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Beheading in Nice Not an Isolated Act, Fits a Disturbing Pattern

nice basilica of notre dame

French police guard the site of a knife attack at the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Nice on Oct 29, 2020. France's national anti-terror prosecutors said Thursday they have opened a murder inquiry after a man killed three people at the basilica in central Nice, wounding several others. (Eric Gaillard/AFP via Getty Images)

By Friday, 30 October 2020 05:56 AM Current | Bio | Archive

The murder of three French citizens in a Nice church, one by beheading, was an act of terrorism, apparently by an Islamic extremist shouting "Allahu Akbar!"

It's not an isolated incident.

It's part of a pattern of violence that reflects incitement by some Islamic extremist leaders who preach violence as a legitimate response to what they deem insults directed at their prophet.

The insults can be as slight as depicting the prophet in cartoon or other visual form, even if he is not presented in a negative way.

We all recall the mass murder of artists and others who worked at the magazine Charlie Hebdo which had published cartoons of the prophet.

Then there was the beheading of a school teacher who had apparently used some of these cartoons in teaching about freedom of speech,

Now, we have the most recent beheading and stabbings, following on the heels of provocative calls by Turkish dictator Recip Erdogan for "retaliation" against France for insulting Islam.

There is, of course, no evidence that Erdogan’s bigoted statements directly caused the recent terrorist attack. But they certainly contributed to an atmosphere in which violence is seen as legitimate retaliation against insults.

It was Dr. Sigmund Freud who once observed that civilization began when the first human hurled an insult instead of a spear.

The corollary is that civilization ends when throwing a spear, or wielding a machete, becomes an acceptable response to a hurled or drawn insult.

Nor is Erdogan alone among leaders in the Mideast calling for violent retaliation against perceived slights or insults. The leaders of Hamas, Hezbollah and even the Palestinian Authority (PA) have called for violent responses to "dirty" Jews praying on the Temple Mount, a place holy both to Judaism and Islam.

Moreover, they pay bounties to Palestinians who kill Jews: pay to slay.

They paid the family of a Palestinian who murdered an American soldier visiting Israel. This led to a suspension by congress of some aid to the Palestinian Authority.

In our own country, there have been calls by some right to life extremists to engage in violence to prevent the "genocide of the unborn."

Several doctors who provided abortions have been killed and injured.

I have been threatened with violence on several occasions on account of my political views, especially with regard to Israel and Jewish issues. I have needed armed guards while speaking at some universities.

This is what we have come in today’s world where "free speech for me but for not thee" has become the norm at some universities, in many media and in some political circles.

To be certain, there is a difference between beheading someone whose speech has offended you and merely censoring them. But as a great philosopher warned, those who begin by burning books end up burning people.

Assassination is the ultimate form of censorship, as we should be reminded on this 25th anniversary of the murder of Yitzhak Rabin, who was killed because he advocated a two state solution to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.

Anwar Sadat and King Abdallah suffered the same fate for advocating peace.

So we must oppose all forms of censorship, from the most extreme to the relatively benign, such as selective rejection of content by Twitter, Facebook and other social media behemoths.

Once we begin to accept the premises underlying the call for censorship, it becomes largely a matter of degree where we start and stop.

The struggle for freedom of speech never stays won, because there are so many opponents who believe they know the ultimate truth and do not need to listen to the "lies" of those who disagree with or offend them.

Free speech is not free.

The old ditty about sticks and stones is wrong.

Speech can harm.

But the alternative is worse.

What Churchill said about democracy is also true of its predicate, freedom of speech: the worst approach — except for all the others that have been tried over time.

Follow Alan Dershowitz on Twitter: @AlanDersh

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Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law Emeritus at Harvard Law School and author of "Guilt by Accusation" and "The Case Against the Democratic House Impeaching Trump." Read Alan Dershowtiz's Reports More Here.

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The struggle for freedom of speech never stays won, because there are so many opponents who believe they know the ultimate truth and do not need to listen to the "lies" of those who disagree with or offend them.
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Friday, 30 October 2020 05:56 AM
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