The Corner

National Security & Defense

Germany Must Choose Between Free Speech and a Foreign Ministry That Acts as Censor

The Post reports:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has cleared the way for the prosecution of German comedian Jan Böhmermann, whose poem mocking Turkey’s president has become the centerpiece of a clash between Germany’s free-speech traditions and the government’s efforts to safeguard its important relations with Turkey.

Let’s stop right there. “A clash between Germany’s free-speech traditions and the government’s efforts to safeguard its important relations with Turkey”?

In a free country, there can be no such “clash.” Nor, when it comes to peaceful political speech, can there be any “balancing acts,” “on-the-one-hands,” or “tradeoffs.” If a nation has a “free-speech tradition” (and I think it’s enormously generous to suggest that Germany does), it does not seek to police satire in the name of “safeguarding” its international relationships — and it certainly does not permit foreign heads of state to initiate domestic court proceedings if and when they feel a bit huffy.

Germany can choose: Does it want to have a “free speech tradition,” or does it want to host a tradition in which the citizenry’s speech is subjugated to the interests of the foreign ministry? It cannot have both, nor can it find a happy medium. This is an all or nothing proposition.

In the meantime, those who fall foul of the law have every moral right to resist arrest, whatever that may involve. Free men do not gain their right to speak from government, and they do not have to submit when government and its friends attempt to take it away.

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