I am rather appalled by the continuing aftermath of the publicationÂ of a few single-frame cartoon images of Muhammad in a DanishÂ newspaper nearly half a year ago. A natural question has gone unasked:Â how many, if any, of those protesting have actually seen any ofÂ the cartoons in question? There is a further irony of course in trying to protest imagery of Islam as a violent and oppressive religionÂ through violent riots and a call for suppression of free speech.Â What point are they trying to prove in embodying the nightmares ofÂ the Danish cartoonists they protest? What is the objective of theseÂ gatherings and flag burnings?
What has become clear is that the vocal part of the Islamic worldÂ believes it should be illegal to critique, slander, or make fun ofÂ Islam or Muhammad in Europe, the USA, or anywhere. They point toÂ various European laws forbidding Nazi-like speech or the denyingÂ of the Holocaust. They are right that a double-standard is wrong,Â but the answer is not to further restrict speech, but rather toÂ lift existing bans on speech. Am I saying that people should beÂ allowed to say the Holocaust never happened and extol Hitler’sÂ virtues? Yes, absolutely. People should be able to say whateverÂ they want, however bigoted, misinformed, or unjust it is.
Free speech is a powerful and dangerous thing to believe in. IfÂ you believe in free speech, you know that that will absolutelyÂ include misleading, insulting, and patently wrongÂ speech. But if everyone is allowed to speak, then the kooks willÂ be shown for kooks in plain view and those with wisdom will beÂ self-evident. The believer in free speech says that people canÂ figure out for themselves what is truth and what is a lie and thatÂ all possible information should be available as evidence. The bestÂ way, long term, to prevent and diminish prejudice and false viewsÂ in not to try and ban them or shove them into some dark corner butÂ to bring them into the open by allowing their full publicationÂ and rebroadcast. The harsh sun of public scrutiny will wither andÂ burn foolishness over time.
The believer in free speech thus accepts a world where theirÂ deepest beliefs (perhaps even their beliefs in free speech!) areÂ challenged, mocked, and caricatured. But through the humility ofÂ accepting critique, we are made stronger. By acknowledging theÂ truth that our adversaries speak, we can have a chance at leastÂ to right our own wrongs. This is the very strength of a multipartyÂ democracy, of capitalism, of a group of people to evolve throughÂ debate to a better understanding of the world and themselves.Â It prevents stagnation. I’m proud of the fact that one of ourÂ nation’s finest news shows runs on a comedy network and is largelyÂ focused on lampooning the foolishness of our leaders; I’m proudÂ that a show like that is not only legal but popular.
So for a group of people, however embattled and disenfranchised,Â to demand a cessation of critique is dangerous not only to freeÂ speech everywhere, but to themselves. If a cartoon showing a manÂ with a bomb-turban were to be illegal, would it break the law toÂ mention in a news report that a suicide bomber was a Muslim? TheÂ slippery slope of enforced political correctness is terrifying;Â I would much rather live in a world of open dialogue, replete withÂ people making terrible cartoons insulting my mother, than to liveÂ in a stifled and stagnant world.
So go ahead, insult me, insult each other, and let’s move on.