Terrorists and terrorism have had a few good weeks recently. The headline story was the release of Abdel Basset al-Megrahi who was serving life sentence for the 1988 bombing of Pam Am Flight 103. The bombing killed all 259 passengers and crew, mostly Americans, and 11 people on the ground in Lockerbie, Scotland. After less than 8-years in jail, Scottish authorities sent him home on "compassionate grounds" because he is dying of cancer. He returned to Libya and a hero's welcome.
As far as the cancer is concerned, we all die in our time; unfortunately for the passengers of Pan Am 103 and others, al-Megrahi decided to speed things up a bit, he did not wait for their time to come, he put their lives on his clock; now he walks free - having seen more years than many of his victims.
Expressing America's outrage President Obama said, "We have been in contact with the Scottish Government indicating that we object to this. We thought it was a mistake." Wow, that ought to send a message. I've heard the president talk tougher to opponents of his healthcare proposal. Picking up your wife's car keys instead of your own is a mistake; freeing terrorist murderers is a betrayal.
In case it slipped the president's mind, 43 U.S. service members died in Afghanistan last month where they are fighting terrorists with al-Megrahi's mind set. What are they to think of the president's recommendation that he be placed under "house arrest"?
It's impossible to believe that the administration was not aware of this planned release in advance. As soon as they got wind of the scheme, our government should have opened a case for U.S. prosecution, pressured Scotland, publically and harshly, if necessary, and demanded custody of this blood-soaked terrorist.
Yet, this outrage - as bad as it was - was the least of recent terrorist victories. The most significant terrorist victory was their ability to revoke freedom of speech at Yale University Press, the publishing arm of Yale University. In a moment of moral cowardice that should serve as their everlasting shame, Yale University Press folded to threats of violence like a cheap suit on a hot summer's day.
Yale University Press was scheduled to publish the scholarly work, "The Cartoons That Shook the World," by Jytte Klausen, professor of politics at Brandeis University. According to Christopher Hitchens, the book "tells the story of the lurid and preplanned campaign of "protest" and boycott that was orchestrated in late 2005 after [a] Danish newspaper… ran a competition for cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. By the time the hysteria had been called off by those who incited it, perhaps as many as 200 people around the world had been pointlessly killed."
Oh, they will publish the book all right, but they are deleting the 12 caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed that originally ignited the controversy. Yale University Press has decided that you may read about these cartoons, but you may not see them - at least not in the edition Yale is publishing. Religious extremism has made its greatest conquest in America in the last 50-years; it has gotten Yale University, the alma mater of Nathan Hale, to gag itself and blindfold its readers.
You know, it often takes guts to exercise your right to freedom of speech - there are always consequences and there are crazies out there of every stripe, but we count on our great institutions to step up and show the way even when the risks are large. Next time you count those great institutions, just leave Yale University off the list.
Marty Richman is a Hollister resident. His column runs Tuesdays. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.