Selective defenders of free expression

Safeguarding anti-Muslim expression while suppressing and censoring anti-Christian expression.


Glenn Greenwald
September 12, 2007 9:43PM (UTC)

(updated below - Update II - Update III)

According to our country's great warriors, one of the main reasons we wage Glorious War Forever in the Middle East -- not just in Iraq but soon (if Norm Podhoretz's "prayers" are answered) in Iran and maybe Syria and beyond -- is because The Islamofascists pose a threat to Our Freedoms (which Muslims hate). Their hatred for our Freedoms is proven by their attempts to suppress ideas and commentaries which are offensive to their religion, most famously exemplified by the endless, breathless Mohammed Cartoons controversy, and also by things such as this:

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Kathy Griffin's Jesus remark cut from Emmy show

Comic Kathy Griffin's "offensive" remarks about Jesus at the Creative Arts Emmy Awards will be cut from a pre-taped telecast of the show, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences said on Tuesday.

Griffin made the provocative comment on Saturday night as she took the stage of the Shrine Auditorium to collect her Emmy for best reality program for her Bravo channel show "My Life on the D-List."

"A lot of people come up here and thank Jesus for this award. I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus," an exultant Griffin said, holding up her statuette. "Suck it, Jesus. This award is my god now."

Asked about her speech backstage a short time later, an unrepentant Griffin added, "I hope I offended some people. I didn't want to win the Emmy for nothing."

The speech drew fire from a leading Roman Catholic group, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, which condemned Griffin's remarks as "obscene and blasphemous."

Bill Donohue, the Catholic Crusader who led the charge to have this blasphemous commentary censored, is not done yet safeguarding America from offensive "anti-Christian" content, as he railed today:

The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences reacted responsibly to our criticism of Kathy Griffin's verbal assault on 85 percent of the U.S. population. The ball is now in Griffin's court. The self-described "complete militant atheist" needs to make a swift and unequivocal apology to Christians. If she does, she will get this issue behind her. If she does not, she will be remembered as a foul-mouthed bigot for the rest of her life.

National Review is one of our nation's most stalwart and courageous warrior organizations resolutely defending the Nation against the Assault on Freedom by Islamofascism. Its Kathryn Jean Lopez had this to say today:

Thank you, Bill Donahue [Kathryn Jean Lopez]

Wins a victory over Kathy Griffin's mouth.

UPDATE: He's still going for an apology.

One of the few occasions I found myself agreeing with these rabid play-acting anti-Islamic warriors was the controversy over the Mohammed cartoons. It is critically important to safeguard the right to express even those views (rather, especially those views) which are most controversial, and we should battle against an environment in which material offensive to any religion or any group must be suppressed.

For that reason, I was also highly supportive of Joan Walsh's recent decision to publish in Salon several (unfunny) "Opus" cartoons which most publications, including The Washington Post, refused to publish on the ground that they might offend Muslims. The threat is obviously greater when violence and rioting are used as tools to compel censorship of "blasphemous" material, but Catholic League pressure tactics which achieve the same result are also the enemy of free expression.

Nonetheless, as is true for their oh-so-solemn concern for gay and women's rights in Iran and their profound belief in democracy for Iraq, our warmongers' putative opposition to censorship of blasphemous material is completely insincere and selective, nothing more than a venting ground for their anti-Islamic fury and a pretext for their policies of permanent Middle East war. They remain respectfully quiet, if not overtly supportive, when their political comrades use intimidation tactics to force censorship of "anti-Christian" ideas right here in the United States, yet they suddenly parade around as Great Defenders of Free Expression whenever doing so serves their overarching desire to depict Muslims as the Greatest Threat Ever.

To recap:

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Censoring offensive Mohammed cartoons = Existential Threat to our Civilization.

Censoring offensive anti-Christian commentary = Glorious Victory in the Culture War.

UPDATE: And then there is the Leftist Islamo-loving tyranny on our nation's college campuses:

About a week ago, Erwin Chemerinsky, the well-known constitutional law scholar at Duke, signed a contract to be the inaugural Dean of the new law school at the University of California at Irvine.

Yesterday, the Chancellor of the University of Cailfornia at Irvine flew to Durham and fired Chemerinsky, saying that he had not been aware of how Chemerinsky's political views would make him a target for criticism from conservatives.

It is quite amazing that in a purportedly liberal state like California, the Chancellor of a major UC campus has apparently caved into political pressure from conservatives, even though, on the merits, Chemerinsky was a far more prominent scholar than the University had any reason to suppose it would be able to land for a brand new law school.

That incident is highly redolent of the successful campaign by neoconservatives to block what had been a certain offer of tenure by Yale University to Juan Cole, because the neoconservatives found Cole's political views offensive.

Why do Islamofascists hate our Freedoms? Thankfully we have our nation's play-acting warrior class to defend them.

UPDATE II: Obviously, as I indicated, violence-induced suppression is a greater threat than pressure-group-induced suppression. Nonetheless, the dichotomy is not as clean as right-wing defenders suggest.

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No Muslims threatened violence -- or, to my knowledge, even launched protest campaigns -- to demand that the "Opus" cartoons be suppressed, yet right-wing warriors nonetheless cited that incident as an embodiment of the grave threat to liberty posed by radical Islam.

Conversely, suppression of material offensive to Christian groups due to threats of violence is hardly unheard of, nor are acts of Christian terrorism. The same is true of efforts to use government power to disfavor expression on the grounds that it constitutes "anti-Christian blasphemy." Worse, threats of violence -- and violence itself -- against abortion clinics by Christian groups are common.

Whatever it is motivating anti-Muslim warriors, it plainly has nothing to do with some principled devotion to free expression or the claimed need for a society to be free of religiously-motivated violence, since those "principles" are applied in the most transparently selective manner.

UPDATE III: Intimidation-triggered suppression is not confined to Muslims and Christians (h/t Svensker):

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A play featuring the writings of the late American peace activist Rachel Corrie has been silenced --- for the second time. The Canadian theatre company CanStage has announced its canceling plans to present the play "My Name is Rachel Corrie" in Toronto. Corrie was twenty-three years old when she was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza in March 2003.

Earlier this year, the New York Theatre Workshop drew international headlines when it backed out of an agreement to stage the play. The Theatre Workshop cited complaints about the play's criticism of Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories. It appears similar concerns have led to the CanStage decision. In an interview with Variety magazine, CanStage boardmember Jack Rose admitted he had neither read nor seen the play but said: "My view was it would provoke a negative reaction in the Jewish community."

As Philip Weiss wrote in The Nation:

Why is it that the eloquent words of an American radical could not be heard in this country -- not, that is, without what the Workshop had called "contextualizing," framing the play with political discussions, maybe even mounting a companion piece that would somehow "mollify" the Jewish community?

As Amy Goodman reported:

In late February, the theater announced it was indefinitely postponing production of the play due to the current political climate.

The theater's artistic director James Nicola told the Guardian of London: "In our pre-production planning and our talking around and listening in our communities in New York, what we heard was that after Ariel Sharon's illness and the election of Hamas, we had a very edgy situation." Nicola went on to say, "We found that our plan to present a work of art would be seen as us taking a stand in a political conflict, that we didn't want to take."

But the theater has been accused of political censorship. The co-creator of the play, Alan Rickman responded by saying, "This is censorship born out of fear" and that the theater had effectively canceled the play.

Cancellation of that play -- twice -- provoked no outrage from any of our right-wing Free Expression Crusaders. Quite the contrary, many of the loudest pretenders to the mantle of Free Expression Defenders during the Mohammed cartoon controversy were perfectly happy to note the play's cancellation with obvious smugness.

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Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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Washington, D.c.



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