Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

February 4, 2006

Over the Top

by Eric

No, not the WWI command given to soldiers when they left the trenches to charge into the machine guns. I’m talking about the reaction of Muslims to the cartoons published by a Danish newspaper last September. As I’ve discussed earlier, the reactions of violence and anger have proved the point of the cartoons that portray Islam as a violent religion. The violence has escalated from protests and individual gunmen, or small groups, seeking out Danes and Norwegians to kidnap, to rioters burning the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Syria. On a side note, I would suggest that anyone who thinks those riots were not allowed, even encouraged, by the Syrian government hasn’t paid much attention to reality in the Middle East.

First, a piece of advice to Muslims. Stop worrying so much about what someone who doesn’t believe in your religion does. After all, if your religion is true, those cartoonists have committed blasphemy and will pay the price for their sin. In the meantime, it doesn’t hurt you at all. They have not caused you to violate your religion, nor even urged you to. So, chill out. Or, as another religion’s teachings say, worry about the stick in your eye before worrying about the sliver in mine. Because, if your religion is actually one of peace, you are violating it with the riots, attacks, and destruction of property that you are committing.

In the meantime, we in the West need to stand firm. Messages like the Washington Post is reporting need to stop:

“The right to freedom of thought and expression . . . cannot entail the right to offend the religious sentiment of believers,” the Vatican said in a statement.

That’s complete bull. If you can’t offend the sacred cows and the naked emperor then you don’t have freedom of expression. Of course, I’m sure that the Vatican would like to have the ability to control thought and speech as they did in the past.

In the United States, major newspapers, including The Washington Post, chose not to reprint the images on grounds they would give offense.

So, you have de facto surrendered your freedom of expression. Of course, this is just a more public variant of something that has been going on for a while now. According to reports I’ve read in the past, the movie studio that produced “The Sum of All Fears” changed the plot from Palestinian terrorsts getting a nuclear weapon to white supremacists because of pressure brought to bear by Muslim groups. So much for artistic freedom.

Freedom of speech means that I can say whatever I please, publicly, no matter whether it is offensive, racist, inflammatory, or anything else that people don’t like. To suggest that there should be limits on what I say or write in order to avoid offense to another is to suggest that I should not be free to speak. The choice, and the responsibility, must be mine, else the freedom does not exist.

To the couple of commenters on this entry who suggested that the cartoons are racist, I’m sorry, but you’re wrong. Racism is the belief that race or ethnicity accounts for differences in the character of people or their ability to do something. It is about discriminating based on someone’s ethnic group. These cartoons may be anti-religion, but they do nothing to single out someone for their race, or suggest that any ethnic group is inferior to another. Of course, your charges of racism are a convenient strawman to attack this, and is an attempt to deny the truth that the reactions of Muslims supports the satire of the cartoons in the first place. It is also an ad hominem attack, an attempt to discredit the message by attacking the messenger. If you can make the cartoonists out to be racists you will, you hope, avoid dealing with the message. It’s a trap that ultimately discredits you. Deal with the message.

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Permalink || Comments (9) || Categories: Free Speech
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  • http://nomayo.mu.nu Stephen Macklin

    “So, you have de facto surrendered your freedom of expression.”

    I would have to disagree with this statement. Doesn’t the concept of freedom of expression contain the right to not speak if you so choose? The U.S. media have the right to freely publish the cartoons if they choose to do so. Nothing is stopping them but their choice to not offend. Someone’s choice to exercise their in freedom in a manner with which you disagree does not constitute a surrender of that freedom.

    I chose to publish the cartoons on my site. I am not worried that someone might be offended. I also think it is important that people see what all the fuss is about. If people see that a few cartoons can spur such widespread anger and violence, they may gain some understanding of the nature of the radical Islamists we are fighting.

  • http://thelibertypapers.org/2005/11/21/who-is-eric/ Eric

    I understand what you’re saying Stephen, but there is a difference, I think, between choosing not to do something you don’t think it’s a good idea, and choosing not to do something because someone else thinks it’s not a good idea. These same newspapers (NYT, WaPo, etc.) have published pictures and cartoons that are offensive to other religious groups, and defended those actions as “freedom of speech”. Either, they are hypocrites or they have given up control of their freedom of speech to the sensibilities of someone else.

  • http://nomayo.mu.nu Stephen Macklin

    I am not suggesting that they are not hypocritical, nor do I mean to say that their reasons for choosing not to publish the cartoons are the right ones. Merely that they are free to choose to print or not to print.

    Their reasons are in fact utterly hypocritical and self-serving. But the reality of free press is that they have the freedom to be utterly hypocritical and self-serving.

    As Mark Steyn :

    “Thus, NBC is celebrating Easter this year with a special edition of the gay sitcom “Will & Grace,” in which a Christian conservative cooking-show host, played by the popular singing slattern Britney Spears, offers seasonal recipes — “Cruci-fixin’s.” On the other hand, the same network, in its coverage of the global riots over the Danish cartoons, has declined to show any of the offending artwork out of “respect” for the Muslim faith.

    Which means out of respect for their ability to locate the executive vice president’s home in the suburbs and firebomb his garage.”

  • http://thelibertypapers.org/2005/11/21/who-is-eric/ Eric

    So, you are suggesting that they are making a choice because of the threat of violence? In other words, being coerced by someone else to make a certain choice? If that is the case, how is it, in principle, different than when you don’t do something because the government tells you not to? The reason we do what the government says, ultimately, is because of their potential to use force.

  • http://nomayo.mu.nu Stephen Macklin

    I think the difference, as least as it applies to the American media, is that, McCain/Fiengold aside the state cannot use force to compel or prohibit speech. The distinction being government vs non government action.

    They are free to stand up to Islamic threats or not. The media have certainly not shown any general resistance to publishing material that offends. But their unwillingness to offend anyone who will do more than write a letter, indicates that they don’t believe the pen is mightier than the sword.

  • http://nomayo.mu.nu Stephen Macklin

    I guess the distinction I’m trying to make is that while they may well be squandering their liberty, they have not surrendered it.

  • http://thelibertypapers.org/2005/11/21/who-is-eric/ Eric

    From my perspective, all renunciation of liberty is voluntary. We choose, individually, whether we will follow the law, whether it is just or unjust. There is no difference, viewed that way, between voluntarily censoring yourself because your own government says to or because someone else says to. Especially when their is a threat of violent coercion involved. To suggest that anything else is the case is to grant to government a special status that it does not deserve. And, even worse, to lessen the immorality of using the threat of violence to coerce others if you are not part of the government.

  • http://markarayner.com/blog Mark

    Good piece Eric. Your technical definition of racism is correct, though your argument sort of implies there’s no problem at all with the cartoons. They aren’t racist, but the one that has caused all the fuss — Prophet with BombTurban — is certainly prejudiced, based on religion.

    All that aside, I agree that the West can’t back down on free speech, even if it is offensive.

    And I wonder, is that Papal Bull you quoted? :) m.

    p.s. You might enjoy today’s Ask General Kang on this topic

  • http://thelibertypapers.org/2005/11/21/who-is-eric/ Eric

    Of course it’s prejudiced, it wouldn’t cause offense if it wasn’t. But, throwing “racist” around is a way to immediately sidetrack the value of the discussion. Let’s be honest, there is a basis for the prejudice. If there wasn’t, it wouldn’t create such strong reactions by so many people. The “no more virgins” cartoon is actually kind of funny, too. In the West we have a tradition of strongly attacking our political opponents without resorting to violence. That’s what these cartoons do. The Middle East doesn’t yet have that tradition. They need to learn it, or they need to fight a war that they, ultimately, can’t win, or they need to isolate themselves and ignore us. There really are no other options. Right now the extremists have chosen to fight a war they can’t win. Will the moderates wake up and deal with it?

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