It’s understandable why people on both sides are so worked up over the investigations and queries about the attack on the Benghazi embassy, and where the president was, and so forth and so on. But what ought to shock us all is how little attention is being paid even yet to the fact that the Administration not only obviously* manufactured the story that the attack was somehow sparked by a YouTube video, but responded to this supposed cause by tracking down an American-based filmmaker and finding a pretext for throwing him in jail to appease those who were supposedly outraged. Whatever one thinks about the attack on the embassy itself, or the State Department’s or military’s response to it, the true scandal here is that the American government, in blatant violation of the First Amendment and a tradition of free speech that stretches back almost half a millennium, found a political pretext whereby to punish a man who produced a public statement that (allegedly) upset people.
And if the Administration actually did believe the attack had been sparked by that video, that only makes its behavior all the more deplorable.
We in the west are now growing so accustomed to self-censorship and cowardice that, as Mark Steyn notes, we can hardly imagine expressing the bold defiance we expressed only twenty years ago. And it’s not just here. In Britain a few weeks ago, a political candidate was arrested for uttering an offensive speech—i.e., quoting Winston Churchill. But Britain’s protections for free speech have always been less absolute than those provided under our Constitution. The Obama Administration—charged with upholding that Constitution and defending the right of all Americans to utter, publish, and broadcast their opinions no matter how unpopular or offensive—sought instead to defuse a conflict with the Islamic world, not by standing up for free speech, but by tracking down a movie maker and searching for a barely plausible excuse to imprison him. Is there any doubt what this Administration would have done to Rushdie had it been him?
There was a day when liberals would have been the most infuriated by such conduct. They once fought brave battles for the right to express even the most outrageous opinions, no matter what snarling theocrats and reactionary brutes might threaten. But today, they’ve circled the wagons around the Administration to such a degree that they cannot even bring themselves to pretend that they cherish the values of free speech for which they once sacrificed so much.
*-At a reader's suggestion, I've removed my claim that the Innocence of Muslims excuse was obviously counterfeited by the Administration, though I still think it most likely.