Courtesy of ATLAS SHRUGS. Pamela Geller is a true patriot. Atlas Shrugs is a must read every day.
The Free Man's Rebellion Robert Tracinski
I went up to Washington, DC, Friday to see the local "tea party" protest against big government. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a fizzle. It was not so much the small size of the turnout—the best estimate I could get was that it drew at most 100 people—but the fact that those who attended were "the usual suspects." They were the kind of right-leaning, small-government firebrands who would come out for an event like this on the slightest provocation. They were not members of the general public driven to outrage by the Obama administration's push toward socialism.
So I guess I learned what I was hoping to learn by going to the event: whether or not there is a broad, popular surge of anger against rising statism. The answer: not yet. It confirms my expectation that the general public is still giving Obama the benefit of the doubt. They will not turn against him until his policies clearly have failed.
I should acknowledge, though, that Washington may not have been typical. After all, it is a town where the local growth industry is government. My friend Shrikant has been reporting to me that the general mood on the streets of Manhattan is raw fear. From what I can tell, the general mood on the streets of Washington is smug complacency. And why not? The financial center of the United States has just been forcibly removed from the one city to the other.
Other "tea party" events in other cities seem to have gone a good deal better; Michelle Malkin has a very extensive round-up on the protests in various cities. Note particularly the prevalence of signs with references to "Atlas" or to John Galt, which indicates the "Ayn Rand factor" at work here (my piece on which went up at RealClearMarkets on Friday).
But it is early days yet. The "tea party" idea was first broached less than two weeks ago by Rick Santelli. We will have a lot of time to plan and prepare and to help move the general public to the point where it is ready to say "enough."
But assessing the tepid local tea was not by any means the most interesting thing I did in Washington. What really made the trip worthwhile was seeing Geert Wilders speak there in the evening. If I was looking for a free man's rebellion against tyranny, this was it.
Wilders is the Dutch member of parliament who was recently denied entry to Britain after being invited by the House of Lords to screen his short film Fitna which demonstrates that the Koran preaches violent repression of non-believers. In response to Britain's betrayal of freedom of speech, Arizona Senator Jon Kyl invited Wilders to give a short talk and screen his film at the US Capitol on Friday.
Pamela Geller of the Atlas Shrugs blog—there's the Ayn Rand factor at work again—decided on her own initiative to organize a second showing of the film and a talk by Wilders at the same Washington hotel that was hosting the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), a giant yearly gathering of conservative political activists.
Interestingly, while the event was held alongside CPAC, it was not really part of CPAC. Gellerdescribes how this year's CPAC has virtually ignored Islam and terrorism as an issue and generally refused to cooperate with the planning of the Wilders event. Geller had to organize the whole thing herself and find the funding for it.
The response of the CPAC attendees—the rank and file of the right, as opposed to its leadership establishment—was quite different. There was a large and enthusiastic audience, who lined up in a queue that stretched from the meeting room out through the lobby of the hotel. Geller describes the event in her blog, and one detail in particular jibes with my memory and give you a feel for it: hearing the wave of cheers and applause as Wilders came down the hallway to the meeting room, stopping to shake hands with the people waiting in line to see him. The event had a standing room only crowd estimated at more than 500, and people had to be turned away because the room was at capacity.
Geller accurately describes the enthusiasm of the audience. I am not sure I can adequately describe the enthusiasm of Geller herself, a brash New Yorker and an irrepressible firebrand. You'll have to see the video of the event (which also briefly shows yours truly chatting with Pamela—who I have known for a while as a fan of TIA Daily—before the event begins). She was followed by Andrew Bostom and Robert Spencer—both of them uncompromising experts on Islam who have warned against its threats. Geller's report on the event has transcripts of their brief remarks, which are well worth reading.
But of course what we all came to see was Wilders himself and his film. Fitna is a 15-minute documentary that primarily consists of a series of quotes from the Koran calling for the killing of unbelievers, combined with quotes from speeches by various Muslim religious leaders advocating violence and religious dictatorship—all juxtaposed against images of terrorist attacks and assassinations committed by Muslims against us Western infidels. The most interesting thing about Wilders's film is that it includes so little commentary or interpretation of his own. It consists of quotes from the Koran, statements by Muslims, and actions taken by Muslims. He lets the enemy speak for himself, and the film has aptly been described as holding a mirror up to radical Islam.
For holding a mirror up to reality, Wilders has been vilified and attacked; he is currently being prosecuted in the Netherlands under that nation's "hate speech" laws. Yet if these same laws were applied to Islam, he points out, they would require Dutch authorities to ban the Koran.
And of course he has been threatened with death. This is the usual self-refuting Muslim response: don't say we're violent or we'll cut your head off. And this threat is very real for a European intellectual or politician, especially after the murder of Theo van Gogh, who was killed for making another short film critical of Islam. If you watch the video of Friday's event, you may notice that Wilders was flanked throughout the speech by two tall, well-muscled gentlemen. The fact that he needs this kind of protection says everything you need to know about the current threat to freedom of speech and where it comes from.
When I met Wilders before the event, I told him that a writer in the US can say the most controversial things with no real fear. (I've called Islam "The Killers' Creed" and put Kurt Westergaard's cartoon of Mohammed on the cover of TIA, and I've never had reason to think I was in serious danger.) So we appreciate all the more those who speak up when they are taking a real risk.
Wilders's speech—which I understand is essentially the same speech he gave at the Capitol—named in bold, straightforward terms all of the essential issues. Here are the best excerpts:
Today, the dearest of our many freedoms is under attack all throughout Europe. Free speech is no longer a given. What we once considered a natural element of our existence, our birth right, is now something we once again have to battle for….
The real question is: will free speech be put behind bars? And the larger question for the West is: will we leave Europe's children the values of Rome, Athens, and Jerusalem, or the values of Mecca, Teheran, and Gaza?...
Cultural relativism is the worst disease in Europe today. Most of our politicians believe that all cultures are equal. Well let me tell you they are not.
Our Western culture based on Christianity, Judaism, and humanism is in every aspect better than the Islamic culture. Like the brave apostate Wafa Sultan said: it's a comparison between a culture of reason and a culture of barbarism….
I propose the withdrawal of all hate speech legislation in Europe. I propose a European First Amendment. In Europe, we should defend freedom of speech like you Americans do….
Ladies and gentlemen, our enemies should know: we will never apologize for being free men, we will never give in. We will never surrender. There is no stronger power than the force of free men fighting for the great cause of liberty. Because freedom is the birthright of all man. Freedom must prevail, and freedom will prevail.
Beyond that, I can give you my sense of Wilders as a person. He is usually portrayed sneeringly in the press as an angry reactionary rabble-rouser or as some kind of opportunistic publicity hound. What struck me most about him was precisely the opposite: there was no element in him of pretense or posturing, no trace of the self-conscious display of courage that you usually see in the leftist activist who shouts out bromides for which he knows he will never be punished. Rather, Wilders projected the most profound sense of dignity I have ever experienced from a speaker. In person, meeting members of the audience before the event, he was quiet, mild-mannered, and unfailingly polite. At the podium, he was calm and focused, maintaining his composure even in the face of the energetic and at times raucous response he got from his audience. I got the sense that he would have been equally composed if the audience had been just as energetic, but hostile. He was not really concerned with the audience and its reaction. He gave the sense that his only mission was to convey clearly the important message he had to deliver.
When Wilders first came walking to the event and shook hands with the people in line, I thought that he looked just like a politician at a campaign event shaking the hands of his constituents. And of course, he is a politician, holding a seat in the Dutch Parliament as a member of what is now his country's largest political party. But he is also much more: a man of courage and principle taking a stand on an issue that is crucial to the survival of our civilization.
America used to have politicians like this. We call them the Founding Fathers. And one of the things I love about politics is that occasionally we see a leader who rises to that level again.—RWT
Robert Tracinski of The Intellectual Activist is one of our nation's clearest and brightest thinkers.