Guest post by Bryan H. Wildenthal
Professor of Law, Thomas Jefferson School of Law
As a liberal who rarely agrees with anything Ross Douthat writes, I must commend his thoughtful column on the South Park Muhammad controversy (April 26). He rightly skewers both the pathetic cowardice of American self-censorship and the thuggish hypocrisy of Muslimextremists like Abu Talhah Al-Amrikee (of RevolutionMuslim.com), who claim not to be issuing death threats against South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, even while warning them that they deserve to die under Islamic law and that indeed they will die by someone’s hand (while fanning the flames of incitement, not to mention engaging in callous gloating over a vicious murder, by posting a photo of the corpse of Theo van Gogh, the Dutch filmmaker fatally stabbed by a Muslim extremist).
Mr. Douthat does not mention, however, an amusing parallel between the extremist bloodthirsty garbage on RevolutionMuslim.com and the often thuggish and violent rhetoric of many self-proclaimed Christian extremists in America. Yes, just like their “Tea Party” brethren across the religious aisle, RevolutionMuslim.com trumpets a picture of President Obama with a Hitler moustache. Clearly, great minds think alike! While the Tea Partiers accuse the President of somehow wanting to murder Grandma by guaranteeing health insurance to millions of Americans, RevolutionMuslim.com complains (with considerably more justification) about his ill-conceived Afghan War policies.
Meanwhile, Mr. Al-Amrikee may be (more likely not) an expert on Islamic law, but I, as a constitutional law professor expert on the American law that actually governs in this jurisdiction, would note that he is mistaken if he thinks a verbal evasion protects him from prosecution for criminal death threats.
A leading case on punishable threats under the First Amendment, Planned Parenthood v. American Coalition of Life Activists (9th Cir. 2002) (concerning threats to abortion providers by rightwing Christian extremists), properly rejects the idea that a threat is protected speech simply because the speaker himself (as opposed to unnamed others) is not identified as the one who will carry out the threatened violence. And while some imminence and likelihood of harm are necessary to punish a speaker for the crime of inciting others to violence, neither is a required element, under the First Amendment, to prove the entirely separate crime of uttering a “true threat.”
That same First Amendment, which emphatically does NOT protect death threats against satirical cartoonists, most certainly DOES protect the cartoons and cartoonists themselves. One can only marvel at the paranoid hypersensitivity of some religious adherents, who evidently think their religion and prophet so fragile and vulnerable that any criticism or satire must be furiously (and violently) stamped out, like a red-faced child in a shrieking tantrum. If Mr. Al-Amrikee wishes to live under his twisted playground-bully version of Islamic law, instead of under the Constitution of the United States, well, hopefully he will find the door and not let it hit him on the way out. Saudi Arabia, which is currently threatening to behead a harmless Lebanese man for “sorcery” (hawking harmless mystical cures on TV), should suit him just fine.
An anonymous blogger has offered a perceptive reply to RevolutionMuslim.com:
Those who advocate lethal power, to punish expression merely offensive to the feelings of some, should be careful what they ask for. What makes them think they will always be on top?
Of course, dimwitted bullies never think of things like that.