freedom of speech
David Brooks opines today concerning the murders in Paris (quit calling them “executions” and giving them some sort of legal patina):
Americans may laud Charlie Hebdo for being brave enough to publish cartoons ridiculing the Prophet Muhammad, but, if Ayaan Hirsi Ali is invited to campus, there are often calls to deny her a podium.
So this might be a teachable moment. As we are mortified by the slaughter of those writers and editors in Paris, it’s a good time to come up with a less hypocritical approach to our own controversial figures, provocateurs and satirists.
The first thing to say, I suppose, is that whatever you might have put on your Facebook page yesterday, it is inaccurate for most of us to claim, Je Suis Charlie Hebdo, or I Am Charlie Hebdo. Most of us don’t actually engage in the sort of deliberately offensive humor that that newspaper specializes in.
We might have started out that way. When you are 13, it seems daring and provocative to “épater la bourgeoisie,” to stick a finger in the eye of authority, to ridicule other people’s religious beliefs.
But after a while that seems puerile. Most of us move toward more complicated views of reality and more forgiving views of others. (Ridicule becomes less fun as you become more aware of your own frequent ridiculousness.) Most of us do try to show a modicum of respect for people of different creeds and faiths. We do try to open conversations with listening rather than insult.
Yet, at the same time, most of us know that provocateurs and other outlandish figures serve useful public roles. Satirists and ridiculers expose our weakness and vanity when we are feeling proud. They puncture the self-puffery of the successful. They level social inequality by bringing the mighty low. When they are effective they help us address our foibles communally, since laughter is one of the ultimate bonding experiences.
A lot of people are panning Brooks today, but on the large point, I think he’s right. What was done was, in many people’s opinion, “puerile” and “offensive”. But as he further points out, even those who are puerile and offensive in that regard do indeed serve a “useful public role.” They point to things that need pointed at and they do it in a way that is difficult to ignore. That doesn’t mean I have to like their methods or even their message, but I do want them to have the freedom to express it.
For myself, I usually avoid that sort of offense. I personally think most points can be made within reasonable bounds of propriety. But those are limits I put on myself. It’s a personal belief that I am able to sway more people with reasonable arguments and bits of sarcasm that I am from being puerile and offensive. I believe that those who engage in that sort of behavior turn off more minds than they turn on. But that’s my belief. However, for those that believe otherwise, they have the full right to engage in such behavior as long as it doesn’t violate the rights of others. And no, you have absolutely no right to not be offended.
So in that regard, Brooks is right. I’m not in the mold of Charlie Hebdo … but I defend their right to be offensive, profane, blasphemous and puerile via their speech with everything I have. That doesn’t at all mean I like it, am not offended by it or think it is right. And whatever they do, their right to free speech also opens them up to the consequences of exercising that right.
Murder is not one of them. Violence of any sort is not one of them. We hear a lot about proportionality. What is a proportional response to being offended? Off the top of my head I can think of any number of “proportional” responses – depending on what you find offensive, there are several ways to make that point – condemnation, boycott, peaceful activism, ignoring them, dismissing them, etc. But their right to say what they want is as fundamental a freedom as the consequences that come with it. And that’s how it should be.
Modern Christians, for instance, have seen many examples of profanity and what they’d consider to be blasphemy writ large – in supposed “art” for instance. However, they’ve responded proportionally to the offense.
So Brooks is right in the large sense. I’m not Charlie Hebdo – but I’ll support Charlie Hebdo’s right to do what they did to the death.
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Eric Posner wants us to understand that we “value” freedom of speech much too much. Because, after all, the rest of the world doesn’t see it the way we do, and thus, one gathers from his article, we should become more like them. In the title to his article he says we “overvalue” the right of freedom of speech. Here’s what the hoary whisper of oppression sounds like:
This is that Americans need to learn that the rest of the world—and not just Muslims—see no sense in the First Amendment. Even other Western nations take a more circumspect position on freedom of expression than we do, realizing that often free speech must yield to other values and the need for order. Our own history suggests that they might have a point.
He goes on to give examples of our history where government has been less than supportive of the right.
Notice what he values more than free speech? Order. I wish I had a dollar for every pop-gun totalitarian whose clarion call was for “order” over other rights.
You see one of the acknowledged problems with freedom is it’s messy. That’s right, people get to make choices you don’t agree with and, even more importantly, get to act on them without your permission.
That’s just too “messy” for some, like Posner. Instead we sh0uld voluntarily curtail our freedoms to placate mobs and murderers half a world away because they choose to become violent over something someone said.
Posner spends the rest of the article trying to defend his premise and sound reasonable. Interestingly it devolves into a secondary attack on conservatives who apparently use this wretched overvalued freedom to oppose such wonderful and valuable things like hate speech laws and political correctness.
Make no mistake about it, at bottom, this is an appeal for speech codes and legal remedy for speech those like Posner find to be “invaluable” for whatever reason – in this case “order”.
Putting this to the old libertarian test, i.e. “freedom = choice”, it flunks. It limits or removes choice in the face of mob violence half a world away. It gives in to people who chose to be violent.
Anyone with more than a day on this earth knows that such a move would only encourage more acting out by those mobs. They sack an embassy, we clamp down on our own rights. Any time they can dictate a limiting of our freedoms with their actions we essentially play right into their hand and they win. For some reason, those like Posner can’t see the dark hand of al Qaeda and other violent radical Islamic gangs behind this. And the first thing these cut-and-run cowards suggest we do is limit our freedoms to placate those who would willingly kill us if given the chance?
So the Justice Department (a department name becoming more Orwellian by the day) has fingered the man they suspect of being responsible for this film the administration says caused these deadly attacks in the Middle East?
Federal authorities have identified a southern California man once convicted of financial crimes as the key figure behind the anti-Muslim film that ignited mob violence against U.S. embassies across the Mideast, a U.S. law enforcement official said Thursday.
Attorney General Eric Holder said that Justice Department officials had opened a criminal investigation into the deaths of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other diplomats killed during an attack on the American mission in Benghazi. It was not immediately clear whether authorities were focusing on the California filmmaker as part of that probe.
A federal law enforcement official said Thursday that Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, was the man behind “Innocence of Muslims,” a film denigrating Islam and the Prophet Muhammad that sparked protests earlier in the week in Egypt and Libya and now in Yemen. U.S. authorities are investigating whether the deaths of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in Libya came during a terrorist attack.
Uh, so? Implying this film is the reason for the murders that have taken place is a bit like complaining that a woman who was raped dressed too provocatively (which, btw, is a valid complaint … in Saudi Arabia).
And AP, by gosh, is on the job:
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation, said Nakoula was connected to the persona of Sam Bacile, a figure who initially claimed to be the writer and director of the film. But Bacile quickly turned out to a false identity and the Associated Press traced a cellphone number used by Bacile to a southern California house where Nakoula was found.
Bacile initially claimed a Jewish and Israeli background. But others involved in the film said his statements were contrived as evidence mounted that the film’s key player was a southern Californian Coptic Christian with a checkered past.
Nakoula told The Associated Press in an interview outside Los Angeles Wednesday that he managed logistics for the company that produced “Innocence of Muslims,” which mocked Muslims and the prophet Muhammad.
Nakoula denied that he was Bacile and insisted he did not direct the film, though he said he knew Bacile. But federal court papers filed against Nakoula in a 2010 criminal prosecution said that he had used numerous aliases in the past. Among the fake names, the documents said, were Nicola Bacily, Robert Bacily and Erwin Salameh, all similar to the Sam Bacile persona. Other aliases described in the documents included Ahmad Hamdy, Kritbag Difrat and PJ Tobacco.
During a conversation outside his home, Nakoula offered his driver’s license to show his identity but kept his thumb over his middle name, Basseley. Records checks by the AP subsequently found that middle name as well as other connections to the Bacile persona.
The AP located Bacile after obtaining his cellphone number from Morris Sadek, a conservative Coptic Christian in the U.S. who had promoted the anti-Muslim film in recent days on his website. Egypt’s Christian Coptic populace has long decried what they describe as a history of discrimination and occasional violence from the country’s Arab majority.
If only AP had shown the same drive and interest in Fast and Furious. Or actually vetting the President before the 2008 election.
But to the point. It doesn’t matter who did what to whom concering the film. Or who is responsible for it. Until recently this was America, land of the free and home of those with the right to freedom of speech.
We have the right to express our opinions in various ways whether others like it or not. Do you imagine that “Christian feelings” were “hurt” when “piss Christ” was displayed? Of course they were. Christians were very offended.
Don’t remember 4 dead over that, do you?
Don’t remember the Justice Department becoming involved either.
I think that may be because when that happened the right to free speech wasn’t under assualt and those who created the so-called “work of art” (as well as the government) weren’t particulary concerned with whether or not the feelings of any particular religion.
Because back then we knew the test of freedom of speech wasn’t protecting speech you agreed with, but that with which you vehemently disagreed.
And, like it or not, that’s the principle, so quickly abandoned by this administration, Mitt Romney was talking about.