George Clooney is saying that the way that North Korea has interfered with our free speech shows that there is a new paradigm in the world (here). I don’t think “paradigm” is quite the word he wants, but anyway, no, it is not new. It started with the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, and if anyone had any doubts, there were threats against cartoonists, the murder of Theo van Gogh, and the jailing of an obscure filmmaker who supposedly incited rioters in Libya to murder our ambassador.
In other words, for some time now we have found our free speech curtailed by foreigners (or even our own politicians) who are determined to shut us up. At the time of the fatwa, I was aghast that there weren’t thousands protesting in the streets, but despite all the people willing to protest this, that, and the other during the 1960s, they were nowhere to be seen when the fatwa was issued. Apparently, sticking up for a liberal against religious fundamentalists was not something they could be bothered with. (These people are still willing to mount protests. It’s just that the protests are in favor of thuggery and not anything actually worthwhile.) But increasingly it seems as if almost none of our elites understood what the fatwa against Rushdie represented. As powerful as the Soviet Union was, I don’t remember ever feeling my free speech was being interfered with by them in the way that Khomeini’s fatwa did.
Does it work both ways? Can we now get foreigners to avoid speaking of us in ways we don’t like? Of course not, unless we are willing to issue threats, and I don’t think we are. Sanctions seems to be the most we are willing to do. Welcome to the new paradigm.