DAVID LETTERMAN GETS IT EXACTLY RIGHT
By Adam Turner
Letterman's understandable sentiment provoked a serious reaction from a group of radical Islamists. These Islamists — who themselves frequently express their joy at the murder of Americans — took offense at Letterman celebrating the killings of two mass murderers. In a posting on the Islamist web forum Shumukh al-Islam, they called for Letterman's murder, and encouraged the killer to cut off Letterman's offending tongue. The posting also mistakenly labeled Letterman a "Jew," which to millions of Islamists is the ultimate insult.
To his immense credit, David Letterman did not back down. He and CBS tightened security at the Manhattan theater where they tape the "Late Show," and Letterman increased his own security. Then, rather than buckle under, he made light of the threat in a subsequent appearance on his show. Among other things, he thanked his audience, saying: "You people are more than an audience tonight. You're more like a human shield." He even drew up one of his famous "Top Ten" Lists for the occasion.
David Letterman should be saluted for his courage. He did everything exactly right. Even while taking prudent protective precautions, he refused to apologize for his free speech, or to censor himself. He even went a step further, by returning to the sensitive topic and actually making fun of those who would harm him. Considering how comically challenged Islamists can be, and how bloodthirsty, this took extraordinary courage.
Hopefully, this is the start of a new trend. The past is littered with examples of Westerners — including other comedians — who shied away from expressing their opinions, or apologized in the aftermath, out of fear of Islamist threats. Some of the most prominent examples are:
The Danish Muhammad Cartoons: While Jyllands-Posten had the gumption to post the 12 cartoons of Muhammad in 2005, most other Western newspapers refused to follow the Danish newspaper's lead. They feared that publishing these cartoons would lead to protests and violence across the Muslim world — and in their own offices. Indeed, violent mobs did wreak havoc after the cartoons were published — at least in part at the instigation of one or more Arab governments — resulting in a total of more than 200 deaths throughout the world. Only a handful of American news outlets had the courage to print the cartoons.
Yale University: In August of 2009, Yale University Press published a scholarly book on the Danish cartoon controversy — The Cartoons That Shook the World, by Brandeis University Professor Jytte Klausen. But, after consulting more than two-dozen experts on Islam, terrorism and diplomacy, Yale ordered the offending cartoons excised from the book, for fear they would incite further violence from Muslim extremists. In other words, in an act of cowardly censorship, Yale published a book on the carton controversy, but omitted the cartoons themselves.
South Park: In 2006, and then again in 2010, the satiric television cartoon South Park, drawn by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, aired four episodes that simply depicted Muhammad. Both times, Islamists threatened the artists and Comedy Central personnel with death for "insulting" the religious leader. In response, Comedy Central censored the four "offending" episodes, first just by blocking out the Muhammad depiction, but, later, also by muting much of the speech. Ironically, the censored matter included criticism of censorship and a speech against intimidation, in addition to every use of the name "Muhammad." In 2011, Comedy Central also edited Muhammad out of the DVDs of South Park seasons, including a 2001 depiction that had never before drawn any controversy. To their credit, Parker and Stone opposed Comedy Central's self-censorship.
Molly Norris: In 2010, in response to Comedy Central's self-censorship of South Park, Molly Norris, a cartoonist for the Seattle Weekly, came up with an idea: "Everybody Draw Muhammad Day." The point she wanted to make was that freedom implies the right to criticize and caricature, and that this freedom was now in jeopardy. Soon threatened with death by an al-Qa'ida imam, Norris quickly retracted her proposal — but it was too late. On September 15, 2010, the Seattle Weekly informed its readers:
Penn & Teller: Even the irreverent comedy team of "Penn & Teller" has deliberately decided not to subject Islam to the same ridicule they heap on other religions, especially Christianity, because they're afraid of being attacked. Penn Jillette openly admitted as much in an interview — when he also said that Islam is immune from their jokes because "we have families."
This is not how free speech is supposed to work in a constitutional democratic society. No other religion is protected from being challenged, or even from being verbally attacked.
David Letterman, who also has a family, stood up to Islamists threatening to kill him for his speech. We at the Legal Project recognize that Letterman has far more resources than most to try to protect himself and his family. But even their wealth can't fully protect them from terrorist reprisal. Yet, Letterman did not allow fear to silence him. His example is important, not least because Letterman is so prominent, and this incident is so public. Let's hope he spurs others to follow in his footsteps, so that threats and intimidation do not silence free expression in this country on any topic.
Political Correctness, Censorship, Thought Control:
Supression of Unacceptable Views & Opinions
Personal Rights & Liberties -- Issues Relating to
Individual Rights & Liberties under Natural & Civil Law
American Foreign Policy -- The Middle East
Middle East -- Arabs, Arab States,
& Their Middle Eastern Neighbors
International Politics & World Disorder:
War, Peace, & Geopolitics in the Real World:
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Islamist Terrorist Attacks on the U.S.A.
Osama bin Laden & the Islamist Declaration of War
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Islamist International Terrorism &
U.S. Intelligence Agencies
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Adam Turner serves as Staff Counsel to the Middle East Forum's Legal Project. He is a former counsel to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, where he focused on national security law. His areas of expertise include the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the international law of warfare, foreign sovereign immunity, and U.S. law governing torture. As Committee Counsel, Turner helped pass legislation making it easier for victims of terrorism to sue and collect damages from foreign governments sponsoring terrorism.
Prior to his work on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Turner served as aide to U.S. Senators Arlen Specter and Rick Santorum, both elected from and representing Pennsylvania. Turner holds a Juris Doctor (Law) degree from George Mason University, a Master of Arts in Political Science from American University, and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Pennsylvania State University.
The foregoing article by Adam Turner was originally published in The Daily Caller, October 3, 2011, and can be found on the Internet website maintained by the Middle East Forum, a foreign policy think tank which seeks to define and promote American interests in the Middle East, defining U.S. interests to include fighting radical Islam, working for Palestinian Arab acceptance of the State of Israel, improving the management of U.S. efforts to promote constitutional democracy in the Middle East, reducing America's energy dependence on the Middle East, more robustly asserting U.S. interests vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia, and countering the Iranian threat. (URL: http://www.meforum.org/3061/david-letterman-shumukh-al-islam)
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