So long as men are free to criticize, free to dissent, free to present their own ideas without fear of coercive reprisals–the fight for a rational culture has a chance. But the crisis over cartoons of Mohammad threatens to wipe out freedom of speech. Our leaders have shamefully sided with the mobs chanting death threats and torching embassies. Free speech, our leaders say, is not an absolute, its exercise must not offend religious beliefs–it is a right, in other words, that we are not free to exercise. So far, no Western government has declared that anyone, on domestic or foreign soil, who threatens a citizen with death for speaking out will be dealt with by the full force of the government.
If the threats, riots and killings fomented by Islamic states are allowed to proceed–if they are allowed to compel Western thinkers into self-censorship–the first to be silenced will be the critics of Islam. And then the critics of religion. And then everyone else.
Because of the profound default of our governments, it is incumbent on citizens to defend our hard-won rights. We should all demand that our governments staunchly defend our freedom of speech. And every media outlet should publish the cartoons–as an act of defiance against those who claim the right to silence any one of us, as a show of support for those who are brave enough to defy the killers, and as a practical means of defusing the immediate threat, since the killers will have not just a handful but thousands of individuals to behead.
The Ayn Rand Institute is proud to announce a campaign to publish the Danish cartoons and to arrange a series of panel discussions and debates to discuss the vital need to defend free speech.