Thursday, February 09, 2006

Exercising My Freedom of Speech

Yesterday morning I was chatting with an American friend of mine online and he brought up the Mohammad cartoons:

I kinda don't like how being ridiculously offensive is now a freedom of speech issue that is costing lives. On the small scale, it's like calling someone's mom a whore and then getting pissed when they punch you.

Oh man, I got so riled up when he said that.

Firstly, let me state, I would definitely agree that the cartoons are ridiculously offensive.

Just as offensive as lets say flag burning. Seeing Old Glory being burned in another country does put a knife through my heart, however that right is even granted to Americans. Supreme Court rulings have upheld that peaceful flag desecration is a form of political speech that should be protected by our Constitution, and definitely should continue to be. I am completely against any amendment to the Constitution banning flag burning, no matter how insulting it may be, because I believe that freedom of speech is of the utmost importance in a democracy.

I personally find the Ku Klux Klan way more offensive, but in America we believe that no matter how extreme, immoral and debased someone's beliefs are, they are just that, their beliefs, and they have a right to believe that.

In Europe they take a slightly different tact. There is a free speech right, however, because of the atrocities committed towards Jews during WWII there are many hate laws restricting free speech with regards to Jews. For example in Germany it is illegal to deny the Holocaust happened.

I think this is a wrong tact, but it is Germany's way of dealing with a very its past and I hope it will change in the future. I believe Holland, Belgium and Austria have similar laws, too.

But no matter how offensive denying the Holocaust, preaching White Supremacy and burning the flag is, these are all rights protected under the US Constitution.

So that is what angered me so much when my friend suggested that the violent protests in the Muslim world were almost justified.

So the US Constitution is obviously not law for all around the world. But similar laws protecting free speech exist in Denmark and the rest of Europe. These laws might not exist in many other countries, but that doesn't mean that other countries may dictate how we are to behave.

Another right that we take for granted is the freedom of religion. It means that everyone is allowed to follow their chosen beliefs, and they are not forced to follow another person's religion. Which means that just because there are many Muslims living in Germany, and I encounter them everyday, I do not have to cover myself up, even if seeing my hair and arms and legs may be offensive to them. It also should follow that the Muslim religious decree that Mohammad's image may never be depicted is something for Muslims and does not apply to non-Muslims. Certainly, I believe we should respect other religions, however, I hardly believe that violence is the response to this.

Salon recently published this interview with Hirsi Ali:

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a member of the Dutch Parliament, is one of the most sharp- tongued critics of political Islam -- and a target of Islamic fanatics. Her provocative film "Submission" led to the assassination of director Theo van Gogh in November 2004. The murderer left a death threat against Hirsi Ali pinned to van Gogh's corpse with a knife. [...]

Why have the protests escalated to such an extent?

There is no freedom of speech in those Arab countries where the demonstrations and public outrage are being staged. The reason many people flee to Europe from these places is precisely because they have criticized religion, the political establishment and society. Totalitarian Islamic regimes are in a deep crisis. Globalization means that they're exposed to considerable change, and they also fear the reformist forces developing among émigrés in the West. They'll use threatening gestures against the West, and the success they achieve with their threats, to intimidate these people.

Was apologizing for the cartoons the wrong thing to do?

Once again, the West pursued the principle of first turning one cheek, then the other. In fact, it's already a tradition. In 1980, privately owned British broadcaster ITV aired a documentary about the stoning of a Saudi Arabian princess who had allegedly committed adultery. The government in Riyadh intervened and the British government issued an apology. We saw the same kowtowing response in 1987 when [Dutch comedian] Rudi Carrell derided [the Iranian leader] Ayatollah Khomeini in a comedy skit. In 2000, a play about the youngest wife of the prophet Mohammed, titled "Aisha," was canceled before it ever opened in Rotterdam. Then there was the van Gogh murder and now the cartoons. We are constantly apologizing, and we don't notice how much abuse we're taking. Meanwhile, the other side doesn't give an inch.


But shouldn't Muslims, like any religious community, also be able to protect themselves against slander and insult?

That's exactly the reflex I was just talking about: offering the other cheek. Not a day passes, in Europe and elsewhere, when radical imams aren't preaching hatred in their mosques. They call Jews and Christians inferior, and we say they're just exercising their freedom of speech. When will the Europeans realize that the Islamists don't allow their critics the same right? After the West prostrates itself, they'll be more than happy to say that Allah has made the infidels spineless.

I bet the creators of “Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World” are a little worried now. We consider Monty Python funny, and a good example of freedom of speech. Come on, who hasn't sung the “every sperm is sacred” song?

And the thing that further ruffled my feathers about my friend's comment was the idea that it is acceptable and expected for Muslims to have violent protests in reaction to the cartoons. And I guess he is right.


Blogger Chris said...

I agree.

I read an excellent op-ed in the Washington Post the other day that concluded that we westerner's have become tolerant of intolerance. Or as your posts says, we turn the other cheek.

I think it's a two way street that obviously isn't applied to Arab countries.

Good post.

11:04 PM  
Blogger Teresa said...

In a dispute between Americans and anyone else in the world - there is a certain segment of "Americans" who will always blame America.

To those people I say... go live somewhere else for a while and then tell me how bad America is... if you like it better elsewhere, please stay there. Sheesh!

3:34 AM  
Blogger Day by Day said...

I couldn't agree with you more... Great Post! I really like it when your feathers get a little ruffled... this is when you write your best! ;)

3:35 AM  
Blogger Valley Girl said...

Wow. I'm speechless. What excellent points. I totally agree too. I don't ever back down from a "right to free speech" argument, and I loathe censorship. But how far do we have to let certain freedoms go before we are trod upon?

I never knew about that law in Germany. I imagine how the Germans feel about the Holocaust must be very similar to how Americans feel about slavery and the slaughter of Native Americans. Though the damage has been done, it's kind of a way of ensuring things never get that out of hand again. Sort of like this post. We have to ask these questions and bring up these points in order to not repeat history.

11:43 PM  
Blogger LinkedInUSAF said...

Certain things should just be common sense. Riots over cartoons are a stretch and over the top. Too much hate is being whipped up over there. That matter is a ticking you know what. Your other point touched a nerve ... sorry ... ex-Military is coming ...

I NEVER let my American Flag touch the ground. Would any of you? Do you understand why? Do you know the history, and the many men that risked their lives TO RETRIEVE OUR OLD GLORY before their position was overrun, while under heavy fire, to retrieve "The Old Girl"? Do you know how many men WATCHED the guy they've been sharing a foxhole with run to collect the flag, get cut down, and HE THEN JUMPS UP and goes to get the flag?

If so, then you KNOW why buring the American Flag is not free speech. You tread on those that have passed before you. And that is where this country has brought itself.

Never leave anyone behind. Never leave the colors, ever. Never disgrace those before you.

Powerful words. Words spoken by those that have brought you safe shopping malls and open freeways. Luxuries, compared to many other countries run by tinhorn dictators.

But, I don't riot.

Yet, if we could wrest the flag burning issue from judicial activism and place it in the hands of the people, who do YOU think would win?

I know what MY VOTE would be. And before you say, "Aww, but, they should have a right to ...", look deep in your heart and concentrate - I say, "People should protect our national symbol, the American Flag, for those that have kept it flying for us to enjoy our luxuries."

God Bless America. God Keep the American Flag Flying Free and Unsoiled. And, may God Bless all of you. Sorry for the "soap box", but this is a big one for me ...

(i lived in Germany while in the US Air Force. i had to inspect my car every morning to look for explosives. i had to watch myself when in non-military towns. during those two years we closed the gates numerous times [Rhein Main AFB is no small base!] for safety. that was in the early 80's. have any of you had to check under your car, in the engine compartment, and in the trunk before you could go to work? i thought not. think about what the American Flag brings you at home, and what it draws to you outside our borders. frightening.)

9:46 AM  

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