WASHINGTON -- Why are conservatives and liberals not united in defending free speech? The estimable Bret Stephens, in his Wall Street Journal column this week, raises the question and suggests conservatives and liberals give the matter some thought.
What has provoked him is the plight of Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who has just been denied entrance to the United Kingdom on the grounds that he is an "undesirable person." What rendered him so is his documentary, "Fitna," which lifts lines from the Quran and cites them as the sacred justification for acts of Islamic terror. Wilders also is being prosecuted for "hate speech" in the Netherlands on account of "Fitna." Supposedly, his documentary offended the religious sensibilities of Muslims, which is enough to get a work of intellectual expression banned in Europe.
Stephens points out that it has been precisely 20 years since Andres Serrano dunked a crucifix in a glass of urine, photographed the sacrilege, and called it art. The National Endowment for the Arts awarded him $15,000 for his creativity. Frankly, I think he might have as profitably applied for a grant at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. In fact, with the Obama administration now in power, I suggest that Serrano give it a try, assuming he has not passed on from some horrible disease.
Stephens also points out that 20 years ago, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini placed a fatwa on the head of celebrated left-wing author Salman Rushdie for his book "The Satanic Verses," which, according to the art critic Khomeini, blasphemed Islam. This was one of the rare instances when the Rev. Khomeini and I were in agreement. I, too, found the book appalling, though I would not issue a fatwa, even if I were certified as an official fatwa installer. A fatwa could get a person killed. I settled on giving Rushdie the J. Gordon Coogler Award for the Worst Book of the Year. Rushdie, who publicly traduced Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, gladly accepted the bodyguards she gave him, though he never showed up for the awards ceremony.