Inspiring. More than a million people march through the streets of Paris in defense of free expression and against violence, after Islamo-terrorists murder 17 Frenchmen in cold blood, including 12 staff members of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine that had poked fun at Muslims — along with showing irreverence to most other religions, as well as most people in power.
Leaders from across Europe and the world led a mass of humanity locked arm-in-arm for peace and freedom. Angela Merkel of Germany was there, and the UKs David Cameron; so were Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine; and even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas stood together — separated only by four world leaders standing between them.
President Obama was absent. Which got noticed. Oops.
Yet, maybe its really better that the president wasnt there . . . on two counts.
First, symbolism only goes so far. Making the world a better, safer, freer place is much superior to using symbolism to make it just appear like youre engaged in doing that job.
What the people on those Paris streets were symbolizing, at least the non-world leaders, is a real love of liberty and a serious commitment on their part to defend their rights, which they recognize are under deadly attack. Why dilute that feeling of solidarity with the presence of Mr. Obama?
Second, any good military mind knows that every war is ultimately a battle for hearts and minds. Not just kill counts.
Ronald Reagan was certainly no dove, yet he understood (a whole lot better than his State Department) how powerful and important it was to say to the Soviet leader with the Berlin Wall as backdrop, Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!
People across the globe can see the difference between freedom and tyranny, between ethical behavior and hypocritical self-dealing. And for slow learners, we ought to dramatize the lessons.
Freedom will trump oppression. Which is why our biggest threat remains internal and not external. Government overreaction to terrorism makes our society less free and less just, and even less defensible — militarily and every other way.
The Obama Administrations admittedly unaccountable drone strikes, along with their flippant response to not only due process, but collateral damage, might merely confuse those watching from the Middle East, Africa and Asia — Muslim and non-Muslim alike. Not to mention, the administrations pretense that a video sparked the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, and the fact that the videos creator has been incarcerated, dont provide the First Amendment bona fides some might want.
In short, the Nobel Peace Prize President has squandered the instant credibility much of the world bestowed immediately.
Sadly, France has squandered a healthy dose of credibility as well. I was happily reading the stories in my morning newspaper about public reaction in France — even, as a citizen of the world, a tad proud of the reaction — when I read what I first thought to be great news: French police made 54 arrests.
It wasnt good news. They arrested the wrong folks. The 54 arrested werent terrorists. They were people who had spoken out on social media, siding in some way with the terrorists.
Take the example of French comedian Dieudonné Mbala Mbala. Hes charged with being an apologist for terrorism.
Dieudonné had posted on Facebook that, Tonight, as far as Im concerned, I feel like Charlie Coulibaly. It was a play on the je suis Charlie slogan and Amédy Coulibaly, the Islamic State fan who killed four people at a kosher supermarket.
The comedian now faces a nearly $6,000 fine and up to seven years in prison for his Facebook post. His politics are reprehensible, but Dieudonné made the cogent point: When I speak, you do not try to understand, you do not listen to me. You are looking for a pretext to ban me. You consider me an Amédy Coulibaly, while Im no different from Charlie.
Some of what Dieudonné says and writes is offensive. To many. To me! Same goes for Charlie Hebdo, though. The publications very purpose seems to be walking on and well over that proverbial line.
Other speakers arrested last week after the march for freedom of speech have already been tried and convicted. Yes, thats right. Under special French laws for terrorism-related offenses, the trial can be pretty much on the spot, with the maximum sentence being seven years.
Siding with terrorists? Despicably stupid, yes.
But, no, the answer isnt to throw away the very thing that makes Western societies better, abandoning limited government with constitutional rights to impose a safe police state.
Plus, why not let those who say such stupid, hurtful things speak out to the extent of their equal speech rights. Good law prevents them from forcing us to read their Facebook posts or buy their magazines, but it may be a blessing for us to be able to know who they are.
The last thing we should allow is for the stupid governments of the West to abandon the values we hold dear, such as the right to speak out with unpopular views. And the right to a fair trial. Values for which most people hunger.
Paul Jacob, January 18, 2015
This column first appeared at Townhall.com.