The Corner

So Unsophisticated, That First Amendment

Eric Posner, a professor at the University of Chicago law school frets in Slate:

The universal response in the United States to the uproar over the anti-Muslim video is that the Muslim world will just have to get used to freedom of expression. President Obama said so himself in a speech at the United Nations today, which included both a strong defense of the First Amendment and (“in the alternative,” as lawyers say) and a plea that the United States is helpless anyway when it comes to controlling information. In a world linked by YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, countless videos attacking people’s religions, produced by provocateurs, rabble-rousers, and lunatics, will spread to every corner of the world, as fast as the Internet can blast them, and beyond the power of governments to stop them. Muslims need to grow a thick skin, the thinking goes, as believers in the West have done over the centuries. Perhaps they will even learn what it means to live in a free society, and adopt something like the First Amendment in their own countries.

But there is another possible response. This is that Americans need to learn that the rest of the world—and not just Muslims—see no sense in the First Amendment. Even other Western nations take a more circumspect position on freedom of expression than we do, realizing that often free speech must yield to other values and the need for order.

Where to start?

Well, the piece is worth reading as an interesting justification for a more, uh, flexible approach to free speech. It’s not the first, and it will not be the last.

But it misses a key point: the best (perhaps the only) way that two starkly opposed belief systems can coexist (more or less) peacefully is by mutual acceptance of the fact that neither is likely to be susceptible to change. Recognize that, and, however unwillingly, live and let live has a chance.

In the meantime, Professor Posner should understand that any concessions by the US over free speech will just feed the Islamists’ demand for more (check out how those “circumspect” Europeans have fared). There is no middle ground. And there can be none.


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