Back in 2005, Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen set the gold standard on defending free speech when, on being approached by perpetually aggrieved Islamic ambassadors hoping for official redress against Jyllands Posten (Cartoon Rage was just kicking in), he refused to hear their plaints, explaining to them and the world that it was not his place, as prime minister, to interfere with free speech in Denmark.
“This is a matter of principle. I will not meet with them [the ambassadors] because it is so crystal clear what principles Danish democracy is built upon that there is no reason to do so...As prime minister, I have no power whatsoever to limit the press – nor do I want such power.”
In other words, as Al Jazeera noted in reporting subsequent Islamic opposition to Rasmussen's eventual nomination to head NATO, the Danish leader had "infuriated some Muslims by speaking out in favour of freedom of speech."
Apparently, he won't make that mistake again. Now NATO honcho, Rasmussen has condemned the proposed burning of Korans at a Florida church as "disrespectful," saying this week at the White House: "I think such actions are in a strong contradiction with all of the values we stand for and fight for. Of course, there is a risk it may also have a negative impact on the security for our troops."
Isn't that exactly what was said about publishing the Danish cartoons?
While burning Korans at a church and caricaturing Mohammed in a newspaper are indeed two different things, the Rasmussen principle should still hold true. It is not the prime minister's place -- or president's, or secretary of state's, or military commander's place -- to limit and in any way discourage lawful speech, cartoons, demonstrations. Would that such a leader would say so, something like:
This is one pastor's response to the 9/11 attacks, which need I remind you, were carried out in accordance with the Islamic teachings on jihad as sacralized in the Koran and other authoritative Islamic texts. It is this pastor's right under the Constitution to express himself thus, and it is certainly not my role, nor the role of anyone else in the government, to try to stop him, or in any other way limit his freedom of expression, so long as it is lawfully expressed. I would ask that our Islamic friends in Pakistan, Indonesia and elsewhere, do their utmost to make their citizens aware of the fact that in the West, in America specifically, citizens have free speech rights that are inviolable, and indeed, form the basis for our Constitutional form of self-government. Even as our government has been engaged in a massive effort since 9/11 against jihad terrorism at home and in the Islamic world, in what has been an often tenuous partnership with Islamic allies, American citizens are understandably skeptical about the fact that the same Islamic ideology that animates our foes also animates our friends.
I suspect that this pastor's demonstration springs in part from this same skepticism. His is a symbolic act that I must remind everyone harms no human being -- which is not something we can say about horrifyingly frequent church burnings, persecutions of apostates, honor killings, attacks on metros and pizzarias and the like that we see go largely unremarked upon inside the Islamic world.
Coming up on this ninth anniversary of 9/11, I must be frank: It becomes particularly difficult to justify massive aid, both militrary and civilian (even including flood relief), to Islamic countries where, nightly, the TV news shows Americans footage of mobs burning American flags and effigies of this pastor and also myself. (Such incinerations, I must add, provoke no threat of violent American retaliation.) Please remember: The United States lost 3,000 citizens on 9/11 to jihad; since then we have seen more than 4,000 brave soldiers fall in Iraq and well over one thousand in Afghanistan, all in the same fight against this same ideology. To date, we have not seen reform within Islam that has in any eliminated, ameliorated or even acknowledged this continued threat. In truth, it strikes me as quite extraordinary that this small church in the Florida hinterlands is the only church whose pastor has chosen to stage this sort of symbolic demonstration. And in truth, as we mark the calamitous events of this week nine years ago, it would not surprise me to see more of the same if the continued reaction in the Islamic world is violence and mayhem coupled with demands for acquiesence and silence on a law-abiding American, well within his rights as a citizen of this Constitutional republic.