Freedom of speech and fundamentalism

A fictional exchange of ideas about a touchy subject
You get it or you don't

You get it or you don’t

So, this freedom of speech thing is pretty complicated, don’t you think?

Yep, it is.

But as barbaric as the Charlie Hebdo attacks were, you don’t think the reaction in the West was a little hypocritical?

Yes. Perhaps the people on the street were being honest but certainly not the politicians. That (staged) picture of all of them walking together in support of the marches in Paris was a good photo op but a bunch of them have shoddy records in supporting freedom of speech in their own countries.

And even the ones who are democratic, tend to be allied to governments that are disgustingly repressive. Is there a major Western nation that does not make it national policy to kiss ass with the Saudis? The US and the UK are the most egregious example, but even Hollande was quick to fly to Riyadh when King Abdullah died.

And they seem to have no shame about it, which is the worst. It’s this in-your-face discarding of the very things they so passionately seem to defend that is the most insulting. And nobody seems to challenge them about it either, which is the worst part. All of this is done with the excuse of national security coming into play.

But now, back to the freedom of speech part, can we at least agree on a definition of what we should be permitted to say and we can’t? Because let’s be honest, some of those cartoons were blatantly insulting. Not just to Muslims but probably to most people of Arab descent, even if they were not religious.

Yes but they were equal opportunity offenders. They didn’t spare Jews, Catholics, anyone. And what we saw were some of the more outrageous covers, but the fact of the matter is that their primary targets were French politicians, not religions. Right-wing politicians to be precise. If we can’t ridicule a religious belief, why do we tolerate political insults? Discrimination on political grounds is as valid from an international legal perspective as religious grounds.

That would be the end of satire as we know it.

Indeed, which is why we agree that religion should be fair play too. And certainly we can agree that nobody, under any circumstance, should ever be killed for something he/she believes in.

I’m with you on that, as is probably every sensible human being on the planet. Not all religions are treated the same, though. There’s a lot of hesitation in attacking Jews, lest the accusation of anti-Semitism be brought up. Muslims are also increasingly being treated different, mostly due to the latent threat of violence.

Yes, and although there is some value in the argument that they are largely disenfranchised minorities where this abuse takes place, their own media back in the Middle East has free reign in making blatantly racist cartoons and what not about the West, about Israel, about anything they are against. There is at least some restraint in the West to publish much more offensive material than there is in the Muslim world itself.

And the worst part is that people die when they protest about it! Scores of protesters in the Muslim world were killed back in 2005-06 during the Danish cartoon incident, and also following Charlie Hebdo. How ridiculous is this?

As ridiculous as pointing out that the biggest victims of Muslim extremism have been Muslims. Compare how many Western infidels have been killed by terrorism since 9/11 versus the slaughter committed by groups like the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and now ISIS against their own people. It’s completely disproportional.

Alright, let’s get to the more touchy subject: is Islam a violent religion?

All Abrahamic religions are incredibly violent. The Bible condones infanticide, slavery, mass murder, and what not. It is sexist, homophobic, and does not feature a loving god, but a vengeful, cruel one. Indeed the Quran and the Hadith (the teachings of Mohammed that were not written down by him but by others) have some horrible things in them but by and large, there’s something equally horrible in the Bible somewhere.

What about the more uniquely savage Muslim punishments like apostasy?

“Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses” (Hebrews 10:28). ““If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son or your daughter or the wife you embrace or your friend who is as your own soul entices you secretly, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ which neither you nor your fathers have known…you shall kill him. You shall stone him to death with stones, because he sought to draw you away from the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 13:6-10).

Ok, clearly nothing unique about it.

Yeah, we love you guys too

Yeah, we love you guys too

Nope, but here we have to make a key distinction. There’s nothing wrong with Islam in the sense that it is uniquely barbarous. But there is something wrong with Muslims. Because Muslims are unique in this modern world we live in that adhere to such a strict interpretation of their faith. Neither Jews, nor Catholics, nor Christians commit the more appalling acts of savagery that their holy book calls for. The only good Christian is a bad Christian if you know what I mean.

Surely you don’t mean there’s something wrong with the entire Muslim world, right? You don’t have Bangladeshis or Indonesians smashing airliners into skyscrapers?

This is exactly what I’m getting at! It’s not a religious problem, it’s a political one! It’s a Middle East thing. This is a region that has been effectively carved out superficially by the European powers (Britain and France) after World War I, then was turned into a Cold War battleground after World War II in which both superpowers supported some despicable authoritarian regimes. One of those superpowers still does. How can you not blame Muslims in the Middle East, especially young ones, to not succumb to the temptations of extremism when governments have failed to serve a unifying purpose and failed to provide prosperity? How do you expect French Algerians not to remember the brutal repression by the French military? By and large the more peaceful Muslim nations are those which have not been drawn into these geo-political fault lines.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Look at Boko Haram in Nigeria. Or the Mumbai attacks. Muslim extremism is not limited to the Middle East.

True, that is a valid point. It does seem that extremism in the Middle East has served as an inspiration to others, however. Plus, Africa has had quite a share of its own mass murdering rebel groups that have nothing to do with Islam.

I get the feeling that as a result of all this, Muslims feel like they’ve been victimized by history and the great powers that be.

Well, to accept this one would have to have a very static view of history. True, Muslims have been victimized by the West for the past century, but Islam is 1,400 years old and during most of that time Muslims have been the ones doing the victimizing. Was it not Europe on the defensive when Umayyad armies reached Tours in the 8th century? Or when the Ottomans were laying siege to Vienna in the 16th? Aside from the Crusades (which were ultimately crushed), it was mostly the Islamic world with the initiative during its first millennium of existence.

So, we’ve talked a lot about politics and we’ve strayed from the original point.

Which is?

Should we draw the line with freedom of speech somewhere?

Yes, I think we can: when it actively advocates the use of violence.

So, let me get this straight. A neo-Nazi rally is ok. A neo-Nazi call to loot Jewish or Turkish shops is not ok. Or, a Muslim cleric calling for the implementation of Sharia Law is fine. A Muslim cleric advocating sending kids to join ISIS should be banned.

Yup, pretty much. As despicable as some people’s beliefs are, the line between fringe and mainstream is finer than most people think. At least today’s fringe could be tomorrow’s mainstream, or even majority. If that happens a democratic society needs to do some soul searching on why this came to be. All these “-isms” that afflict us are political-societal failures.

I guess the Sun’s infamous Page 3 is a good example. It’s not so much why a newspaper publishes porn as a regular feature, but why white, working class British identity (the Sun’s readership) is infused with such casual misogyny to the degree that it is. Shouldn’t that be the problem to solve, rather than a page in a vulgar newspaper that nobody with an IQ of over 100 reads?

I wonder if many of the same people that marched with pen in hand in support of Charlie Hebdo would do the same for the Sun if a radical feminist went in and murdered their editors. It just seems to be what gets to people’s sensibilities. Nobody is truly impartial when it comes to freedom of speech if it’s going to be used against you.

And what can we learn from all of this?

That humans are hypocritical, selfish assholes.


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