When Florida pastor Terry Jones decided to “send a message” to Muslims by burning a Koran last week, it incited outrage and violence throughout the Arab world. American leaders rightly responded by condemning the senseless and dangerous act. Yet in the end, and despite the pastor’s obvious and irresponsible recklessness, Jones used his free speech and political leaders used theirs. Such is the nature of free expression in a free society.
But one politician’s condemnation of Jones contained a suggested remedy far more dangerous to American freedom than burning the Koran. Said Sen. Lindsey Graham on CBS’ Face the Nation:
Yeah, I wish we could find some way to hold people accountable. Free speech is a great idea, but we’re in a war. During World War II you had limits on what you could say if it would inspire the enemy.
While, almost amusingly, Sen. Graham doesn’t deny that destroying a Koran incites Muslim hatred, he does deny that the destruction to persons and property necessary in any war—via the United States military—does any such thing. For all the talk of radical Islamists simply hating us for our “freedoms,” a narrative Graham has repeated countless times, few who tout this line can explain why, historically, the US had virtually no fear of Islamic terrorists until we began heavily intervening in the Arab world. Was Islam perhaps more enlightened or modern in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s than it is today? Or has our foreign policy in the Middle East changed drastically since that time?
No less an authority than the former head of the CIA’s Bin Laden unit Michael Scheuer notes: “On no other foreign policy issue since the Cold War’s end has the truth been so easy to establish on the basis of hard facts but so hard for Americans to see … that Muslim hatred is motivated by U.S. interventionism more than any other factor.”
But politicians like Graham not only refuse to see how our current foreign policy actually endangers us more than it protects us—he and his pro-war ilk constantly promote more of it. When Iraqi government officials began saying they wanted the US out of their country as soon as possible, 2008 Republican presidential candidate John McCain declared that America might remain in that country for “100 years” if necessary, with an approving Graham by his side. When Afghanistan’s government began asking for the US to withdraw as soon as possible, Graham said America might need to remain in that country in perpetuity. Now that President Obama has started a third Middle Eastern war in Libya, most Republicans either oppose or are highly skeptical of this military action. Not Graham. Even reports that the Libyan rebels might be working with Al-Qaeda don’t seem to faze the Senator one bit in his support for Obama’s new war.
Still, for Graham, support for a hyper-interventionist foreign policy—even if it means indirectly helping Al-Qaeda per the Libyan rebels—is non-negotiable. What is negotiable are Americans’ historic and constitutional freedoms. James Madison once wrote that “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual war” and it’s no coincidence that Graham has little problem with diminishing freedom in the name of perpetual war.
But Graham has always had an authoritarian streak. Remember that in addition to his recent suggestion that we might need to limit free speech, Graham has also been one of the most vocal champions of anti-constitutional measures like “REAL ID,” in which the federal government could keep better tabs on American citizens. Of course Graham was also a strong proponent of the horribly misnamed Patriot Act, which gives the federal government the power to treat Americans as something less than citizens. Destroying Korans is unquestionably stupid. So is destroying the Constitution.