The mere act of criticizing Islam has become an act of politically incorrect hate speech, a media analyst and free-speech advocate says, citing several incidents in recent weeks where people have been lambasted publicly for their remarks.
"We're living in a 'here and now' where no one's allowed to say anything bad about Islam, it seems," says Dan Gainor, vice president of business and culture at the Media Research Center.
The most recent transgressor, he says, is Marty Peretz, the editor-in-chief of The New Republic and a former Harvard professor, who has come under attack for a Sept. 4 blog post in which he wrote: "Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims," and questioned whether Muslims deserved protection from the First Amendment.
Peretz apologized for the posting nine days later, saying he deeply regretted the statements and that he was genuinely embarrassed. But that did not stop Harvard students, faculty and alumni from writing an open letter to Harvard President Drew Faust in which they protested Peretz's appearance, scheduled for Saturday, at a Harvard anniversary ceremony.
Harvard has also drawn criticism for accepting an undergraduate research endowment fund created by relatives, former students and colleagues in Peretz's name. The fund's proposed amount has recently increased from $500,000 to $650,000, leading some social studies professors to interpret the increase as an indication of support for Peretz, Simon Sternin, a Harvard alum and an organizer of the petition, told the Harvard Crimson.
But Gainor says criticism of Peretz's comments has gotten out of hand.
"We're fighting a war against radical Islam," Gainor told FoxNews.com. "For radical Islam, life is cheap, both for their lives and our lives. The left has become so indoctrinaire that they're more concerned about being politically correct than they are about protecting our nation."
The media is complicit, too, Gainor said, accusing them of "zooming in on anybody who is saying anything critical of Islam."
To illustrate his point, Gainor recalled Derek Fenton, the New Jersey man who lost his job of 11 years at NJ Transit, the state's public transportation corporation, after he burned a Koran outside the site of the planned "Ground Zero Mosque" on Sept. 11. Fenton, 39, was not arrested, but he nevertheless lost his job because NJ Transit said his actions violated their code of ethics.
"The lack of media indignation on that one is astonishing," Gainor said. "Our media allegedly embraces free speech, but it doesn't. It only embraces free speech that doesn't possibly offend Islam. If he had been fired for burning a Bible, he would've been on every evening network news show. It's free speech. It's not something I would do, but it's still free speech."
Gainor also pointed to the case of Pastor Terry Jones, the Gainesville, Fla., minister who threatened to burn the Koran on Sept. 11 but changed his mind after a call from the White House. Jones' threat became global news, inciting protests and threats of reprisal in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
"Again, it shows how PC we've become," Gainor said. "Some idiot can burn a book anywhere in the country, but if you dare burn a Koran, it becomes an international incident."
Just last week, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer said he's not prepared to conclude that the First Amendment condones burning the Koran.
"[Oliver Wendell] Holmes said it doesn't mean you can shout 'fire' in a crowded theater," Breyer told George Stephanopoulos of ABC News. "Well, what is it? Why? Because people will be trampled to death. And what is the crowded theater today? What is being trampled to death?"
The issue "will be answered over time in a series of cases," Breyer said.
Meanwhile, Ari Ravin-Havt, vice president of research and communications at Media Matters strongly disagreed with Gainor's assertion that "no one's allowed to say anything bad" about Islam.
"If that were true, bigots like [blogger] Pam Geller would not be consistently given a platform on television to spew their hate, and Marty Peretz wouldn't be editor-in-chief of The New Republic," Ravin-Havt said.
He said Peretz has the right to say "something incredibly offensive, inaccurate and wrong," by suggesting that Muslims are not entitled to the same constitutional protections as other Americans.
"And other people have the right to tell you that what you said was wrong, and to assemble with others to collectively send that message," he continued. "Our freedom of speech is our most important right and it works two ways."
Gainor also compared Peretz's case to that of Molly Norris, the Seattle-based cartoonist who has gone into hiding after declaring May 20 to be "Everybody Draw Muhammad Day!" and calling for people to draw caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. That led to death threats and the placement of Norris on an execution list by Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.
Gainor said the fact that Norris has reportedly gone into hiding to protect herself from reprisal attacks is another example of political correctness gone awry when it pertains to Islam.
"The media is making it seem like Americans are the ones who are wrong and backwards," he said. "But it's the reaction that's wrong and backward."