Free speech frightens the Islamist radicals
As turmoil continued to spread in much of the Middle East Friday, most of it ostensibly due to a poorly produced film with dubious content about the prophet Mohammed, several things were abundantly clear.
✔ Millions of people living in Muslim countries have no basic understanding of the concept of free speech, much less the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
✔ Leaders of Islamist organizations and the heads of most Muslim countries desperately want to maintain that ignorance.
All those folks seen rioting outside U.S. embassies, tearing up American fast-food restaurants or protesting the upcoming visit of the pope can’t imagine a society in which people are free to say what they want — even about religion — or obtain unfiltered information from numerous sources.
And, because they live in countries where speech, printed words, films and broadcasts are all controlled, they cannot fathom the fact that the yet-to-be-released film that has them so upset has no connection whatsoever with the U.S. government. Not only is there no connection, but our government is constitutionally prohibited from interfering with such a film.
But the Islamic radicals who want to control the Middle East and the Muslim dictators who endorse or encourage them are eager to stir up anti-U.S., anti-Western sentiments. It distracts the ignorant masses from the fact that their countries and their radical religious leaders are impoverishing them.
As Boston University professor Hussain Haqqani noted in Friday’s Wall Street Journal, 20 percent of the world’s popuylation lives in the 57 nations that make up the Organization of Islamic Conference. But those countries account for less than 7 percent of the world’s economic production.
They wouldn’t even account for that much if it weren’t for massive oil production in a handful of those countries.
When nations are doing well, providing jobs for their people, along with food, shelter and broad cultural activities, there is little need to inflame the populace about the supposed misdeeds of outsiders. As Haqqani and others have noted, Muslims didn’t regularly riot over perceived insults during the heyday of Islamic power, economic vitality and intellectual thought.
But, when economic systems are failing their people so badly, keeping those people ignorant and enraged at more successful countries is all their leaders have to offer.
That’s why those leaders, both spiritual and political, fear free speech and free expression.
It’s also why — even if the West is again forced to take up conventional arms against Muslim nations — the First Amendment and the technology to distribute unfettered speech may ultimately be the most potent weapon we have against the scourge of radical Islam.