The convict’s acts are condemned and considered a crime according to sharia and according to our government [law] combatting cybercrime, which says, “any person who commits the following cybercrimes is to be sentenced to serve a maximum of 5 years in prison [and fined:]. . . . Forming whatever affects public order and religious values, and public manners and the privacy of personal life via composing, sending or publishing the compromising material on the cyber web or any other electronic device.”
Yes, what could be better for Twitter than Saudi money and all the progressive enlightenment that comes with it?We must hasten to add that Twitter is a private service. It is not bound by the First Amendment. Unlike the government, it is permitted to suppress speech disseminated through its own system. But that system has millions of users (including me, and most National Review writers). The new Twitter policy is clearly an effort to shape the public’s understanding of what is and is not tolerable speech. The question is: Is Twitter influential enough to have that effect . . . or will its obnoxious policy prompt protests by users that induce Twitter to rethink its course?
— Andrew C. McCarthy is a policy fellow at the National Review Institute. His latest book is Faithless Execution: Building the Political Case for Obama’s Impeachment.