Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Are Radical Imams Going to Redefine Freedom of Speech?

September 19, 2012 4:07 pm 7 comments

Mohammed cartoons.

Now there are threats of violence directed against France for the publication of a cartoon depicting the prophet Mohammad in violation of Islamic law.  This is simply the most recent manifestation of a worldwide effort to censor freedom of expression and make it conform to the most radical interpretation of Islamic tradition.  The bounty on the head of Salman Rushdie was recently increased and this distinguished author remains in peril.  Theo Van Gogh was murdered for violating Islamic Law.  And numerous people have been killed as the result of cartoons being published in Denmark and a video shown on YouTube.

I have seen several minutes of the stupid little film that has, arguably, incited so much violence and the deaths of four distinguished public servants, including a United States Ambassador who was uniquely sympathetic to Islam and Arab interests.

There is nothing good that can be said about the low budget film.  It has little redeeming social value and the world would be a better place if it had never been made or shown.  Nevertheless, it would be wrong, and under American law unconstitutional, to censor or punish such despicable expression.  Freedom of speech means freedom for those who you despise, and freedom to express the most despicable views.  It also means that the government cannot pick and choose which expressions to authorize and which to prevent.

There are several exceptions recognized under American law to untrammeled freedom of expression.  These include falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater, fighting words and speech that present a clear and present danger of inciting violence.  Even if these exceptions were applied to anti-Islamic expressions that would not solve the problem.  It is easy to argue that a video such as the one on YouTube could be banned without doing much damage to freedom of expression, but that would only be the tip of the iceberg.  The radical Imams who incite the violence would not be satisfied until they could decide what could be seen and heard. They want to become the ultimate judges, juries and executioners when it comes to anything that relates to Islam or its prophet.  But religious fanatics who are easily offended by those outside of their religion who violate the rules of their religion cannot serve as censors in democratic societies.  The threat or fear of violence should not become an excuse or justification for restricting freedom of speech.

Those who blame America for allowing what some Muslims regard as blasphemous speech must come to understand that by not censoring such speech, the government does not place its imprimatur upon it.  That may be difficult to understand for people who have come of age in repressive regimes which do not permit any expressions disfavored by the government.  In such regimes, the publication of bigoted materials can be taken as representing the views of the government.  For example, when Iranians newspapers publish anti-Semitic diatribes, the views expressed in those diatribes are the views of the government.  Not so with democratic states.  Indeed it is probably true that more anti-Semitic material is published in the United States than in Iran, simply because so much is published here and almost none of it is subject to any kind of restriction or censorship.  That does not make the United States an anti-Semitic country, but rather a country in which there is freedom to express anti-Semitic views.  It does make Iran an anti-Semitic country, because all views that appear in the media must be approved by the government.

Some who are now calling on governments to censor expressions that are deemed offensive to Muslims point to the fact that some European governments do censor Holocaust-denial speech.  It is false comparison.  First, only a tiny number of governments—most particularly Germany, which was responsible for the Holocaust— censor Holocaust-denial speech.  The vast majority of countries, including the United States, impose no such censorship.  As far as I know no Muslim or Arab country censors Holocaust-denial speech.  To the contrary, several such countries, led by Iran, promote such hate speech.  Second, the Holocaust is a fact that no reasonable historian can dispute.  The kinds of views that have caused the recent violence are expressions of opinion regarding an historical character about which historians vigorously disagree.  Finally, I for one would like to see an end to the censorship of Holocaust-denial speech.  Let those like Ahmadinejad who insist on lying about the history of European Jewry be defeated in the marketplace of ideas.  Truth does not need censorship to defend it.

So let us not allow those who employ violence to initiate a debate about the limits of free speech.  Democracies should not allow themselves to be held hostage to violent extremists.  Having said that, freedom of speech also requires decent people to condemn those who abuse freedom by needlessly insulting the religious beliefs of others or by being insensitive to the havoc they may be causing by exercising their freedom of speech.  This film should be condemned in the marketplace of ideas, but the writings of Salman Rushdie and the publishing of political cartoons should not be condemned.

Individuals have the right to pick and choose which expressions to condemn, which to praise and which to say nothing about.  Governments, however, must remain neutral as to the content of expression.  And governments must protect the rights of all to express even the most despicable of views.  Finally, the international community must use its collective power to apprehend and punish anyone who commits violence in reaction to expressions with which they disagree.  Being offended by freedom of speech should never be regarded as a justification for violence.

An earlier and shorter version of this article appeared in Ha’aretz.

7 Comments

  • rodney allsworth

    O so true,–Truth does not need censorship to defend it.-and then- Being offended by freedom of speech should never be regarded as a justification for violence.- first, if the Muslim religion was the truth that they claim, why do they have to defend its -god-prophet-, if their god is at all god he doesnt need them to defend him, if he needs defending he’s not god at all.

    rod qld

  • If I don’t believe in a god or in a religion, then that might be so insulting to them. In fact, Bible, Quran and Tanakh have these passages saying that the unfaithful should be killed, as well as those that’d try to ‘convert’ you… so, what the hell? Where’s that freedom?

    • Sorry there is nothing in the old Testament about hurting, humiliating or killing Christians or Muslims…..The Koran …and its believers…celebrates the hurting, humiliating and killing of Christians and Jews…Check out how tolerant Mohammad was with the Jews of Quaraza…Does decapitation give you a clue?

  • Jews of the world, unite in affirming often
    “ISRAEL IS GODS PROMISE TO THE GENERATIONS” “ISRAEL IS THE LIGHT UNTO THE NATIONS”.

  • To use one of Prof. Dershowitz’ favorite Yiddishisms, it takes some kind of Chutspah (or as Bill Clinton might say, brass) for these characters to be demanding apologies from western democracies when their governments, newspapers, schools, writers, spokesmen, and populace regularly and continuously spout the most venomous anti-Jewish commentary,including calls for the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people. But all others must be sensitive to their religious sensibilities and concerns. This idiocy is being forced on us because as one of their wall posters said, there are one and a half billion of them. They have a sixth century mindset and act accordingly. When people fought religious wars back then, there wasn’t much concern for civilian casualities; they had wars of extermination. Now, such wars are only contemplated by the Islamic fanatics who take comfort from the fact that their enemies aren’t ready to reciprocate in kind (we only see such behavior in their internecine battles, such as is ongoing in Syria or happened in Iran-Iraq). As psychologist have repeatedly taught us, the only realistic method for curtailing such behavior is tit-for-tat. Unfortunately, this doesn’t square with liberal sensibility, although the Allies didn’t hesitate to respond in kind against the Germans and Japanese during WWII. Pundits incessantly complain about the “cycle of violence”, but the terrorist mindset will not be squelched unless there is a real fear of consequences. Appealing to the rationality of fanatics and their sympathizers (which appears to encompass much of Islamic society) is ineffective and self defeating.

  • It’s not just radical imams as extreme leftists like HaAretz would like you to believe!
    Freedom of speech is incompatible with Islam and its law, the Sharia.

  • Sorry Alan…your guy Obama and his sidekick Hillary are more concerned with not hurting the jihadists’ feelings than defending the US Constitution….the initial statement from the USEmbassy in Egypt was US policy…If it wasn’t, then you fire State Dept employees the way FDR fired Joe Kennedy Sr…that statement made clear that Obama and Hillary care more about sharia than the US Constitution…You cannot “distance” yourself from the statement unless you fire the people at the embassy..

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture A Theatrical Look at Diplomacy and the Oslo Accords (REVIEW)

    A Theatrical Look at Diplomacy and the Oslo Accords (REVIEW)

    Is diplomacy worthwhile, even if the end result isn’t what we hoped for? That is the question, among many others, posed by the new play Oslo, by J.T. Rogers. Making its New York debut at Lincoln Center, the play examines the secret diplomatic process that led to the historic 1993 peace accords. The character of Shimon Peres makes an appearance onstage — and he, along with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, tower over the proceedings. But they mainly do so in absentia. Instead, […]

    Read more →
  • Spirituality/Tradition Sports Israeli Trailblazer Dean Kremer Brings Jewish Values to Nascent Pro Baseball Career

    Israeli Trailblazer Dean Kremer Brings Jewish Values to Nascent Pro Baseball Career

    JNS.org – Other than being part of the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, Sandy Koufax and Dean Kremer have something else in common: a respect for Jewish tradition. Koufax — who was recently ranked by ESPN as the best left-handed pitcher in Major League Baseball (MLB) history — decided not to pitch Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because the game fell on Yom Kippur. “I would do the same,” Kremer said in an interview. Last month, the 20-year-old Kremer became […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Lead Guitarist of British Rock Band Queen Asks Adam Lambert to Sing in Hebrew During Upcoming Israel Concert

    Lead Guitarist of British Rock Band Queen Asks Adam Lambert to Sing in Hebrew During Upcoming Israel Concert

    The famed lead guitarist of British rock band Queen, Brian May, encouraged Jewish singer-songwriter Adam Lambert to perform in Hebrew during their upcoming joint concert in Israel, an entertainment industry advocacy organization reported on Tuesday. During a recent interview with Israeli television personality Assi Azar, May was played a 2005 video of Lambert singing the popular song Shir L’Shalom, (Song for Peace). May was so impressed by Lambert’s singing of the Hebrew track that he told the American singer, “We have to do that. Let’s […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Kenyan Marathoner to Compete for Israel in Rio Olympics

    Kenyan Marathoner to Compete for Israel in Rio Olympics

    JNS.org – Kenyan-born marathoner Lonah Chemtai is expected to compete for Israel at the Olympics Games in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil next month after gaining a last minute approval. “I am very proud [to represent Israel] and I hope to achieve a new personal best time,” Chemtai told Reuters. Chemtai, who grew up a rural village in western Kenya, first came to Israel in 2009 to care of the children of her country’s ambassador to Israel. The 27-year-old runner recently gained […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity Will Laughs Lead to Love on Show About Orthodox Dating?

    Will Laughs Lead to Love on Show About Orthodox Dating?

    To date or not to date? That is not the question for most Modern Orthodox singles in New York. The question is when will they find their future spouses, and when will their families stop nagging them about having babies? Inspired by the success of the Israeli show “Srugim,” Leah Gottfried, 25, decided she would create and star in her own show, “Soon By You.” “Dating is so serious already,” Gottfried said. “We wanted to take a lighter approach and laugh at the […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israeli Actress Says Playing Muslim Character in ‘Tyrant’ Has Made Her More ‘Hopeful, Humble’

    Israeli Actress Says Playing Muslim Character in ‘Tyrant’ Has Made Her More ‘Hopeful, Humble’

    Israeli actress Moran Atias said that playing a Muslim woman in the hit FX series Tyrant has changed her outlook. “Educating myself about a different culture has made me more hopeful and humble, that we’re all the same,” the Jewish actress, 35, said during an interview with AOL Build. Atias plays Leila Al-Fayeed, the strong and politically minded wife of the president of Abbudin, a fictional Middle Eastern country run by a dictatorial family. The Israeli-born former model, who earned the title of Miss Globe International […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity Jewish Fashionistas From Around the World to Tour ‘Chic Side of Israel’

    Jewish Fashionistas From Around the World to Tour ‘Chic Side of Israel’

    A delegation of 35 Jewish fashion industry mavens from around the world will travel to Israel later this month to “discover the chic side” of the country, 5 Town Jewish Times reported. The eight-day tour, organized by the Maryland-based Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project (JWRP) and the Israeli Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, will include visits to key fashion sites and meetings with some of the country’s top fashion designers, merchandisers and marketers. Participants will also attend a JWRP Fashion Week event in Tel Aviv. JWRP said the trip is […]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Granddaughter of Holocaust Survivors Honored to Represent Israel at 2016 Olympic Games

    Granddaughter of Holocaust Survivors Honored to Represent Israel at 2016 Olympic Games

    Pro golfer Laetitia Beck said she is honored to have been selected to represent Israel at the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil largely because of her grandparents, who survived the Holocaust. “Everywhere I go, I want people to know where I’m from, my background and where my family came from because of the struggle they had to go through,” she told the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA). “Every week when I play and I see the Israeli flag, it brings me a lot […]

    Read more →