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Giving “Freedom of Speech” a Bad Name

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The Sanctity of the freedom of expression is validated by reason and is not a reason in itself to exercise it.

“…one of the founding principles of our E.U.rope is freedom of expression, including the right to criticise.  It should be crystal clear to all that violence, intimidation, and the calls for boycotts or for restraints on the freedom of the press are completely unacceptable.”
- E.U. Justice Commissioner

Upon the release of what seemed to myself to be a most injudicious statement by the E.U. Justice Commissioner, I was led to wonder how the honourable “Justice” Commissioner would take it if newspapers across the E.U. were to republish the anti-Semitic “cartoons” that were in fashion in the 1930s in das Vaterland whilst purporting to be doing so in respect of the Freedom of Speech, or, according to Reporters Without Borders, illustrating “an essential accomplishment of democracy.”    

R.W.B. and the culturally Incorporated also tellingly overlook the most important fact in this episode which ought to be the basis upon which the cartoon, the intentions of the editors, and their claim that the freedom of speech allows them to proceed with impunity ought to be questioned - that the caricatures of Mu’hammad are a gross misrepresentation of Islaam and seek to equate and reduce Islaam to nothing more than a finishing school for transnational militants by linking the Prophet himself with their activities.

In this “oversight”, one may not be blamed for alleging pervasive E.U.rocentrism or a subconscious and unstated disdain for Islaam and Muslims as a whole as such stances will inevitably and predictably undermine the propensity to focus on this most important of all facts in this episode.  The same applies to all those who deem this episode as an opportunity to speak up for the Freedom of Speech rather than focus on the fact that this is little more than a libelous attack, and thus, an abuse of the Freedom of Speech.  

Whilst I will not deny the “artist” of the right to the dementia required to produce such cartoons, or to have it occupy a prominent place in the publication of some ultra right-wing periodical in the periphery of the media, its publication by more than 50 newspapers – many of them “mainstream” - across E.U.rope, is indeed objectionable.  By doing so, they promote the notion that simple and thoughtless schoolyard-type ridicule is an essential and indivisible component of the Freedom of Speech as much as systematic and analytical critique.

The equation of both will only serve to promote the most base of the two amongst the masses when one takes on board the fact that such an approach requires little thought and yet has much more appeal than those “tiresome” and “long-winded” analyses written by “academics”.  To give as much prominence in our mainstream newspapers to these malicious and misrepresentative caricatures alongside analyses and objective reports is akin to celebrating both as essential and equally laudatory parts of the Freedom of Speech.

Even worse is that this implies the objectivity of these cartoons by its being forwarded by mainstream newspapers which are generally taken to be objective in their stance.

The “artists” behind these cartoons should have the right to scrawl away as they like, but to provide these thoughtless and malicious doodles prominence in the mainstream media is akin to forwarding these views as plausible and thus worthy of mass consumption.

As the Prophet Mu’hammad is a representative and conceptual catch-all of, and self-identificatory symbol for all Muslims, to depict him in such a fashion cannot but be interpreted as a slur on the entire Nation of Islaam [not to be confused with the U.S. based Nation of Islam]; a gross oversimplification of a highly complex religion/perspective; a reduction of the temporal guide of Muslims to nothing more than a psychotic with murder and mayhem on his mind, and by association, all adherents to the Way; and this being yet another mainstream, and all too western media effort to imply that Transnational Militancy finds its root in nothing other than Islaam, instead of, perhaps, the self-determination and self-preservation instincts being activated by the historical actions and inactions of the west.

This is nothing short of malicious vilification of the kind that is reminiscent of representations of the Jews in popular publications and posters prior to the establishment of the 3rd Reich.  No doubt the so-called champions of Free Speech surrounding Herr Hitler would have spewed similar justifications then as their allegedly enlightened and “modern” counterparts are now. 

On the Use and Abuse of the Freedom of Speech
To all those who dissent on the basis that Free Speech must stand despite, I ask, why do you impose sanctions of any sort upon your children in their more self-centred or superficial of expressions?  Why have any standard at all in schools in terms of the appropriateness of language and perspectival approach?  Why award higher grades to systematic argument and critical profundity in universities as opposed to superficial and purely diatribel ones?  Are these curbs on Free Speech?

Are these not, in fact, efforts to curtail abuses of this right and a move calculated to realise its ideal form?  Are these not attempts to encourage an internalisation of the customs and conventions, via various sanctions and accolades, that enable one to do the topic in question justice in view of the need to take on board all available facts in considering phenomena, and to do so for the good of all?  If we think it appropriate to impose various sanctions on children due to the application of bad methodology, then we should not hesitate to do so when those in the guise of relatively superior maturity exhibit similar or worse deficiencies. 

Those who choose to focus on how this is an inevitable and defensible outcome of the Freedom of Expression, and, like Voltaire, “defend it to the death”, are simply excusing the inexcusable simply because it is being expressed by someone who is adult in appearance, if not in thought.  By doing so, they are ensuring that it will continue to be an inevitable and defensible outcome of the Freedom of Expression.

They are fixated on the Freedom of Expression at the expense of considering the possibility that such a Freedom could possibly be abused to the point where it leads to the general diminution of the human collective’s ability to express itself intelligently.

This serves as the backdoor via which the sanctity of the Freedom of Expression is compromised by the psychological tendency of the current version of humanity to choose the path of least resistance - that is, to make the least effort in any activity prior to action, and in this case, engaging in the least amount of thought prior to making statements or considering them. 

What we have witnessed in this episode, in effect, is not an illustration of the Freedom of Speech but its degenerative diminution. If left unchecked, the future generations, and those currently undergoing socialisation, will stand to become the perspectival victims and legacy of the small-mindedness of our times as illustrated by the E.U.ropean newspapers’ vainglorious attempt to extol the virtues of their version of the Freedom of Speech by associating it with its most base characteristic – thoughtless critique. If left unchecked, the former of the two – thoughtless - will become an essential component and qualification of the validity of the latter, whilst thoughtful and systematically pursued critique is left for those portions of the social experience that produces profit, or the academic periphery – not that this process hasn’t already started or attained an accelerated momentum.

To do thus is to undo the standards that we strive to maintain in our educational centres and to imprudently deny the fact that the educational and social developmental experience is not confined solely to officially designated academic centres.  Whilst I am all for the Freedom of Speech, to abuse via speech does little but detract us from the beautiful potentials of this Freedom.

We ought not to equate taking on the hallowed via our Freedom of Speech with doing so in unhallowed and unsystematic ways.

Rather than stoop to such misrepresentative caricaturing as witnessed in this episode, I would rather that the alleged “liberals” in the west take to inquiring after those aspects of Islaam that may perhaps have served as fuel to the ire of the transnational militants in tandem with a consideration of how their own actions and underlying attitudes may have supplied the logs to an otherwise non-volatile and illuminating fire.


win_context_articleThis article won I-MAG's Writing Context!
The Writer will receive a copy of Muhammad Asad's translation of the Holy 'Qura~n and a book by John Esposito


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Last Updated on Sunday, 23 August 2009 23:06  

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