Jacob Sullum

Obama muddied matters further by quoting Mohandas Gandhi's puzzling declaration that "intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit." This statement appears in a 1921 Young India article in which Gandhi chastises "non-cooperating" lawyers for looking down on colleagues who did not join them in protesting British rule by refusing to participate in the legal system. That "arrogant assumption of superiority" was crucially different from violence, and Gandhi's sloppy equation of the two is precisely the sort of confusion that defenders of free speech should be keen to correct.

Rauch explains why in "Kindly Inquisitors." Quoting a law professor's comparison of racial epithets to bullets, he notes the implication: "If you hurt me with words, I reply with bullets, and the exchange is even."

Rauch's book was largely inspired by the tepid Western response to the death decree that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued against Salman Rushdie in 1989 as punishment for the insufficient respect he had shown Muhammad in his novel "The Satanic Verses." Though Khomeini was wrong to call for Rushdie's murder, many commentators said, Rushdie was wrong to be so reckless with Muslim sensitivities.

This pathetic pattern, which was repeated after the manufactured outrage over the Muhammad cartoons published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005, is playing out yet again as American officials ritually reject the "intolerance" embodied in a ridiculous YouTube video, as if they have a duty to condemn cultural artifacts that upset people. As Rushdie himself told New York Times columnist Bill Keller, "it's not for the American government to regret what American citizens do."

That's the appropriate response to people who insist, as an Egyptian protester quoted by the Times did, that "Obama is the president, so he should have to apologize!" No. That is not our president's job. Neither is lecturing us about being nice to people who think trashing a school or burning down a restaurant is an understandable response to hurt feelings.


Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
 
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