Glenn Greenwald wrote a depressing article, Those Demanding Free Speech Limits to Fight ISIS Pose a Greater Threat to US Than ISIS. Obviously, we know that the Republicans want to destroy everything that is good about America because they are vewy vewy afwaid. They’re like Private Hudson from Aliens: talking tough, but the moment there is a hint of danger, “Game over, man!” But I had hoped that the Democrats and other reasonable folk would be better. And to a large extent, they have been. They at least don’t wet themselves every time there is an attack. I noted before that Clinton wasn’t exactly great on the subject, Trump, Clinton, and the ISIS Freak Out.
Last month following the ISIS attacks in Paris, Cass Sunstein wrote, Islamic State’s Challenge to Free Speech. He starts off, “The intensifying focus on terrorism, and on Islamic State in particular, poses a fresh challenge to the greatest American contribution to the theory and practice of free speech: the clear and present danger test.” Oh yes! The clear and present danger test, which held that encouraging young men to resist the draft during World War I was a clear and present danger. I’ve always found it interesting that we shroud our authoritarian actions in a cloak legal mumbo jumbo. We should just be honest: we have freedom of speech so long as it doesn’t threaten the power elite.
But now we have Eric Posner, clearly sitting in his own urine while he wrote, ISIS Gives Us No Choice but to Consider Limits on Speech. This is something that truly boggles my mind. When I was growing up during the Cold War, it was just assumed that people in the Soviet Union didn’t have freedom of speech because their leaders were evil and wouldn’t brook any dissent. And that was true! But that wasn’t what the people of the Soviet Union were told.
In the Soviet Union, the people were told that attacking the government was dangerous and that it put everyone’s life in peril. So it’s just depressing to see people like Professor Posner running around explaining that we have to get rid of freedom of speech, but not for authoritarian reasons, but for the good of the people. This is always what authoritarians say. It doesn’t matter how much you disguise it with nice words and legal reasoning. And where would it stop? “Terrorism” is a word that has no meaning outside, “Acts by people who our government has decided are enemies.”
But this is all about… what?! The Islamic State?! That’s the new boogeyman? As a country, we spend almost as much money on the military as the rest of the world combined. Yet some insurgent group half way around the world represents such a threat that we must destroy our most cherished ideals? And really, let’s face it: this is all about San Bernardino. Certainly, 14 people murdered is a tragedy. But if the shooters hadn’t been Muslims, no one would be talking about limiting the First Amendment or shutting down parts of the internet. (Although clearly Eric Posner has a long history of this.)
And then, I learned via Greenwald that the San Bernardino shooters were not radicalized by ISIS. According to PBS, “The FBI revealed in a criminal complaint this week that one of the San Bernardino shooters, the husband, Syed Rizwan Farooq, and an alleged co-conspirator who bought the couple’s assault rifles, were inspired by former al Qaeda leader Anwar Awlaki.” So it wasn’t even about ISIS. But that won’t stop the San Bernardino murders from being used as an excuse to dismantle our rights.
Eric Posner even cites the destruction of the First Amendment during wartime as a positive example. And since we are at war now, well, carve away my friends! The problem is that the United States is now always at war. But what does that matter to the authoritarians who want only to have the kind of free speech that they find acceptable. “You can say anything you want as long as I don’t mind!” It’s pathetic but not surprising. What is surprising is that people would be pushing this over such a minor threat as ISIS.