Ten years ago most left-thinking liberals were constantly worried about the erosion of civil liberties under the War on Terror though they could rarely name an instance where an American citizen had actually experienced such an erosion.
This was after all before the days when naked scanners and drone strikes had entered the vocabulary and the best they could do was to haul out Jose Padilla, aka Abdullah al-Muhajir, ACLU’s choirboy of the month, a Brooklyn-born convert to Islam who was being held in jail for no reason at all except aiding terrorists and plotting to build a dirty bomb.
Ten years later the lefty civil liberties types were proven right. The War on Terror did erode our civil liberties and America’s first political prisoner in generations has spent a month in jail for making an inconvenient movie at an inconvenient time.
When Charles Woods, the father of Tyrone Woods, one of the Navy SEALS who died fighting in Benghazi, met with Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State assured him that, “We’re going to have that person arrested and prosecuted that did the video.” And they got him, officially on charges of violating parole, unofficially on charges of violently offending violent Muslims.
The woman whose policy had overthrown the Libyan government and then placed a barely defended consulate in the middle of a city of Jihadists, did not promise the grieving father that his son’s killers would pay. She promised him that the man who offended his son’s killers would pay. Not only would his son be the first casualty of that appeasement policy, but the Constitution that his son had sworn to support and defend would be the second casualty.
Mark Basseley Youssef is not the first filmmaker sent to prison by a Democrat in the White House for making the wrong kind of movie and interfering with his foreign policy. That would be Robert Goldstein who made the The Spirit of ’76, a movie about the American Revolution, at a time when Woodrow Wilson was trying to get Americans deeper into World War I.
Wilson’s Justice Department directed Chicago Police Deputy Superintendent Metellus Lucullus Cicero Funkhouser to confiscate The Spirit of ’76 and Goldstein spent three years in prison and eventually died in a Nazi concentration camp. Both Youssef and Goldstein made two bad movies that were politically inconvenient. The Spirit of ’76 was not welcome in 1917 and the origin of Muslim violence is not an appropriate topic for 2012. “History is history and fact is fact”, Judge Bledsoe conceded and went ahead with his ruling anyway.
Goldstein’s Federal trial took place in the Southern District of California. Mark Basseley Youssef’s trial will take place in the Central District of California. Goldstein was convicted of creating a movie was calculated to arouse antagonism and enmity. That is the unofficial charge that has been brought against Youssef. Goldstein was convicted of reminding Americans of the origin of their country and Youssef is guilty of reminding them of the origin of Islam.
The strange confluence of using Chicago politics and California Federal courtrooms to cover up the nakedness of a progressive president’s policies has a certain resonance less than one hundred years later. Youssef and his video trailer made a convenient scapegoat so that progressive politicians could avoid talking about the collapse of Libya into roving bands of Islamist militias and the triumph of Al Qaeda in North Africa.
After Obama had denounced Youssef in every forum from 60 Minutes to the United Nations to Pakistani TV, he was arrested, not to protect the Innocence of Muslims, but to protect the Innocence of Obama.
Blaming the Innocence of Muslims briefly silenced the more dangerous questions about what had gone wrong in Benghazi and the even more dangerous questions about what had gone wrong with the Arab Spring. Youssef, like Goldstein, was a foreigner, and an excellent choice as a scapegoat. And for weeks people focused on Youssef and his many aliases, and not on the question of why Americans died in Benghazi.
Americans died in Benghazi for the same reason that American hostages had been taken in Iran and for the same reason that Leon Klinghoffer had been murdered on the Achille Lauro and US Marines had died in Beirut. They died because their government had appeased Muslims, had given their terrorist groups hope that they could achieve their aims if they killed enough people, had saved them at the moment of their greatest weakness and had elevated them to power.
The innocence of Obama is intertwined with the innocence of Muslims. If Muslims are innocent of terror, then so is the foreign policy that has empowered them. But if Muslims are guilty of terror then the politicians who have pandered to them are guilty of enabling it at the least. If Muslims are innocent of terror, then Obama is innocent of complicity in their terror. But if Muslim terror is a true thing, then the man who helped them unleash it by toppling stable governments and replacing them with Islamist movements and militias shares in their guilt.
Censorship is only truly necessary when censoring the guilt of governments and protecting their policies. And the censorship of the War on Terror is not the censorship of dissent from the policy of fighting terrorists. Such dissent can be found in every newspaper editorial office and in the offices of every third Northeastern Congressman. It is the dissent from the policy of fighting the symptoms of terror, rather than the roots of terror, from the policy of not fighting Islamic terrorism, that is censored and punished, that is a firing offense and a locking away offense.
In the age of terror, the dangerous ones are not those who denounce the war, but those who denounce the lack of a war, who upset the balance of an inept policy that seeks a small controllable conflict by closing our eyes to the larger threat. It is these dangerous ones who must be censored so that we may go on safely losing our nation building wars, bringing home coffins, Korans and refugees without ever questioning whether this should be so.
The War on Terror has not impeded the civil liberties of those who oppose the war, but of those who oppose the terror.
In 1919, the same year that Goldstein’s appeal was being heard, the Supreme Court ruled on Schenck v. United States. The case is obscure, but it has given us a famous phrase from the legal mouth of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theater.”
This timeless phrase, long since legally discredited, came to life when Muslims began burning embassies while the White House claimed that the fault lay not in its foreign policy, which had overturned allies and replaced them with murderous Islamists, but with a movie. Pundits dug up Schenck and began penning essays suggesting that offending a Muslim should be as illegal as shouting fire in a crowded mosque.
Under the new civil liberties, the right of a Muslim to praise terrorists, upload videos promoting terrorism and even funding terrorist charities would be sacrosanct under the Bill of Rights. But make a movie mocking Mohammed and suddenly the Bill of Rights won’t be returning your phone calls as you are being frog-marched to your new cell.
In civil liberties circles it is claimed that the war against terrorism has deprived Muslims of their civil rights, but in reality Muslims have gained rights, while we have lost them. The balance between the civil rights of Americans and the need to avoid offending Muslims has been shifting their way and we all pay the price when we fly and soon enough we will begin paying it when we talk.
America’s first political prisoner in generations is under arrest for offending Muslims and as a cover for the failed policy of appeasing Muslims. If history is any guide, then he will not be the last. The more bombs go off, the more buildings burn and the more questions are asked, the more Youssefs will be needed to deflect those questions and protect the innocence of Muslims and of their political panderers.
“The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theater,” Holmes said, and modern day Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer has suggested that burning a Koran may be considered a modern day version of the same thing. But what if a man isn’t falsely shouting fire, what if there really is a fire? And what if the theater management has him dragged away for causing a panic even while the smell of charred flesh rises into the air and the red curtains around the screen begin to burn?
And what if after all the bodies are carried out on stretchers, the man is still brought to trial for shouting fire in a crowded theater, and in his defense he points to the burnt ruins of the theater as proof that there really was a fire, only to be told that if he hadn’t shouted, then there would have been no fire. “There was only a fire because people panicked,” he is told, “and there was only a panic because you shouted. The thing to do was to remain in your seat and wait until the proper authorities had told you there was a fire. And if the authorities had determined that there was no fire, then it was your duty to remain in your seat and burn.”
Shout that Islam is violent and Muslims carry out violence and the fire marshal in charge of the tiny minority of fires arrives to inform you that if you had not shouted, they would not have turned violent. Whatever example of Muslim self-starting violence you may dig up, the fire marshal will find some first cause for it that began the violence, some offense committed by non-Muslims against Muslims, even if it was a shoving match a thousand years ago in Spain that started the whole thing.
The more fires break out, the more the fire marshal insists that fires do not begin unless someone notices them beginning and warns other people. The more people die, the more the moral authority of the fire marshal depends on perpetuating this lie that fires are fueled by the human voice. And instead of a fire department, there is a department of silencing people who warn that a fire has broken out.
This is the sad situation of our War on Terror, a war which is waged to convince Americans that there is no such thing as Muslim terrorism and to convince Muslims that they should stop being terrorists.
The more people die of Muslim violence, the more the principle of the innocence of Muslims must be upheld, because it is no longer just the innocence of Muslims that is at stake, but the innocence of the political establishment that has looked away while the fires burned. And a political establishment determined to protect its innocence will go to any length, and political prisoners are the least of it.
After the Arab Spring and the Libyan War, it has become impossible to untangle the guilt of Obama from the guilt of Islamists. That is the dirty secret that the fire marshals of the establishment are determined to protect. The cover-up of Islam’s conduct has become their cover-up of their own conduct as well. So long as Islam can claim innocence, they can claim innocence as well, and those who challenge the innocence of Muslims and by extension the innocence of the political establishment will become the first political prisoners.
/Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam. He blogs at Sultan Knish.