Opinion

David Letterman gets it exactly right

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Adam Turner
Staff Counsel, The Middle East Forum’s Legal Project
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      Adam Turner

      Adam Turner serves as staff counsel to the Middle East Forum’s Legal Project. He is a former counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee where he focused on national security law.

Kudos to American television comedian David Letterman! On June 5, 2011, Letterman smiled and drew his finger across his own throat on his CBS program “Late Show with David Letterman” to celebrate the U.S. military’s reported killing of Ilyas Kashmiri, an Islamist terrorist who apparently was the head of Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami and a senior al-Qaeda leader. Kashmiri reportedly was one of the leading organizers of the deadly November 2008 Mumbai attacks in India, which killed 164 innocent people and wounded at least 308. He was also recently indicted in U.S. federal court for conspiring with other terrorists to plan a Mumbai-style attack in Denmark, directed at the newspaper Jyllands-Posten, the newspaper that had published the infamous Mohammed cartoons. For good measure, Letterman also insulted Osama bin Laden during the same broadcast.

Letterman’s understandable sentiment provoked a serious reaction from a group of radical Islamists. These Islamists — who themselves frequently express their joy at the murder of Americans — took offense at Letterman celebrating the killings of two mass murderers. In a posting on the Islamist web forum Shumukh al-Islam, they called for Letterman’s murder, and encouraged the killer to cut off Letterman’s offending tongue. The posting also mistakenly labeled Letterman a “Jew,” which to millions of Islamists is the ultimate insult.

To his immense credit, David Letterman did not back down. He and CBS tightened security at the Manhattan theater where they tape the “Late Show,” and Letterman increased his own security. Then, rather than buckle under, he made light of the threat in a subsequent appearance on his show. Among other things, he thanked his audience, saying: “You people are more than an audience tonight. You’re more like a human shield.” He even drew up one of his famous “Top Ten” Lists for the occasion.

David Letterman should be saluted for his courage. He did everything exactly right. Even while taking prudent protective precautions, he refused to apologize for his free speech, or to censor himself. He even went a step further, by returning to the sensitive topic and actually making fun of those who would harm him. Considering how comically challenged Islamists can be, and how bloodthirsty, this took extraordinary courage.