Defiance is the opposite of submission. When submission is demanded, the only available options are absolute, unambiguous defiance, or some degree of compliance with the demand. Once you’re in compliance, only the degree of submission remains to be debated.
This is particularly true when the demand for submission concerns a core principle, a veritable pillar of civilization, such as the right to free speech. Few Americans understand just how atrophied freedom of speech has become around the world. Rarely do even our staunch allies embrace free speech to the same degree we do. Or, rather, the same degree we did. America’s commitment to free speech has unquestionably wavered over the past few years. We’re growing quite comfortable with the use of force to restrict speech. It’s usually not violent force, but it’s compulsion just the same. When Internet flash mobs can get people fired from their jobs, or cause them to break down and offer tearful public apologies and retractions for the expression of unacceptable ideas, free speech is under attack by tyranny.
It doesn’t matter if the tyrants think themselves righteous. They almost always do. It also doesn’t matter if the tyrants are self-appointed and lack the direct support of government officials. This is commonly misunderstood by those who brush off vigilante speech restrictions by saying, “Well, it’s not censorship or a First Amendment issue if the government isn’t involved.” Does anyone doubt that the Charlie Hebdo massacre was an assault on freedom of speech, an act of censorship, even though the government of France obviously did not sanction the attack?
Free speech is a principle, and no principle of such importance survives for very long unless the people hold it close to their hearts, allowing it to illuminate their decisions as individual citizens. They must reject demands for submission, whether those demands come from politicians or rabble-rousers, terrorists or “activists,” if they wish to remain free and independent. There is a difference between even the liveliest, most passionate argument and a demand for submission. The difference is that you are allowed to disagree with a passionate argument, without facing punitive consequences. Free people do not submit. It is their defining characteristic.
Once free people become comfortable with submission, it is a bargain they never stop making. The marketplace for the sale of freedom never closes. Neither does the black market for dealing in stolen freedom. Every aggressor who seeks submission knows that he might not get it all at once, and that’s okay. He waits eagerly for the first cracks in the armor of freedom, the first small concessions. These concessions are often disguised as stands on principle by the more literate breed of coward. They’ll write extensively about how a particular demand for submission really wasn’t so unreasonable after all, and really we shouldn’t support provocative speech that insults the deeply-held convictions of those who are prone to violence – why, that’s just like shouting “fire” in a crowded theater, and we all know that isn’t protected free speech, right? And anyway, that movie was just a dumb stoner comedy, and those cartoons weren’t very good, and the future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam…
Submission is also concealed through false moral equivalence, including the abject idiocy of comparing murderous terror attacks with the polite objections of non-violent people who feel insulted or profaned in some way. Shortly after the Charlie Hebdo attack, the UK Guardian ran a bizarre piece that started by arguing the ban on depictions of Mohammed is a misunderstanding of Islamic law – which a large number of Muslims, including those willing to do murder over it, apparently don’t understand as well as Western liberals – and moved on to this classic bit of moral equivalence:
Charlie Hebdo, the French magazine whose offices were attacked by gunmen in Paris on Wednesday, has published several controversial cartoons portraying the prophet, some in pornographic poses. Last October, it portrayed the jihadis of Isis as being opposed to Islam by displaying an image of a masked man cutting the throat of his kneeling, turbanned victim, who is saying: “I am the prophet, you brute.”
The killer replies: “Shut your mouth, you infidel.” The cartoon was captioned: “If Muhammad returned …”
Observant Muslims anywhere would be angered by such images. That is especially true of fundamentalist Salafis, who adhere to traditions laid down in 7th-century Arabia, or of the small minority who hold to the jihadi-takfiri world view espoused by Isis and al-Qaida. Their doctrines permit the killing of so-called apostates. But devout Sunni Muslims of all stripes avoid visual depictions of Muhammad or other prophets such as Moses or Abraham.
Islam is not unique. Judaism forbids the use of “graven images” and Christianity has at times frowned on visual representations of sacred figures, allowing only the cross to be depicted in churches.
Can anyone spot the hole in that thinking? Yes, you there in the back of the class? You say Jews and Christians haven’t been running around and murdering people in terrorist attacks because their religious strictures have been offended by non-believers? That does seem like a rather important difference, doesn’t it? Let me phrase it another way: only Islam is actively interested in securing the submission of non-believers to its religious laws. Even a rabbi who writes a fiery op-ed in a newspaper calling on everyone to refrain from throwing graven images around is not seeking submission, but rather attempting persuasion. A Christian church that allows only crosses to be displayed within its walls is enforcing a restriction upon itself. Get back to me when such churches begin killing those who disagree, or blowing up churches that display images of Jesus and the saints.
You get this load of bunkum from cowards who are interested in temporarily masking their act of submission to violent demands. They’ll actually seek praise for their enlightened courage while pretending to endorse universal religious tolerance… but when the spotlight fades and it’s back to business as usual, there’s only one set of religious laws obeyed by newsroom atheists, only one image they will not display, only one group they refuse to insult, only one historical figure they refer to as “The Prophet” (as CNN calls Mohammed in its official guidelines for not displaying the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, although they said they’ll consider allowing wide shots of Parisian crowds, as long as close-ups that would clearly display the forbidden toons are avoided.)
For its part, the Associated Press pumped out billowing clouds of superheated gas about its universal commitment to avoiding provocative images as the reason for banning the Charlie Hebdo cartoons… while simultaneously selling photos of a crucifix submerged in urine, until they were caught out as frauds by incredulous bloggers, and hastily pulled “Piss Christ” off the digital shelves.
USA Today actually ran an op-ed from jihadi cleric Anjem Choudary – who once instructed his flock to think of British welfare payments as a jizya tax on infidels, a “jihad seeker’s allowance” – in which he explained that all this machine-gun and firebomb unpleasantness could be avoided if Western governments would simply censor everything Islamic law finds objectionable:
Within liberal democracies, freedom of expression has curtailments, such as laws against incitement and hatred.
The truth is that Western governments are content to sacrifice liberties and freedoms when being complicit to torture and rendition — or when restricting the freedom of movement of Muslims, under the guise of protecting national security.
So why in this case did the French government allow the magazine Charlie Hebdo to continue to provoke Muslims, thereby placing the sanctity of its citizens at risk?
It is time that the sanctity of a Prophet revered by up to one-quarter of the world’s population was protected.
Sounds like Choudary agrees with Barack Obama that “the future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.” Note that the word “must” conveys an absolute non-negotiable demand. Obama didn’t say the future probably should not belong to people who “slander” a man who has been dead for centuries.
There’s also a bit of opportunism in the Left’s response to Islamist demands for submission. They love the opportunity to drag out favored bogeymen from decades or centuries past – Jerry Falwell, the “Last Temptation of Christ” controversy, thirty-year-old abortion-clinic bombings, the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, whatever – and compare them to murderous Islamist terrorists. If submission comes with an opportunity to score a few cheap political points against hated domestic enemies, it’s much easier for the Left to get on its knees.
That’s exactly where you are right now, if you’re a media organization refusing to run the cartoons that brought slimy killers into the Charlie Hebdo offices, and got French police officers executed in the street, including a casual rifle shot to the head as a terrorist strolled past the still-twitching body of a bullet-riddled cop. If you won’t show the cartoons, you’re not “standing with” Charlie Hebdo, or anyone else. You’re on your knees.
The only acceptable response to fascists like Choudary is absolute and complete defiance. That’s why Barack Obama was so far off-base, with deadly consequences, when he gave that disgusting “future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam” speech. Defiance is what the world needed to hear from the President of the United States, whose First Amendment secures freedom of speech and forbids the State establishment of religion. Your job right now is clear, Media of the Free World: you need to get those Charlie Hebdo cartoons in front of as many eyeballs as possible. Make them among the most familiar images in the world today. Honor those who stood up for free speech and free thought, and were brutally murdered for their defiance.
If you don’t defy conquerors, then you are conquered. It can start small. Those who would conquer mighty nations know that it has to start small. They can be patient and wait for submission to take root, once defiance is no longer on the table.
Let me make it simple for anyone in the left-wing media who still doesn’t get it. Murdered editor Stephane Charbonnier said, “I don’t blame Muslims for not laughing at our drawings. I live under French law. I don’t live under Koranic law.” He’s also famed for saying he would rather die on his feet than live on his knees. Those are expressions of defiance.
This is what submission looks like:
That’s the New York Daily News running a photo of Charbonnier holding up one of the cartoons he was killed over… and blurring out the toon, lest they give offense to his killers.