William Katz:  Urgent Agenda

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THE CHILLING EFFECT – AT 8:57 A.M. ET:  The Obama administration, obsessed with the effect that our tradition of free speech might have on dear, brotherly Muslim extremists, is monitoring the world for any violent reaction to the new movie, "Zero Dark Thirty," which depicts the hunt for Osama bin Laden. 

I have no problem with monitoring, but by announcing that we're doing it, we create a chilling effect on American freedom, in effect warning filmmakers and writers that they must be "careful" about what they write.  It is the same kind of message being sent daily on American college campuses, most of which now have so-called "speech codes" that punish speech deemed offensive by some favored group.  The net effect is the classic "chilling effect" on free speech.  I'm afraid that's just the effect the Obamans want.  Free speech has always been a problem for some elements of the real left.  From the Washington Times:

Could the release of “Zero Dark Thirty” provoke violent protests against the U.S. in response to the film’s searing depictions of “enhanced interrogation” — the coercive, super-secret and bitterly debated methods used by the CIA against al Qaeda terrorism suspects?

Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow’s acclaimed docudrama about the pursuit of Osama bin Laden opened Wednesday at five theaters in New York and Los Angeles.

The film, an early Oscar favorite, graphically depicts coercive CIA interrogation techniques, including the waterboarding, domination and psychosexual humiliation of a detainee, who is, variously, collared and leashed like a dog, stuffed into a cramped “confinement box” and stripped naked for questioning in the presence of a female investigator.

Although the portrayal of such treatment given to a prisoner, regardless of his religion, may be deemed offensive by viewers of any faith, the film steers clear of depicting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad or showing the Koran being desecrated — two acts considered blasphemous by many Muslims.

Muslims have expressed outrage in response to the anti-Islam video “Innocence of Muslims,” the unintentional burning of Korans and a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper.

Although “Zero Dark Thirty” doesn’t enter into any of that territory and nothing suggests a similar chain of events will follow the film’s release, a senior defense official said U.S. forces are always on alert.

“I doubt extremist murderers are going to garner much sympathy in the West or in the Muslim world, but we’ll keep an eye on things,” the official said.

“This isn’t exactly the first time this issue has surfaced. It’s been debated for years, and other major Hollywood productions have fictionalized similar themes. It’s important to keep this in perspective. I haven’t seen the movie, but one thing is for sure: It has a happy ending, not just for the United States, but for Muslims around the world targeted by Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda terrorist network.”

COMMENT:  Obviously, we should always strive for good taste.  But I become uneasy when the government, or a university administration, tries to tell us what good taste is.  Many in the West – especially in Europe – are now censoring themselves out of fear of Muslim backlash.  Whose backlash do we fear next?

Free speech requires courage.  We don't need a First Amendment to protect popular speech.  It's there to protect us when people try to shut us down.  The answer to offensive speech is more free speech.

December 21, 2012