Giving away Free Speech? - Granite Grok

Giving away Free Speech?

What is the connection between Ann Coulter (a conservative not well liked by prickly Liberals everywhere) and with what are known as the Mohammad Cartoons (REALLY not liked by prickly Muslims everywhere)?

The Danish newspaper "Jyllands-Posten" created a controversy last year. The Editor felt that a curtain of silence was descending upon Danish society in discussing Islamic / immigration topics, especially when an author could not find illustrators for his book about Mohammad. In this democratic society where free speech is a given, he commissioned artists to comment on this trend of self censorship and begin an open debate. Knowing that it is important for society to be able to openly and honestly discuss any topic even if offensive to some, he wanted to get past the retort of “You are insulting Islam” that was silencing discussions. After all, who wishes to offend (buried by pejoratives), or die (like Theo Van Gogh, killed over his film that is critical over how Islamic women are treated)? Their work resulted in the “Mohammad Cartoons”.

This happens to Christianity often. Remember the NEA sponsored “art” project known as Piss Christ (Christ on the Cross in a beaker of urine)? Many were highly incensed, as was I. However, these kinds of “commentary” generally results in some ink in the press, some spots on TV news, a few rallies, but the controversy dies out – and nobody gets hurt. Not that we like or condone it, but no one or their rights are generally threatened.

It didn’t work out that way with the Cartoons. My opinion is that they are rather mild; the “worst” being a depiction of Mohammad wearing a headpiece that looks like a bomb. However, many Muslims believe that depicting Mohammad is blasphemous and they reacted akin to a swarm of killer bees, rioting and holding rallies full of signs threatening violence /death to those that had insulted Islam. People died…over cartoons!

The message: our religion does not allow this, so non-Muslims can’t either – and we will try to stop you regardless of the right to free speech (which they condemned). In a Catch-22 scenario, Muslims were complaining that they don’t react violently yet, they proved the cartoonists right by being violent.

Result? Even the Danish Minister of Education and Church, Bertel Haarder admits that, due to threats of intimidation, he practices self-censorship. Simply, he does not wish to be targeted by saying what he wants and admits to being fearful. Who wants to live under constant police protection from death threats? Although a few media outlets (and many blog sites) showed the cartoons in a display of support for free speech, many others refused due to the potential threats to their property or employees. Intimidation – comment on Islam and you may pay a high price.

On the other hand, free speech is under attack from another avenue as demonstrated by Ann Coulter’s new book (“Godless: The Church of Liberalism”). Many on the Left have condemned her and her book, demanding that bookstores not sell it or having it banned outright (her reputation built on scathing conversations discussing Liberals) as they feel it is supremely insulting. However, this furor is not about her main point (that liberalism can be considered a religion) but for a remark made about four New Jersey woman whose husbands died in the 9/11 tragedy. The quote, taken out of context, is “"I’ve never seen people enjoying their husbands’ deaths so much.” as she discusses their political activism.

Now, I do not condone her wording but her underlying thesis is correct as it illustrates two important scenarios. In the first, she skewers the Left on the use of “human shields”. These are people, because of a personal situation, seem to preclude counter arguments to their positions based on emotions (e.g., “how can you argue against Cindy Sheehan – she lost her son!”). In other words, Political Correctness running roughshod.

The second scenario, it seems that Political Correctness (not wishing to offend) is keeping us from lucidly discussing substantial and important topics because someone may be offended (and we just can’t have that, can we?) . Thus, debates either devolve into screaming matches with little logical headway, or silence just falls, leading to no debate at all.

The connection? In both cases, we lose free speech – a fundamental right and tenet of Western civilization. On one hand, we are allowing ourselves to be silenced by the threat of intimidation by those that do not really believe in free speech. On the other, we are allowing ourselves to be silenced by those that believe no one should be allowed to offend them or their arguments.

Sorry, but free speech trumps both. There is no right to not have your religion insulted and there is no right to not be offended. Truly free speech needs to be actively exercised and defended against those that intimidate by violence or by those that intimidate by Political Correctness.