Free Speech

“End of discussion” won’t occur if Centennial Institute can help it

As chairman of the annual Western Conservative Summit, I was pleased to invite back for this year's edition our longtime friends and political allies, Mary Katharine Ham and Guy Benson, to talk about their important new book, End of Discussion: How the Left’s Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free. Both have spoken at several previous Summits, and Guy has road-tripped to places like Grand Junction CO and Scottsdale AZ on behalf of the Institute’s freedom message. Why the invitation? Because I see timeliness and urgency in Ham and Benson’s defense of the American ideal of open, spirited, civil debate in the public square, and in their case studies of assaults on that ideal by progressives. Their book valuably reinforces our mission at Centennial Institute, as Colorado Christian University’s think tank, to equip citizens "to be seekers of truth [and] to debunk spent ideas” (quoting from the CCU Strategic Objectives).

It is precisely for that reason, because America needs better citizenship and lots of it, that any good citizen with a thoughtful message is always welcome on our speaker platform. We’ve had Marxists, Darwinists, Freudians, Muslims, Jews, atheists, and gays, not in most cases to present a worldview we reject, but to further the discussion on great issues of the day, worldview aside. That open forum, all comers given a hearing, has been and will remain our policy.

Thus when Guy Benson recently stated he is gay — putting it on record for intellectual honesty and putting it in perspective as a mere footnote at the back of his and Mary Katharine Ham’s book — we viewed the disclosure as immaterial to our reasons for having invited the two authors months before. Neither is coming to the Summit to speak on gay marriage or on gayness in any way. They are coming to speak on keeping the public square open. What a surrender if Centennial Institute moved for its closure by suddenly declaring them unwelcome.

We program the Western Conservative Summit by weighing our invited speakers’ capability as advocates and the merits of their civic vision, not by appraising their personal lives. We’re not confident how well any of us could stand such an appraisal ourselves, if the secrets of all hearts were known. Rather, as followers of Jesus and servants of a Christian university, in our dealings with every individual, we want to live out what St. Paul called “the Gospel of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24).

Benson and Ham’s book title calls out one side of the political divide, the Left, for trying to shut down debate and thus make America less free. But neither side is guiltless. Centennial Institute, committed as we are to freedom, faith, and family, will not waver on those core truths as biblically proclaimed. Nor will we yield to anyone’s ad hominem call to end discussion, be it from Left or Right. Let the discussion flourish unafraid, we say. Let truth and error freely contend. We’re certain the truth will prevail.

end discussion book cover

The decline of Western civilization

The West has been warned with increasing frequency, most recently by Netherlands MP Geert Wilders, that radical Islam is making such great strides that Europe will become "Eurabia" in a few decades and that the United States is not far behind. In a speech he gave at Columbia University on October 21, Wilders spoke alarmingly of numerous incidents and ominous trends as evidence that a dynamic Islam is growing at the expense of what used to be called the Christian West.

Wilders himself has been caught in the middle of this rise and fall. For his outspoken opposition to radical Islam, he was even barred from the United Kingdom until the British courts intervened.

Because the "cultural sensitivities" are so great on this issue, it has become virtually a crime to speak frankly and truthfully about what is going on. Here is a sampler that Wilder provides, taken from the mass media reports over the last several years:

The Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard made a Muhammad-cartoon and all of a sudden we were in the middle of the so called 'Danish cartoon crisis'. The Italian author Oriana Fallaci had to live in fear of extradition to Switzerland because of her book 'The Rage and the Pride'. An Austrian politician, Susanne Winter, was sentenced to a suspended prison sentence because she spoke bluntly about the prophet Muhammad. The Dutch cartoonist Gregorius Nekschot was arrested by 10 policemen because of his drawings. And the Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh was brutally murdered in the streets of Amsterdam by a radical Muslim.

This discouraging trend can only be explained by the dynamics of radical Islam as contrasted with the decline of European Christendom. This, in turn, points to the likelihood that religious conviction, thought to be some to be irrelevant in the "post-modern" world, is decisive. Islam, after several centuries of decline, has been reshaped into a messianic force. There is nothing comparable to this among Christians.

As ominous as the constant threat of violence may be, the long term trends in Europe may be more worrisome. For decades, Europeans have permitted large-scale immigration of Africans and Asians to provide cheap labor. Unlike the United States, European nations do not encourage assimilation or movement toward citizenship. As long as Americans pledge loyalty to the principles and institutions of our country, anyone can potentially become a citizen. Not so in Europe.

As a result, millions of largely Muslim inhabitants have no compelling reason to adopt the customs of their host countries. Indeed, as their numbers increase, it is their customs and their laws that take root. Those periodic riots in Paris among unemployed Algerians or Moroccans stem from their permanent outsider status. Increasingly there is pressure to allow Muslims to govern themselves by Sharia law, a repressive code that is the rule in the despotic Muslim nations today.

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has even suggested that the United Kingdom acquiesce in the establishment of Sharia there, indicating that preemptive surrender is the proper response.

Europeans generally have acted as if the Christian religion which gave their continent its distinctive identity for centuries can be abandoned without consequences.

In Europe there are many massive–and empty–Christian cathedrals. Meanwhile, Muslims are increasing their numbers through birth rates far in excess of the Europeans’, which have fallen below the replacement level of 2.1 per family.

Another way of putting this is that one cannot oppose something with nothing. If the Europeans altogether abandon the faith that inspired millions of people before them, they can be sure that Muslims will not. Some analysts have predicted that the UK, France and Germany will lead the way into a Muslim future by 2050. Major cities are already dominated by Muslims.

The American birthrate among citizens has fallen below 2.1 as well, with the vast influx of illegal aliens from south of our borders keeping that figure up for all inhabitants. The percentages of Muslims are still far below Europe but the official deference to their sensibilities is strong.

The evidence is overwhelming that as this trend continues in Europe, the change from Christianity to Islam will not be peaceful but increasingly violent. There will be increasing persecution of non-Muslims wherever Muslims are sufficiently numerous to impose their will. The Western world’s half-hearted response is not working. One can pray that a powerful spirit returns to Western civilization, but it will not come as long as it holds that what men believe about God makes no difference.

Who in the media have ‘perspective’?

Among the remarks by spokesmen for the Obama administration in its war against Fox News was David Axelrod's observation that Fox was not a news organization because it had a "perspective" on the news.T hat deserves analysis on more than one level. First, there is the political angle. Obviously, Obama’s quarrel with Fox has everything to do with its "perspective." Unlike CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, MSNBC and NPR, Fox is not in the tank for the current occupant of the White House. Nothing like Chris Matthew’s "tingling sensation" up his leg excites Fox journalists.

Second, there is a distinction to be made, of sorts, between straight news people and commentators at Fox, as White House press secretary Robert Gibbs acknowledged, when he subsequently singled out a couple of Fox time slots for the latter. Fox, like other media, distinguishes news from opinion.

Third, Fox’s slogans are not just marketing ploys. Compared to other media, Fox is "fair and balanced," as there are more presentations of opposing viewpoints there than in the "mainstream media." The other networks give little time to the conservative point of view.

At least one intrepid journalist at a Gibbs press conference did question the wisdom of the President singling out one television network for criticism. One is reminded of the famous quotation from Martin Niemoller, a victim of Nazi oppression, about how "they came for the Jews, but I wasn’t a Jew, so I didn’t speak up." One hopes that lesson has been learned.

So, although it is thuggish from my "perspective" for a President to condemn one news organization and practically demand that others not follow its example of exposing, for example, ACORN’s corruption or the extremist views of a number of Obama’s "Czars," it looks like he made other journalists uncomfortable.

Although presidents have frequently been critical of media coverage for both good reasons and bad, nothing compares to the current situation so much as Vice President Spiro Agnew’s criticism of the major media in 1969. But then the obvious difference is that Agnew took on the entire New York-Washington media axis, rather than picking on only one network..

Yet there is a great similarity between the media’s hostility to the Nixon Administration 40 years ago and their opposition to George W. Bush up until less than a year ago, and that was both administrations’ prosecution of a war that most leading journalists were opposed to.

All this is interesting stuff, but let’s get back to "perspective." What’s wrong with it? More to the point, how does any journalistic organization succeed without it? Determining what is news is not merely record keeping. Each day someone must decide that some event or development is news, mindful of the fact that if it is determined to be news, it will be on the public agenda.

Years ago U.S. News did a lengthy piece on the New York Times. In their daily conferences, it was pointed out, Times editors, conscious that it was the nation’s leading newspaper which influences the television networks in their own selection of news, were very careful about what they printed, especially on the front page. They understood that more people read the front page more than the editorial page, and they were reluctant to give more publicity to an issue or cause than it deserved.

As shocking as this may sound, this is what all news organizations do, although the smaller the staff the less likely that long deliberations precede their news decisions. If politics, war, commerce, law and entertainment loom large in our media, it is not because of arbitrary editors but because these things matter to most people in a democratic republic.

No less shocking perhaps to many may be the fact that, because journalists are American citizens with opinions, some things are more important to them than others. Without that "perspective," there is no reason for anyone to be in journalism; it is part of politics even if journalists do not hold public office.

Thus, Fox was singled out not because it had a "perspective," but because its "perspective" differs from Obama’s and his friends’ in other media. We need a free media to enable us to know what our leaders are doing and to discuss the wisdom of their policies. Lacking such "perspective," self government is impossible.

No ruler of a free people should condemn any media because they have a "perspective." That is but the prelude to a controlled media and despotic government