France prepares for a vigorous discussion of free speech with Islam

The government of France announced on Wednesday that it will shut down 20 of its embassies in the Muslim world (which arguably includes sizable portions of France, although I don’t think they’ve been cheeky enough to open “embassies” on their own nominal soil.)

Why?  Because a French magazine called Charlie Hebdo just published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.  This is evidently frowned upon under Islamic law… a point previously made to the magazine’s editorial staff with firebombs, after it published a caricature of Mohammed on the front page last year.

The France 24 news service quotes the plucky editor of Charlie Hebdo, Sephane Charbonnier, saying these cartoons of a naked Mohammed will “shock those who will want to be shocked.”  I’m going to climb out on a limb here and guess there are plenty of people who want to be shocked.

The French government urged the magazine to refrain from publishing these cartoons, using the soft language of first-stage submission.  The government couldn’t find a way to suppress the cartoons, so French officials said that while they respect freedom of expression, they see “no point in such a provocation” and wish “reason to prevail” because “in the current climate” they disapprove of “all excess and call on everyone to behave responsibly.”

In other words, flagrant disobedience of sharia law is extremely unwise, and the government can’t really guarantee your safety if you insist on exercising those “free speech rights.”  The State can’t legally censor you, but violent mobs can.

This kind of thinking is not unheard of in the United States nowadays.  Tim Wu at the liberal New Republic found the end of liberalism lies at the beginning of sharia law, applauding Google for pulling down those offensive “Innocence of Muslims” videos, and proposing a “community-based system” for the more timely imposition of future censorship.  If a video doesn’t clearly violate the terms of service for a website like Google or YouTube, Wu explains, it would become a “hard question” to be argued before a global or regional community forum.

“YouTube users of good standing – those that actually upload videos on a consistent basis – would be allowed to comment, until some kind of rough consensus is reached,” Wu explains.  “Without consensus, the video stays. If this system worked, in the case of ‘Innocence of Muslims,’ someone could have made the case much earlier that the ‘movie’ should be taken down in Muslim countries as ‘hate speech.’ And that just might possibly have just prevented some of what’s happening right now.”

So that’s how you dispose of freedom of speech without feeling all those ugly pangs of guilt and shame!  Congratulate yourself for creating a high-tech global forum where high-minded people can give the appearance of holding a brief debate before concluding that Islamic law really does trump freedom of speech.  I’ll bet they would even congratulate each other for their “bravery” and “tolerance” after each entirely predictable decision was rendered.

Quite a few alleged “liberals” have been floating the idea that the creators of “Innocence of Muslims” should be arrested, and tried as accomplices to murder.  Left-wing radio host Bill Press asked on Friday, “What, if anything, should happen to the people who made this video?  I gotta tell you, I think they are as guilty, that’s my opinion, I think they are as guilty as the terrorists who carried out those attacks against our embassy in Libya.”

Press comically went on to admit he doesn’t really know anything about the filmmakers, then immediately made all sorts of assertions about them, which supposedly justified stripping them of their First Amendment rights: “Look, we don’t know everybody who was involved, but we’ve seen, I’ve seen some of them on television. This is a group of extremist, Muslim-hating, so-called Christians in southern California who are using their religion to stir up hatred against Islam.  They’re basing this on their Christian beliefs.  They are, I believe, every bit as guilty as al Qaeda members who, think about it, who use the Koran and abuse their religion to stir up hatred against the United States.  These so-called Christians, anybody who uses religion to stir up hate, is not a true believer. And certainly Christians who do so are not true Christians.”

And that’s why they don’t deserve First Amendment protection: because only people Bill Press certifies as “true Christians” deserve it.

In both France and the United States, this boils down to a straightforward failure of nerve by self-righteous liberals who love to congratulate themselves for superior wisdom and morality… but are primarily interested in pushing around people who don’t fight back.  Radical Islam – which is not exactly a tiny minority of extremists – has made its position clear: obey sharia law on the matter of respect for their Prophet, or die.  The Left’s enthusiasm for “provocative” free speech withers accordingly.

They’ll probably intensify their outspoken contempt of less violently determined religions (i.e. all of the others) to compensate, so they can puff up their chests and brag about their intellectual courage.  It will be fun, but pointless, if the next aggrieved group of Christians reminds them of everything they’re saying about “Innocence of Muslims” when they protest some movie or TV show that offends their faith.  It won’t get them anywhere, because what this all boils down to is the Western Left’s deployment of complicated language to signal its acceptance of a very simple principle: Islam Is Different.