Sunday, February 12, 2006

The line between free expression and inciting hate

Turmoil in Europe continues over the publication of the caricatures of the Prophet Mohamed. This had led to great debate over many issues. So, should these have been published? Is it hate speech? Should hate speech be allowed?

I think it is unfortunate that these cartoons were published. Free speech is always a hot topic, and easily seen for slippery slope arguments. Much can be done short of stifling free speech to keep respect for others cultures and beliefs. Here are my problems with these caricatures being published-

1. While we hold true to the right of free speech, in America we also recognize the strides we have made in breaking cultural and racial barriers in the last 100 years. Part of this is having respect to reject things that fall in the category of hate speech or the like. Just think how much Americans collectively shudder when it hears racial, anti-Semitic, homophobic, or other derogatory comments aimed at racial or religious minorities or other groups? I am not advocating that we make these topics/statements illegal, but rather that we have a responsibility to respect other cultures and beliefs. Europe has even gone further in some areas, as to actually outlaw speech that defamed state religion such as the Anglican Church in England, and has outlawed speech denying the Holocaust, (which makes me really mad since everyone knows that is just a made up story), and the Armenian genocide. I want to clarify, however, that I am not advocating government sensorship, just stating that we respect each other. No newspaper I know of in America would publish racist pictures of african-americans, sexist pictures of women or the like. Government sensorship is a scary number 2

2. If these caricatures are argued in any way as a way to teach Muslims about the freedom of press by offending them, it may be having the opposite effect. Arab rulers are using this as an opportunity to turn the citizens anger away from them, and get them to believe that freedom of expression is equal to the freedom to defile religous symbols. Many countries, like Saudia Arabia and Libya who were the first to hold sanctioned protests and boycotts, are the countries known for repression and tyranny. While they have the subjects emotions high, they are then feeding them the idea that if they wish to hold to their religious values, then you must reject the idea of freedom of expression.

3. It has led to more violence, furthering stereotypes that unfairly get passed to good faith muslims. What, Good Faith Muslims? A recent statement from Al-Iman Center in Iowa City: "We do not believe in or endorse violent demonstrations, nor do we find any precendent for such actions in the biography of our beloved Prophet, and his companions." If only all muslims practiced with ideas like that. I am repeatedly astonished at the disregard Islam radicals have for life. It makes me sick. It seems easy to jump to the idea that the whole religion is a cult of murdering evildoers. But their actions also make many muslims saddened as well. I recently spoke with a muslim acquaintance who believes all muslims who practice in good faith reject the violent ways of those we see nightly on the world news. He also pointed out that while some muslims are offended by any depiction of any Prophet, many like himself, are not offended by the simple depiction of The Prophet, but rather the idea that ALL muslims are inherently violent. There are 1.25 billion muslims, and the faith is unfortunately represented by a small few who use the religion as a impetus for ulterior motives.

...Let me know what you think. Do you think the cartoons should be allowed? Should it be legal, but responsibly witheld? And why were they not republished in the US media? Was it because we cowered under the pressure of widespread protest, or that we simply respect others beleifes and simply upheld a standard of integrity and professionalism?


Cory said...

We didn't reprint them because our newspapers are paranoid about setting off any more riots. I love it when newspapers get blamed for shit people do, like when the NYT got blamed about a year ago from the administration when they published some story about something-or-other involving muslims, and the middle-eastern muslims went ape-shit. Of course, Cheney and Rove blamed it on the NYT, not on the muslims (I don't remember the story right now, but I remember the incident), and so did the rest of the US media. I guess not having information and being unable to make informed decisions is more important than personal responsibility for your actions.

Now that said, offensive cartoons don't help inform anyone of anything, but the level of anger this has sparked has reached ludicrious levels.

All this will result in is a worldwide paranoid press that over-censors itself to the point of being worthless, and then government censorship won't even be an issue! Problem solved!

Paul said...

In college, a big no-no was imposing your cultural ideals/standards/notions/etc onto a different culture. most americans would find it inconceivable that our desire to allow free speech to another culture would be considered ethnocentric, but that seems to be what's happening. in the past few years i think the USA has learned a lot about "freedom," namely that it is a very American idea, and that just because we think it's great, not everyone agrees. Most Americans (me included too, i suppose) can't really wrap their minds around the fact that not everyone on the world is all about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Some people call it Hubris <- buzzword!, and to some extent I agree, but I think a lot of it is being naive and not doing our homework.

You might already know my opinions on free speech, but I thought I'd add a comment 'cuz I don't feel like working right now.

Eric said...

In sarcastic tone:

"Who could ever believe that 'freedom' is just a value imposed upon human animals?"

Look, we have only TWO options in the direction of desensitizing Arabs (which is, of course, precisely what is sacrilegious for them but is exactly what must be done [since nothing, and not even nothing, is sacred]):

1.) either bombard the Arab community with "icons" and come what may.

2.) get some educated people in their communities engaging them about their own subject matter, employing critical resources from their own traditions, and slowly leveling their values (e.g. so far scholars can't use historico-critical method in reading the Quaranic text and be seen as legitimate contributors to the subject of Islam).

Seems to me that #1 is much easier, and since we are all lazy bastards interested more in NES than Muhammad, then I guess that will be our only option, unless someone else takes it on. Any takers?

ned said...

The problem with moderate Muslims is exactly the problem with us - lack of getting into the Arab communities to get on top of the very slow process of changing them - which must be done since nothing is sacred.

If we (us and moderate Muslims) all know that only a small minority of radical Arab muslims make the news, how can they take the whole Islamic tradition for a ride? Why aren't more voices documenting disagreement with the radicals? I wonder if it is fear...

brando said...

We're not publishing it because we're huge pussies. They tell us what to print under the threat of violence? That's a good enough reason for me. Don't tell me what to do.

Paul said...

your comment is based on the assumption that the cartoons were at the root of the outrage/violence/etc, which I dont think is the case. i think the outrage is just a symptom of something much deeper.

religion isn't at the root of this problem. you can be a fundamentalist and not run around in mobs burning buildings and tires. this might sound wild, but the fact that these people are devout muslims keeps them from being as messed up or more messed up than what goes on in Africa. it could be a lot worse. (not that makes things better..)

eric said...


My assumption is only that McWorld and Jihad have a tough time mixing in the same sandbox. And, as of right now, McWorld seems to be the one with the toys.

Travis said...

"Seems to me that #1 is much easier, and since we are all lazy bastards interested more in NES than Muhammad, then I guess that will be our only option, unless someone else takes it on. Any takers?"

Heard that "Western laziness is filling our lives with compulsive activities so that we don't have to face real issues and/or deal with them?"

Exactly what I do with NES, MTG and the like. But what exactly did you mean? What does bombard the Arab community with icons mean? And can engaging Arabs about their own subject matter in my own community make a difference in the middle east?

eric said...

Bombard that community = flood their media with cartoons and other images and other Western words - and this would, at first, incite a lot of respnse, but would eventually desensitize all.

The other part is not about doing things in MY own community, but slowly integrating into THEIR community.

Travis said...

Eric, are you being serious then, or sarcastic? And twice you have referenced "since nothing is sacred", could you extrapolate those statements in context, (your context, i mean)?

ned said...

Perry Farrell, and the rest of Jane's Addiction, named one of their albums "Nothing's shocking."

It seems that this is the direction of globalization/pluralization - desensitization to the actions of others so you can simply get along.

But if that is the case, it seems to entail that no one can really hold anything as sacred.

For any further questions, see Chad Fields.