Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Elijah Lovejoy, 2006

I have little patience for the excuse offered on many blogs that the Danish Mohammed cartoons are offensive to Muslims, or that they, in the words of PZ Myers, “perpetuat[e] stereotypes of Muslims as bomb-throwing terrorists.” Somehow, the word stereotype doesn’t seem to have the same impact here. Three embassies attacked, four people killed, protestors in the streets with signs saying "Exterminate those who slander Islam," "Freedom go to Hell" and worse…. And the sensitivity crowd insists that Westerners were in the wrong for publishing cartoons of Mohammed. The fact is that the freedom to publish religiously offensive drawings and writings is absolutely imperative to civilization and progress, not merely out of a totemic respect for a freedom of speech bequeathed to us from our ancestors, but because dogma is a great force for evil in the world, whether that dogma be Christian or Muslim. What the Muslim world—and the West—needs is secular values, and that is being overshadowed by the calls for sensitivity that, among some, originate from a dark hostility to Western civilization, and among others, arise from nothing more than simple, understandable, fear.

In the 1830s, a similar incident rang the bell in the United States about where our freedoms were headed if we did not confront the barbaric practice of slavery. Elijah Lovejoy was moved to publish vigorous attacks on slavery after seeing a slave burned to death at the stake. His writings were, no doubt, offensive to southerners, who cherished their culture as much as the violent protestors of the Islamic world. Those southerners acted, lynching Lovejoy and throwing his press into the river. Doubtless many then, as today, secretly thought Lovejoy deserved his fate, for being so “insensitive” to the southern way of life, which, they thought, was neither better nor worse than any other way of life; that age had its cultural relativists too. But Lovejoy, whose death made him a martyr for the cause of freedom, knew better:

See the danger, and the natural and inevitable result to which the first step here will lead. To-day a public meeting declares that you shall not discuss the subject of Slavery, in any of its bearings, civil or religious. Right or wrong, the press must be silent. To-morrow, another meeting decides that it is against the peace of society, that the principles of Popery shall be discussed, and the edict goes forth to muzzle the press. The next day, it is in a similar manner, declared that not a word must be said against distilleries, dram shops, or drunkenness. And so on to the end of the chapter. The truth is, my fellow-citizens, if you give ground a single inch, there is no stopping place. I deem it, therefore, my duty to take my stand upon the Constitution. Here is firm ground—I feel it to be such. And I do most respectfully, yet decidedly, declare to you my fixed determination to maintain this ground. We have slaves, it is true, but I am not one.