Thursday, May 7, 2015

I May Disagree with What You Say, But I Will Defend to the Death Your Right to Say it....

Growing up in the 1970s and 1980's I saw a lot of envelope-pushing, outrageous behavior as our society redefined itself in the post Christian, post hippie final quarter of the 20th century.  Shows like All in the Family depicted those who were uncomfortable with the liberalization of society as ignorant redneck bigots.  "Archie Bunker" was not merely a character on a TV show--he was the embodiment of small minded, white Protestant Americans who could not face the new realities of a multicultural, pluralistic America.

The resounding theme of all liberal progressives in those days was the defense of free speech, freedom of expression and freedom of or from religion, which was embodied in the popular phrase, "I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."  We were told that pornography, no matter how offensive to some, had to be permitted under the freedom of expression clause of the U.S. Constitution.  All speech, no matter how sordid, insulting, blasphemous, profane or obscene, had to be protected also.  If we draw the line against one set of behaviors, where does it stop?  The same Constitutional protections applied to Hustler's Larry Flynt as to the pastor who prepared his church bulletin every week.  If we stood against Flynt and his magazine, we were really extinguishing our own freedoms.

Today, the world has changed.  It is no less blasphemous, or profane, or obscene, or permissive--in fact, it is more so.  But perhaps because we have allowed all of this bad behavior in the name of free speech, we no longer seem to value the true freedoms given to us by the First Amendment.

I now live in the DFW area and last Sunday night I watched live updates on the local news as the media reported the attack on the cartoonists' contest in Garland, Texas.  I watched as the unmanned robot was sent to investigate the car left behind by the terrorists after they were shot to death by the local police.  I was proud to live in a state--and a city--that clearly knows how to deal with attacks on its citizenry and does so without apology.

To me it seemed so simple--Muslim terrorists attack a free speech event in Garland.  Muslims are killed by local law enforcement.  No civilian casualties (the injured security guard was taken to the hospital and released a few hours later).  Texas One -- Terrorists Zero.  Game over.

That is why I have been so extremely disappointed this week to see so many across the nation, and even across the state, blame last Sunday night's events on Pamela Geller and her organization rather than the two men who traveled here from Phoenix hoping to kill innocent civilians.  Pamela Geller organized an event with a prize for the best cartoon depiction of the prophet Mohammad.  Because this makes Muslims uncomfortable, she invited this attack.  In the wake of the intense groveling by the American media, ISIS has taken credit for this attack and promised many more.  One Muslim cleric suggested that Geller should be tried under Sharia law and executed for disrespecting Mohammad.  Even Franklin Graham, whom I respect and who is normally a staunch defender of freedom, said Geller was in the wrong for being disrespectful about Islam.

Conspicuously missing from this dialog were the voices that used to tell us, "I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."  If there were ever a case where this phrase applied
it is this situation. I personally don't think that drawing caricatures of Mohammad would be the best use of  my time, but I do not have the right to criticize those who choose to do so.  Over the past forty years we have seen vile depictions of Jesus Christ.  No one has stormed any of these art events with automatic weapons threatening to kill the artists or the other participants.  If any professing Christian had done such a thing, they would have been denounced by the secular media and the Christian community. This is America--we may not agree with what you say, but you do have the right to say it.  But now, as Muslims flood this country we are giving up that right to cower to people who practice ancient acts of brutality such as beheading and crucifixion, who believe that their religious laws trump our Constitution and who insist on living in the West while despising Western culture and civilization.    The new mantra seems to be, "I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend your right to say it unless you offend a Muslim who might actually kill me."  It is the same attitude my then eighty-two year old grandmother showed after 9/11 when she said that she did not want the U.S. to go to war in Afghanistan because "if we make them (the terrorists) mad they might really do something to hurt us."

In focusing on Pamela Geller's cartoon contest this week, what was totally lost is that men and women HAVE died to protect her right to put on an event in Garland mocking Mohammad.  From the founding of our country, many men and women have died, first to extend, and then to preserve and protect our First Amendment freedoms.  My grandmother's generation lost an estimated half a million people to stop Hitler and Fascism.  Over 50,000 Americans died in Vietnam.  Most recently in the last ten years we have seen thousands die and many wounded, returning with life-altering injuries, from a war in the Middle East to stop terrorism and protect our rights.  This year Dancing with the Stars features Noah, a young veteran of the Iraq war who returned missing an arm and a leg but who has overcome his injuries to become a motivational speaker, popular personality and now a semifinalist on the ballroom dancing competition.  These stories of loss and death to defend our freedoms are not far in the past in my grandmother's generation--they are part of our generation and our story.  How then can we be so eager to throw away the freedoms that these people have sacrificed so much to protect.

As we look to the future of our country, we need to look to the past.  Our freedoms were bought and paid for in the blood of our soldiers and citizens, and they are more important than the feelings of beliefs of any group.  The disrespect shown in Garland this past week was not to Mohammad, who has been dead and buried for over 1400 years.  It is not to Islam.  Every time that any person says that we need to alter statements or our expressions or our events or our way of life to cater to Muslims, or any other group bent on silencing us, they disrespect the memory of every man and woman who has suffered and died for this country, every father and mother who lost their child to war,  and every brother and sister and husband and wife and fiance who grieved a loved one they would never see again because that person fell defending freedom.  If we allow the terrorists to silence our speech and destroy those freedoms we defame our nation, and our soldiers as we announce through our new found collective cowardice that all of those people died in vain.  That is inexcusable.

Alexandra Swann is the author of No Regrets: How Homeschooling Earned me a Master's Degree at Age Sixteen and several other books. Her novel, The Planner about an out of control, environmentally-driven federal government, is available on Kindle and in paperback. For more information, visit her website at

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