The command: “Just stay quiet and you’ll be okay,” dishonestly issued by 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta to the passengers of American Airlines Flight 11, is the title of the opening chapter of Robert Spencer’s 16th book, The Complete Infidel’s Guide to Free Speech (and its Enemies). Atta’s command is a recurring theme, with Spencer noting: “As the global jihad advances, we are told in innumerable ways that if we just stay quiet, we will be okay.”
The book’s premise is that Islamic supremacists have found a powerful ally in the Left, which is “authoritarian, intolerant of dissent, and increasingly intent on demonizing and destroying its opponents rather than engaging them in rational debate.” By essentially enforcing Sharia’s Islamic blasphemy laws, the Left advances its own agenda of suppressing so-called “hate speech” and other undesirable expression. Antifa, BlackLivesMatter, university Brownshirts (including those at Berkeley, the original home of the “Free Speech Movement”) and other actors involved in shutting down speech while crying “racism” at every turn are given a nod.
In tandem with these allies, Islamists use a variety of approaches to pressure, intimidate, threaten, and silence critics of Islam. These include public shaming and isolation, financial harm through boycotts and employment bans, expulsions, social-media suspensions, and various games of good cop/bad cop.
For example, the “Good Cop” of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) appeals to the UN, EU, and U.S., for anti-blasphemy codes, while the “Bad Cop” of violent extremists carries out attacks in retaliation for insulting the religion, with Western politicians, media figures, intellectuals, academics, and sadly, even the Pope, lending a hand with denunciations of those “who slander the Prophet of Islam” (to quote Barack Hussein Obama).
If all else fails, they simply kill the critic, and Western institutions assist by blaming the victims for “provoking” violence (“Don’t say Muslims are intolerant or they’ll kill you”). The examples are too numerous to mention here, but the short list of cartoon riots, Charlie Hebdo, Theo Van Gogh, blaming a Florida preacher for causing deadly riots worldwide by burning one Koran, and blaming an obscure YouTube video for the Islamist attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya, are an appetizer to the larger buffet.
Arguably, Islam itself as a philosophy/political movement is no threat to the West. It’s a retrogressive culture that has little appeal to Westerners. A civilization that lags centuries behind us in every measure of freedom, enlightenment, social and cultural advancement, and innovation, is not about to conquer us, or gain converts en masse. As Ralph Peters has noted:
“Far from taking over the world and making obese Americans stop drooling over internet porn, Islam is pathetically weak, plagued by myriad failures and, especially in the case of Arab Islam, unable to compete successfully in any sphere of organized human endeavor. The Arabs are even flopping at terrorism, which a decade ago, was their sole growth industry: Since 9/11, we’ve been terrorizing the terrorists. The terrorist response? Slaughter their fellow Muslims by the tens of thousands.”
What Spencer shows us, in turn, is the real danger of political Islam; that fear of personalized violence (killing artists/writers who offend Islam), combined with ostracism and economic-ruin campaigns, will lead to censorship and self-censorship to avoid offending Islam, with the list of what “offends” Islam growing longer by the day. The theoretical freedom to “offend” religion will remain, but only Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and other ideologies will be subjected to actual criticism or mockery.
The Obama administration’s agenda of insulating Islam from criticism, under cover of fighting “intolerance” is also detailed. President Obama himself said, “I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.” As Spencer asks, when did advocating for a particular religion become part of the president’s constitutional role, and when did President Obama take a similar interest in fighting negative stereotypes of Judaism or Christianity?
Spencer himself, the director of Jihad Watch (part of the David Horowitz Freedom Center), is regularly accused of “Islamophobia” and bigotry, and Jihad Watch is listed as a “hate group,” among the KKK and Nazis, by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). In the chapter on “The Death of Free Speech in Europe,” he describes how the UK Home Office banned him from entering Great Britain, on the grounds that writing “violent jihad is a tenet of Islam” is “behaving in a way that is not conducive to the public good.”
In the same week that Spencer was banned, the UK Home Secretary approved a visit from a Saudi sheikh who’d openly advocated violent jihad, and subsequently admitted Muslim scholars who supported the killing of blasphemers and advocated murdering gays. So much for “conducive to the public good.”
Social media, which now dominates online communication and interaction for billions worldwide, is one of the worst offenders. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have taken rules aimed at preventing online propagandizing and recruiting by Islamist extremist terror groups, and turned those rules on their heads, punishing instead those who criticize Islam. In Europe, which doesn’t have an equivalent to the First Amendment, “hate speech” can lead to arrest, prosecution, fines, and imprisonment. By adopting and enforcing European Union speech codes, social media platforms subject Americans to European standards of restrictive free speech.
Anyone who’s been blocked from posting on social media for violating their biased “community standards” (this reviewer has been in Zuckerberg’s gulag no fewer than four times) has experienced the campaign to train users in self-censorship. “Just stay quiet and you’ll be okay.”
Spencer’s book is a fast, easy, informative read, well written and well-documented, with 31 pages of footnotes and citations. The chapter headings themselves nicely explain the book’s premises. A few examples: “Now Obviously This is a Country That is Based on Free Speech, but…;” “‘Is That Being Racist?’ Americans Learn Self-Censorship;” “Irresponsibly Provocative;” and “The University Prides Itself on Diversity.” The examples of threats, attacks, warnings, and other offenses against free speech discussed in this review only scratch the surface of the detail Spencer provides.
Despite accusations of “Islamophobia,” the book contains no such thing; there are no hateful or bigoted statements about Muslim people. It’s neither an argument to ban Islam nor to ban Muslims. It’s an argument that the defense of freedom requires standing up to the Left, to Muslim organizations, and to everyone else demanding speech codes, because freedom necessarily includes the freedom to offend, or it’s not really freedom.
The book is essential reading for those concerned about the loss of free speech, because the greatest threat to our freedom is rarely external, but rather from the enemies within, who would take away and surrender freedom in the name of whatever “noble” cause to which they assign a higher value.
“Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction. It is not ours by inheritance; it must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation, for it comes only once to a people. Those who have known freedom and then lost it have never known it again.”
– Ronald Reagan, Inaugural Address, 1967
Author’s Note: The Left’s attempts to criminalize “hate speech” in the name of sparing Muslim feelings has been previously addressed by SFPPR News & Analysis.
Mitchell Baxter is a policy analyst, writer, and attorney. Mr. Baxter is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis of the Conservative-Online-Journalism Center at the Washington-based Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research.