Friday, February 15, 2008

The Islamic Threat to Free Speech

Today's WSJ has an article by Fleming Rose, an editor of Jyllands-Posten, the publication that printed the infamous Mohammed Cartoons. Speaking of the plot to kill the cartoonist, Rose states:

Sadly, the plot to kill Mr. Westergaard is not an isolated story, but part of a broader trend that risks undermining free speech in Europe and around the world. Consider the following recent events: In Oslo a gallery has censored three small watercolor paintings, showing the head of the prophet Muhammad on a dog's body, by the Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who has been under police protection since the fall of 2007. In Holland the municipal museum in The Hague recently refused to show photos by the Iranian-born artist Sooreh Hera of gay men wearing the masks of the prophet Muhammad and his son Ali; Ms. Hera has received several death threats and is in hiding. In Belarus an editor has been sentenced to three years in a forced labor camp after republishing some of Jyllands-Posten's Muhammad cartoons. In Egypt bloggers are in jail after having "insulted Islam." In Afghanistan the 23-year-old Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh has been sentenced to death because he distributed "blasphemous" material about the mistreatment of women in Islam. And in India the Bengal writer Taslima Nasreen is in a safe house after having been threatened by people who don't like her books.

Every one of the above cases speaks to the same problem: a global battle for the right to free speech. The cases are different, and you can't compare the legal systems in Egypt and Norway, but the justifications for censorship and self-censorship are similar in different parts of the world: Religious feelings and taboos need to be treated with a kind of sensibility and respect that other feelings and ideas cannot command.

The West needs to get a grip and defend its most cherished rights: the right to free speech, as well as the right of free exercise of religion. We have managed that very well these 200+ years of American history. We can't let it go, out of a combination of misguided sensitivity toward Islam and wanton fear of the Jihadists.

3 comments:

Rea said...

"...the right to free speech, as well as the right of free exercise of religion. We have managed that very well these 200+ years of American history."

Eheh^^ We've managed that 'very well', have we?

Witch trials.

I don't know that I've ever refuted a claim with only two words, but it was certainly fun^^
I could go on with other examples, I s'pose, but that would be superfluous. We're not as hostile to free speech and new ideas as other areas of the world, surely, but to say that we as a country have always done 'very well' at protecting free speech and religious freedom is... well, silly.

Jennifer Roback Morse said...

Very clever. The witch trials were prior to the Constitution.
Do you have a reasonable alternative or are you just playing "gotcha?"

Rea said...

Very clever. I suppose before the Constitution was formally drafted, we were all autonomous robots under the direct control of the British; no, I'm actually under the assumption that we were "Americans" for quite some time before the Declaration had been signed.
But if you want a different example, I'll cite the Ku Klux Klan.
Here's an example of how 'freedom of speech' can be twisted into protecting the wrong people, I think. And this is after the Constitution.

Playing "gotcha"? I'm not 100% sure what that is; if you mean 'critiquing an argument and finding a serious flaw', I guess I am playing gotcha.
And I offered no alternative because, quite simply, it wasn't my place; this is -your- blog, isn't it? Offering alternatives is what you do.
But if you insist, I'll offer one.

It's my opinion that freedom of speech isn't all milk and honey; in fact, you can surely attest to this, can't you? This blog has been moderated; that means that you review and approve every message before it gets a chance to see the light of day. And that's a good thing; you've received nasty comments that might clog up the commenting area if they were let through.
In this way, the most responsible method of free speech seems to not be "say whatever you want", but "say whatever you want so long as it's in good taste". That's not how America works right now, or indeed ever has worked. In fact, the very existence of tabloid magazines is proof that freedom of speech can and is being used to exploit the happiness of one human being for the pleasure of several hundred consumers. This is a mild example. The internet does much worse.

My proposal, if it might be called that, would be not to criminalize such speech with the practice cruel punishments, as the countries you cite do, but rather to discourage such publications through social stigma, through education and perhaps advertisement. I, for one, will teach my children that tabloid magazines are absolute garbage, and the information residing within is as good as such. If I were a person of some political influence, I might support public service announcements of that same general message; that speakers whose purpose is only to obtain pleasure through the derision of others should be ignored, or possible fined. Beheading is taking it a tad too far, I think.

There's my reasonable alternative, for what it's worth.