‘Free Speech Is Free Speech Is Free Speech’

by Andrew Stuttaford

Back at the time of the Mohammed cartoon troubles, an article published in the embattled Jyllands-Posten included this phrase: “Ytringsfrihed er ytringsfrihed er ytringsfrihed. Der er intet men.” The translation? “Free speech is free speech is free speech. There is no but.”

The appalling attacks in Benghazi and Cairo only underline the importance of repeating that point again and again and again.

Over at Reason, Matt Welch explains:

My government has no business giving a whirl about “hurt[ing] the religious beliefs of others” (a standard both elastic and asymmetrical, virtually begging for a heckler’s veto) . . . The fact is that the First Amendment, no matter how embattled, protects a range of expression unthinkable even in Western Europe. Because of that unique position, and because the U.S. seems doomed to play an outsized diplomatic and military role in the tumultuous Muslim world, it behooves the State Department to constantly explain the vast differences between state-sanctioned and legally protected speech in the so-called Land of the Free. If the U.S. government really was in the business of “firmly reject[ing]” private free-speech acts that “hurt the religious beliefs of others” there would be no time left over for doing anything else.

It’s really not that hard. The values in that film (or “film”) are not our values; our government respects religion, religious expression, and religious pluralism (including and especially that of Muslims, even in the wake of murderous Muslim-led attacks on American soil); and we are not in the business of approving or (for the most part) regulating the private speech of our citizens. To the extent that that message is not sufficient for rioters, the problem is theirs.

Some liberal Tweeters this morning are pointing out that, hey, the Bush administration condemned the Mohammed cartoons, too!, but this mostly goes to illustrate how bipartisan cravenness can be. We know that this issue will keep coming up; maybe it’s about time the American government, and the rest of us, develop a more American response.