On Freedom of Speech

Thursday, July 8, 2010 :: Tagged under: pablolife. ⏰ 4 minutes.

Hey! Thanks for reading! Just a reminder that I wrote this some years ago, and may have much more complicated feelings about this topic than I did when I wrote it. Happy to elaborate, feel free to reach out to me! 😄

Back in DC, my family is hosting an international student for a few days as part of a summer program, and she had a wonderful conversation with us regarding her faith and country. She's a Muslim, and her progressiveness, eloquence, and intelligence really gives a jaded, disillusioned person like myself hope for the future.

That being said, she brought up Everyone Draw Mohammed Day, clearly unhappy with it, and attributing it to Muslim hatred, as this came up in the context of post-9/11 hatred in the United States.

I attribute her reaction mostly to the press in her country, which was inaccurate and unfavorable (her description of it had factual errors, and she didn't really address the cause). It wasn't the time or place for me to defend it in person. But as a participant, allow me to go into detail.

First, watch this 1:25 video of Phillip Pullman, author of His Dark Materials, discussing the offense caused by the title of his new book The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ:

Yes, it was a shocking thing to say, and I knew it was a shocking thing to say. But no one has the right to live without being shocked. No one has the right to spend their life without being offended. Nobody has to read this book. Nobody has to pick it up. Nobody has to open it.

And if they open it and read it, they don't have to like it. And if you read it and dislike it you don't have to remain silent about it; you can write to me, you can complain about it, you can write to the publisher, you can write to the papers, you can write your own book.

You can do all those things, but there your rights stop. No one has the right to stop me writing this book, no one has the right to stop it being published, or sold, or bought, or read. And that's all I have to say on that subject.

I participated to condemn acts of violence upon those who were exercising their rights to free speech. Again, if you don't like what I produce, you can choose not to consume it, and you can choose to argue with me about it, you can post rebuttals, and we can have a free exchange of ideas.

Victims of violence get no such choice. This professor of Mayalayam, a language of India, did not choose to have his hand cut off when in a simple language exam ("find the grammar errors in this passage") he used the name Mohammed for a character.

Theo van Gogh did not choose to get killed. Lars Vilks didn't choose to get attacked.

To any who say or believe these victims "chose their fates by their actions": you are agreeing with murderers and barbarians on the tactics used, and wish to stifle free speech. It is comparable to blaming rape victims for their rapes. That is not an opinion, it is a fact. In what twisted world is the appropriate punishment for saying something, drawing something, or singing something death and/or mutilation? No, these victims didn't choose this in the way someone offended by the content of a blog can just choose not to look at it. If the appropriate response to a question or an idea is aggression, than your ideas are weak, you have the mind of an 8-year old, and you live in the 12th century.

On a larger point, no topic of discussion should be off the table because some arbitrary group of people doesn't want it discussed. By this (lack of) logic, suppose I have billions of followers and I demand and order the killing of anybody who uses the letter "v". Suppose you used "v". Better, suppose I just thought you used "v," when you feel like you didn't. Would you actually deserve death?

While the arbitrary selection of a letter in the alphabet is ridiculous to almost everyone, to a large number of people in the world like myself it's just as ridiculous as depictions of a man who lived over a thousand years ago.

To be clear, our student does not agree with any of the violence propagated by murderers, barbarians, and extremists, and is as quick to condemn them as I am. But she (like many progressive, modern Muslims) was still angered by Everyone Draw Mohammed Day.

To her, and the rest: take back your religion. It's easy to pass the buck by calling the perpetrators "not real Muslims," and mentioning that Islam is primarily about Peace and Tolerance, etc., but it is cold comfort to those of us who feel threatened (not offended, mind you, which we can deal with) by people justifying their actions by citing hadith and the Koran. As long as a bunch of idiots are going to threaten me and my peers in the name of your religion, I and others will do what we can to point out the absurdity. Please, fight them, don't fight me.

My choice to participate was not because "I hate Muslims," it was because "I hate those people calling themselves Muslims who are threatening me for exercising free speech."

Also, remember I'm an equal-opportunity blasphemer. See this post on Christianity in the news, with this favorite video of mine (language NSFW):

I'll close with a buddy, Bill Maher, who states it simply: Freedom of Speech is non-negotiable. This isn't uniquely Muslim hatred; if it were Buddhists we'd be pissing off Buddhists, if it was McDonalds we'd be protesting McDonalds.

(Also, for those who missed it, Boobquake!).

Thanks for the read! Disagreed? Violent agreement!? Feel free to join my mailing list, drop me a line at , or leave a comment below! I'd love to hear from you 😄