Jonah Goldberg gets to the heart of the matter about Islam and the First Amendment

I wish I’d said it this well:

It’s really quite amazing. In Pakistan, Egypt, and the Palestinian territories, Christians are being harassed, brutalized, and even murdered, often with state support, or at least state indulgence. And let’s not even talk about the warm reception Jews receive in much of the Muslim world.

And yet, it seems you can’t turn on National Public Radio or open a newspaper or a highbrow magazine without finding some oh-so-thoughtful meditation on how anti-Islamic speech should be considered the equivalent of shouting “fire” in a movie theater.

It’s an interesting comparison. First, the prohibition on yelling “fire” in a theater only applies to instances where there is no fire. A person who yells “fire” when there is, in fact, a fire is quite likely a hero. I’m not saying that the people ridiculing Mohammed — be they the makers of the Innocence of Muslims trailer or the editors of a French magazine — have truth on their side. But blasphemy is not a question of scientific fact, merely of opinion. And in America we give a very wide legal berth to the airing of such opinions. Loudly declaring “it is my opinion there is a fire in here” is not analogous to declaring “it is my opinion that Mohammed was a blankety-blank.”

You know why? Because Muslims aren’t fire, they’re people. And fire isn’t a sentient entity, it is a force of nature bereft of choice or cognition of any kind. Just as water seeks its own level, fire burns what it can burn. Muslims have free will. If they choose to riot, that’s not the same thing as igniting a fire.

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  • JohnC

    That’s the problem with the ‘Shouting Fire’ analogy. When people use that argument what they are saying, in effect, is that Muslims are no different from fire or any other force of nature. The person making such a statement is equating Muslims with the elements. This line of reasoning absolves Muslims of any responsibility for their actions. As if to say it would be ridiculous for anyone to even expect Muslims to not kill people. After all, it’s not a fires fault your house burns down – it’s the fault of the person who lit the fire. Change the wording a bit and you have – “Hey, it’s not Muslims fault if they kill a bunch of people – it’s the fault of whomever offended them.”
    In other words – “Hurting people’s feelings, especially Muslims, should be as illegal as arson.”

  • Libby

    Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical weekly newspaper, was sued for reprinting the Mohammed cartoons along with a new cartoon by their cartoonist and providing accompanying commentary. Like Goldberg, they did an excellent job of both defending free speech as well as pointing out the hypocrisy of Muslims demanding special treatment over other religions. The trial was covered in an excellent documentary, “It’s Hard Being Loved by Jerks.” Unfortunately, it appears that the documentary has never been made available on DVD, but I recommend watching it if it is ever shown on the Sundance channel again.

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