I was flipping through the A.M. dial today when I happened upon The Michael Medved show. Medved is the right-wing’s self-appointed protectorate of Judeo-Christian morals and a courageous defender of religiosity. An urban legend holds that Medved was the inspiration for Ned Flanders on The Simpsons cartoon.
The show topic focused on Samina Malik, the “Lyrical Terrorist”, and her trial in England for “possessing records likely to be used for terrorism”. These records consisted of books focusing on the following: terrorism techniques, the use of firearms and heavy weapons, poisons, and hand to hand combat training. The most damning evidence, I am sure, was the book of poetry she kept. In it she expressed her desire to be a martyr, kill kafirs, and contained a detailed how-to method on the proper beheading technique. According to Ms. Malik, “it’s not as messy or as hard as some may think/ It’s all about the flow of the wrist.” Medved was adamant that the “Lyrical Terrorist” should be put away for a long time. His belief seemed to be predicated on the potential danger that Ms. Malik represented, evidenced by the materials found in her home.
Nasty business as anyone can surely see, but one warranting criminal penalty? I have written some fairly heinous things down on paper, including verse 2 of these rap song lyrics, which were found crumpled in the garbage can at my high school. Given that it was a Mormon-run school in Provo, Utah, frail sensitivities were sent into immediate shock prompting a psychological inquiry of the author.
Would any of these possessions, individually or collectively, have warranted a criminal prosecution in this country? I certainly hope not. It seems that the Brits takes an aggregate-effect approach to penalizing speech. I do not condone terrorism, nor do I wish to emasculate law enforcement when it comes to subduing credible threats to the citizenry. That being said, there is a delicate balance between the government’s duties of (1) protecting the individual right to free and uninhibited expression, and (2) the responsibility of shielding its people from domestic or foreign harm.
Certainly there are books on terrorism techniques in the possession of law enforcement, federal agency employees, as well as in the hands of the general public. Books on firearms and heavy weapons can be checked out of of any library in this country (like I did it when I was in elementary school). Books on poisons and hand-to-hand combat are also easy to come by as well – ever heard of the Anarchist Cookbook? If these works aren’t available in a hardback edition, the Google carries a cheaper edition that is more rapidly deployable to your physical locale (also, surprisingly protected by your antiquated First Amendment).
If the books listed above are examples of protected speech, what of the jihadist poetry, and the dangerous influence they may have on those predisposed to religious violence?
A belief may be pernicious — the beliefs of Nazis led to the death of millions, those of the Klan to the repression of millions. A pernicious belief may prevail. Totalitarian governments today rule much of the planet, practicing suppression of billions and spreading dogma that may enslave others. One of the things that separates our society from theirs is our absolute right to propagate opinions that the government finds wrong or even hateful.
American Booksellers Association v. Hudnut, 771 F.2d 323, 328 (7th. Cir. 1985). If thoughts were a crime, I would be doing 3,287 consecutive life terms, followed by a shock-inducing rusty razor castration, and topped with a lengthy Clorox-boarding session administered by none other than the Sith Lord Under Secretary of Civil Liberty Deprivation – Dick Cheney.
Vaguely defined restrictions on free expression, ostensibly designed to protect the citizens from the evil-doers , could pave the way for the suppression of constitutionally protected speech. The current threat, Islamic jihadism, is the functional equivalent of yesterday’s under the bed menace – Communism. For instance, a blog consisting of extreme political opinions, such as those advocating the overthrow of a tyrannical government (does anyone remember laughter?), may result in your Internet provider responding to a National Security Letter (with civil immunity), or its future equivalent. Erotic expression, and other views that may advance a marked deviation from the collectively-accepted viewpoint, could also face future assaults when the majority view is advanced by the long-arm of government power.
Which brings me to Mr. Medved’s willingness to punish those whose opinions and writings do not comport with his police-state world-view. I called his program to challenge him on this point, and surprisingly, I was put on the air within minutes. Unfortunately, the segment was about to break, but I managed to get in a few points. I argued that to punish this woman for having poetry, and some objectionable reading material, was tantamount to criminalizing thought. Unless she took affirmative steps to act on her beliefs, the state had no right to subject her to punishment for expressing her views on paper, or on the Internet.
I reasoned that under U.S. law, speech that advocates violence must rise to a level of imminent lawless action before it can be punishable (i.e., inciting a crowd of Paultard’s to bomb the Federal Reserve while conducting a speech on the front steps). Medved stressed that in her job, at Heathrow airport, she would have access to vulnerable points susceptible to attack (a convenient sidestep from the issue at hand). The host then rattled on with a continual, and well timed, rebuttal barrage, while I unsuccessfully attempted to interject. But of course, it is Medved’s domain, and he has engineered the battlefield to his advantage. Nonetheless, I was happy to put in my dos pesos, as it was the first time that I felt the need to express my views on a radio talk-show.