The Free Speech Issue

With the tragic events in the Middle East the last 72 hours, the issue of free speech has come to the forefront as has the responsibility of everyone to practice a little discernment. It amazes me, constantly, how little Americans know about the rest of the world and sometimes vice versa.

Americans don’t get that Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Pakistan etc. are not all connected. I have heard so many erroneous assertions that somehow the militant attack in Libya – not protesters but an armed group that introduced themselves by throwing grenades and firing RPG’s – is connected to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the never-ending unrest in Yemen. Oh, and yes, they all work for al-Qaeda.

 I pointed out to one guy, who went on a tirade bashing all Muslims (and of course Obama is secretly one of them according to him) that quite a few Muslims died in combat trying to protect the Embassy staff in Libya and some recognition was owed them for laying down their lives for a bunch of Americans. It made no difference to him. It is impossible for him to set his hatred aside to recognize their sacrifice. I struggle with understanding such small-minded motivations.

We don’t have a hate incitement law here like many countries. This means you can say or degrade anyone pretty much at will. Some people – and sadly many of them are artists – do this to gain attention. Unlimited free speech is great but as we see now it has its downside. It is a really fine line on where to draw the boundary between free speech and hate incitement.

What hasn’t been touched upon is the personal responsibility involved with all this. The artist who made this anti-Islamic film (he supposed duped the actors by looping dialogue in the editing room so they wouldn’t know what they were doing) is one of the real culprits here. Reports are he is fearful for his life. A dubious character, I heard one reporter talk how she had a flow chart to track all his aliases, he should be fearful.

Every artist has to sit down and think out consequences. Words have consequences and like anything else in life, you have to take responsibility for your actions. People have died from this person’s bigotry. By the same token people like the anti-Muslim one I mentioned above or Muslims who hate all people in the West with a different voice are thriving off their own hate. There will be consequences for that as well. I see no difference between a person here with that hatred or a person in Yemen with that hatred. The motive is the same.

I don’t know if we need a hate incitement law here. A lot of times I think we do especially when I see words bantered around carelessly. On the other hand, I am torn about giving up any of the unfettered free speech rights that exist. It is a tough call. Then again, most things in life are. As the last few days have shown, very little is black and white. 

Categories: art, Entertainment, Everyday Life, israel, Politics, travel, writing | Tags: , , , , , , | 12 Comments

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12 thoughts on “The Free Speech Issue

  1. Good post. You might enjoy this closely related one if you get a minute.

  2. Vera

    I agree that words should be chosen carefully. But I personally wouldn´t compare a piece of shit movie debasing a religion with a mob violating people and burning down buildings – now the German embassy in Sudan, come on, folks.
    We have a satirical magazine here in Germany that after all these abuse scandals within the church posted as a magazine cover a priest sucking jesus dick. you could buy it here everywhere in newspaper shops. and – seriously – did I give a shit about it? Made me laugh. No people here ran around and started burning down newspaper offices. I´m also aware of anti-Muslim resentment, but I don´t see that this is the point in this case. This violence is just insane and has to stop.

    • Jett

      I agree with you that the violence needs to stop. My point is that the person who made this film (and I hate calling it a film because I have seen better high school projects) carries a responsibility. People behind stunts like this – or the newspaper you mention – do things for 2 reasons 1. to incite a reaction usually violent and/or 2. to make a name for themselves. Example of the latter is the minister who burned Korans who also has ties to this film. My point was that being provocative like that carries consequences and it is something every artist learns (or should learn) in a 101 class. You write something, make a film, draw a picture, you have to be sensitive to the harm it may cause – whether it should or not. When you light a fuse don’t be surprised when you see an explosion. Libya is a different case, but what is happening in the other countries has more to do with internal politics than that film. The film is an excuse. These are new governments and like most new systems of government, it may take awhile for things to shake out.

      • Vera

        I totally agree with your point that as an artist you carry a responsibility – and actually just as a human person. I personally try this a lot and think a lot about the consequences of my deeds which influences a lot of things in my daily life like not eating animal products, just to give an example. I just think there is no balance at all in the things that followed on this stupid abusive movie. I didn´t even bother to click at any of these youtube links cause I really don´t care how stupid it is – these people that react now so violently also carry a responsibility for their acting, not just an “artist” or whatever this man might consider himself.
        But anyway – if the film is just an excuse for these things, than anything could have been taken, no? If people want to find something that could make them act in violent temper then they will anyway – with or without this movie.

      • Jett

        Exactly, anything could’ve have been used as an excuse. This stupid movie just presented itself. I am encouraged by the fact that many of local populations are pushing back against those who created the protests and really, overall, the numbers protesting are smaller compared to times past. Proof that the film is cover is best shown in Egypt where much of the time the only people battling outside the US Embassy were groups called ‘Ultras’ who are nothing more than soccer hooligans. They aren’t even religious. But they hate the police and will ‘lend themselves out’ if it means a clash with the police.

      • Vera

        That´s an encouraging point of view and I just hope you will be right. I´m somewhat more pessimistic and think we might see that the Arab Spring will first lead to an even more rigid and misantrophic so called-religious culture then it was in the past and that there is a longer way to go than we would hope. But we´ll see what the future brings, hopefully more in the direction of your perspective. Meanwhile Germany will not allow this hate priest Tony Something to travel here and spread his message, guess you might like to hear this 🙂 have a good sunday!

      • Jett

        I’m not sure it will lead to a more religious culture but it could become more violent as the secular and the religious struggle with each other for power. Really, that is what you are seeing now. I just think though it is something those cultures have to sort for themselves. I will have to look up who this Tony person is. I hadn’t heard of that. Hope your Sunday was good as well!

  3. Vera

    Sorry, meant Terry xx… this hate preacher. Well, these cultures should figure it out for themselves as long as no people get harmed ! Which is the case right now. Of course in the end it´s a struggle for power but there are hundreds of thousands protesting now – and each of them has a responsibility for his or her acting, they are not just marionettes of the greater powers behind them.

  4. Again, great post. You are preaching to the choir. Lumping any group of peoples together is dangerous as we are seeing every day now. Sadly, some of the animosity goes back to antiquity.

    • Jett

      Yeah, some of these biases go back centuries. I ran into that today as a matter of fact and was thinking to myself when the guy was talking “no one is even alive from back then. You might want to move on.”

  5. I think this is one of those situations where everyone is at fault. The movie was idiotic (just because you have the right to say stupid, irresponsible things doesn’t mean that it’s morally okay to do so)–and then of course violence as a response isn’t okay (something which I think we often neglect to emphasize enough)

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