What do Comedy Central and Yale University Press have in common? In the Islamist war against free speech, both have been on the front lines. And both have surrendered.
Last week, Comedy Central censored any depiction or even mention of the Prophet Muhammad from an episode of the adult cartoon series "South Park." This capitulation followed a "warning" from a group calling itself "Revolution Muslim" that those responsible would "probably wind up like Theo van Gogh" -- the Dutch filmmaker murdered by a Dutch-Moroccan Muslim for producing "Submission," a documentary about the plight of women in Islamic societies.
Also censored by Comedy Central was a speech about intimidation and fear. Though the speech made no mention of Mohammad, the executives at Comedy Central evidently decided it might offend or anger someone -- perhaps Islamists who make it their business to intimidate and frighten. Kind of comedic when you think about it, no?
Similarly, Yale University Press last year published "The Cartoons That Shook the World," a book on the controversy and violence incited by Islamists in response to the appearance of 12 satirical caricatures of Muhammad in Danish newspapers in 2005. The publishers decided not to include the caricatures in the book about the caricatures. John Donatich, director of Yale University Press, candidly told the New York Times that he didn't want to end up with "blood on my hands."
When it comes to caving in to Islamist pressure, Europeans have been the trendsetters. As far back as 1989, Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for the murder -- by any Muslim willing and able -- of British author Salman Rushdie, whose novel, "The Satanic Verses," Khomeini declared offensive to Islam. The European response to this assault -- not just on a European citizen but also on European values -- was feckless.
And four years ago, the Deutsche Oper cancelled a production of Mozart's "Idomeneo," an opera in which the severed heads of Jesus, Buddha and Muhammad appear onstage. The "moderate" head of Germany's Islamic Council, Ali Kizilkaya, commended the opera house for respecting Muslim sensitivities. That's kind of funny, too, when you think about it.
There are a few voices speaking up. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, this month wrote a letter to John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, expressing his concern over the deletion of "Islamic extremism" -- or any term that might suggest a link between terrorism and either Islam or Islamism -- from the U.S. National Security Strategy.
This omission, Lieberman noted, is only "the most recent in a series of administration statements that refuse to acknowledge that we are engaged in a war with an enemy that has killed thousands of Americans based not on a vague policy of extremism but on a specific and violent ideology of Islamist extremism." Among those statements: the report on the Fort Hood massacre which was carried out by an assailant shouting "Allahu Akhbar" -- Allah is Greatest -- as he shot dead as many American soldiers as he could manage.
A reporter working on the Comedy Central story, asked me whether those who object to material that Muslims might find offensive were not being hypocritical since they do not apply the same standard when it comes to Christians and Jews. His question reveals a common misunderstanding: Groups such as Muslim Revolution are not demanding equality for Islam. They are demanding superior status. They are supremacists: They believe it has been divinely ordained that Islam must dominate; that Sharia, Islamic law, must prevail; that "unbelievers" must submit.
In this way, Islamists are akin to Nazis, who believe that Aryans are the master race; and to Communists, whose goal is to create a "dictatorship of the proletariat" that will lay down the law to the bourgeois and other classes.
"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction," Ronald Reagan warned us. He added: "It must be fought for." Right now, however, the inclination among Western elites is to wave the white flag. How encouraging that must be for Muslim Revolution and similar groups now proliferating around the world.
(Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism. E-mail him at cliff(at)defenddemocracy.org)