According to the Detroit Free Press, the controversial movie Innocence of Muslims served as the catalyst for the protest. The film denigrates Mohammad, depicting him as a womanizer and a fool. The paper reports “protesters criticized attacks against Islam and its prophet, and also the violent reaction to the film from some Muslims.”
But Detroit News blogger Henry Payne reports that organizers of the march have an agenda beyond protesting the content of the film. They want legislation outlawing anti-Islamic speech. Rally organizer Tarek Baydoun called for “blasphemy laws” that would prevent speech that hurts the “the religious feelings of Muslims.”
Arab-American News publisher Osama Siblani echoed the call for laws against religious hate-speech.
“There is a need for deterrent legal measures against those individuals or groups that want to damage relations between people, spread hate and incite violence,” he said.
The next day, Algeria’s foreign minister Mourad Medelci called for an international ban on hate-speech directed at Islam in a speech before the U.N. General Assembly, and secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation Kmeleddin Ihsanoglu called for a global ban on “offending the character of the Prophet Muhammad,” telling the Associated Press that it should be equated with hate speech.
“We are not saying stop free speech. We are saying stop hate speech,” Ihsanoglu said.
Conservative media in the U.S. picked up on the weekend’s events, using them as further evidence of the danger to America posed by Muslims.
Clearly, people working to outlaw speech they happen to find offensive pose a threat to liberty. But stoking hatred and directing it at an entire religious community, seeking to suppress their religious expression to “protect America” and executing people with drones across the world doesn’t count as a solution. Limiting liberty to protect liberty is like jumping into a pool to get out of the rain. Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
And Americans would do well to remember plenty of other groups seek to limit freedom in the United States. We have religious zealots of many stripes who would impose their “moral values” on the entire population, nanny staters who think they should shield the ignorant masses from self-inflicted harm – by legal force if necessary - and eco-warriors who believe their apocalyptic predictions justify stealing private property.
People who would impose their ideas on others by force fill the world. But they remain relatively harmless as long as they lack a mechanism through which to operate. That’s why we must diligently work to limit centralized government power structures.
Muslims can call for limits on “hate-speech” as they define it all they want, but at long as they don’t possess control of a governmental structure big enough and powerful enough to enforce their will, they cannot actually threaten free-speech rights. If Americans insist on holding the federal government within its enumerated powers, demand that it remains constrained by the Bill of Rights, including the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, and refuse to yield undelegated power to international bodies such as the U.N., Muslim extremists simply count as one of many groups demanding this or that. Let them demand. As long as they cannot seize power and force us to bend to their will, it’s just more noise in a cacophony of political expression.
But many Americans get themselves in trouble because they like centralized power, as long as it works for their particular ends. As a result, they push for more centralized control. A quote spotted on Facebook the other day sums up this mentality.
“I don’t fear big government, just who’s in control of it.”
In other words, big government is fine as long as “my guy” guides the levers.
But nobody can guarantee that “their guy” will forever control those levers. In fact, odds are – he won’t! And then you find yourself in a position where those bent on imposing their will can grab the handle and make it happen. You can’t manipulate centralized government for your own ends and expect the “other guy” not to do the same thing. You can’t build up governmental power to advance your agenda – even a “good” agenda – and then complain when those advancing ideas you oppose try to grab the levers for themselves. What happens when you lose the wrestling match?
All of you who “fear” four more years of Obama, or who “fear” the election of Mitt Romney, ask yourself this question: what would you have to fear if the federal government didn’t wield such overreaching, seemingly limitless power? Doesn’t the real underlying danger lie in a centralized governmental system so powerful that one man can have such a profound impact on over 300 million people?
It’s not just Obama or Romney. We simply cannot trust people – any people – with power. They may do some good, but can just as quickly turn into a merciless tyrant in the blink of an eye. Thomas Jefferson recognized this tendency in human nature.
“What a stupendous, what an incomprehensible machine is man! Who can endure toil, famine, stripes, imprisonment & death itself in vindication of his own liberty, and the next moment … inflict on his fellow men a bondage, one hour of which is fraught with more misery than ages of that which he rose in rebellion to oppose.”
Better to eliminate those power-levers all together.