The Price of Freedom
Leonard Pitts Jr
They are, perhaps, the most dangerous words ever written:
That, for those who don't know, is the First Amendment to the Constitution of
What makes those words dangerous is that they guarantee a freedom that, in the wrong hands (or even the right hands) can cause upset and outrage, even topple regimes. America confers that kind of power -- freedom of expression, unfettered by government -- equally to the conscientious and the flighty, the modest and the mighty, the noble and the most vile.
We've been arguing about it ever since, from the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, which restricted criticism of the government, to Snyder v. Phelps in 2011, a
As Islamic extremists continue a campaign of anti-American violence over "Innocence of Muslims," a risibly wretched piece of Islamophobic propaganda, it is apparently an article of faith for many in that world that the film represents a U.S. government attack upon Islam.
That's putting it mildly. And that ignorance has become a potentially deadly flashpoint in recent years. It used to be that only a few high-profile, theoretically responsible, individuals had access to the world stage and the ability to affect world events. But with the advent of YouTube,
Small wonder, then, that radio host
He's right. Even if it were possible to put the toothpaste back in the tube as Joyner demands, one has to ask: what next? If extremists on the far side of the world learn the lesson that we will abandon a core principle because they throw tantrums or even commit murder, what does that tell them about us? What might we next be bullied into doing?
There is nothing congenitally "Muslim" about the way some in the
They are not, because Muslim-Americans, like other Americans, know there is a reason you embrace those dangerous words. Namely, that though they give license to outrage, offense and obscenity, they also give license to that which enlightens, ennobles and uplifts. They liberate the worst in us, but also the best, a tradeoff Americans have always found worthwhile. We are now tasked with explaining that to parts of the world where the outrageous can't be said aloud and conformity is required by law.
That will not be easy, especially when Americans have been killed, and standing up for this principle requires you to stand behind a greasy little morsel like "Innocence of Muslims." Worse, we must make that case to those who have no framework to even understand what free expression is. But we have no choice. That is what this moment demands.
It is the price we pay for believing in dangerous words.
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