Beyond the Cusp

October 3, 2012

How Not to React to Rioters Demand to Limit Free Speech

First off, let us realize that much of the recent disturbances and all of the American dead in Libya had absolutely nothing to do with any perceived insult by Muslims, these were actions set to commemorate the 9-11 attacks and as payback for the death of the al-Qaeda number two leader al-Libi who was from Libya. Just a few days before the raid on the United States consulate in Benghazi, Ayman al-Zawahiri called for the murder of any Americans in Libya as retribution for the killing of Abu Faraj al-Libi by a drone attack on a meeting he was attending in the tribal regions of Pakistan by the United States military. The riots in Egypt were also related to the leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, as they were organized and led by his brother, Mohamed al-Zawahiri. There were also claims that the riots in Egypt were sparked by demands for the release of Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, also known as the Blind Sheik. Whatever the motivating factor in Libya or Egypt, the alleged U-Tube video of a so-called anti-Muhammad film was not the real cause. But, despite the facts, that film has been used to explain other Muslim protests and riots and utilized by the Obama administration as the cause for all the recent violence and have led to some very dangerous that defames Islamic leaders and faith. Such calls are misguided and dangerous in many ways.

Despite the recent calls for limitations on the right to free speech and despite the guarantee of such in the Amendment I of the Bill of Rights, there should not be any considerations given pursuing such a policy. The reason behind ignoring a call for limiting free speech if it offends anybody has been a point which has been bandied about for a few decades. The idea that speech needs to be curtailed so as not to offend is plainly ridiculous. Let us first take the current case in point where the demand is for making any speech deemed blasphemous illegal and punishable under law. The first question would be who gets to decide the definition of blasphemous? The current examples have called for Muslims to decide what is blasphemous. So, would it solely be Muslims who get to make such determinations or does every religion have the right to define what is to be considered blasphemous. Will Muslims be held to the same restrictions of not blaspheming other faiths or is it to be only Islam which must be protected. The one instance I discussed this with a Muslim I was informed that it is only in Islam where negative references to Allah, Mohammed or Islam was a blasphemy and that there are no such items defined as blasphemous speech by other religions. I was informed since the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, did not define any speech as blasphemous it was impossible to blaspheme either Judaism or Christianity. I would assume there is a similar argument for most religions and their holy writings. But this would present an interesting argument for a court of law if we should bend to such pressures. If such laws or legal codes were adopted, would speaking in favor of same sex marriages now be instantly illegal as to even consider such is against Islam? This would present a dangerous road.

But there is worse and it comes from a Supreme Court Justice. Last year Supreme Court Justice Breyer of the United States Supreme Court seemed to indicate that the burning of a Koran might be equivalent to yelling fire in a crowded theater. This is a dangerous road to go down as soon you will be splitting hairs as to what is and is not allowed as part of free speech. Once it is decided that any speech or action protected under free speech becomes unprotected once it causes violent rioting or other dangerous reactions, then all speech can be immediately called into question providing a sufficiently large enough group takes to violent actions in response to any encroachment into areas they hold as sensitive. Imagine allowing all speech to be restricted simply because some other might react violently, much like currently seems to control speech limitations on all too many college campuses in the United States, Europe, Canada and the rest of the Western World. We would very rapidly find riots breaking out whenever anybody made even the least controversial viewpoint as there would still be enough people to make an appearance of sufficient violent response. Political speech would be silenced. Religious speech would be silenced. Very soon, all speech would be silenced. Debate and free discourse would become very very un-good. Candidates for office would no longer be allowed to disagree, actually would not even be allowed to agree as any stance could likely erupt into riots even of those who came to hear what they had to say. Imagine a debate between President Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney where the moderator asked if they favored or opposed same sex unions. To claim one was against could easily cause riots in the streets in every city in the country. And as soon as the other one claimed to support them another segment of the population would riot. Once it became evident that all speech against any position could be silenced simply by rioting there would be people who would hire out to riot whenever anybody said virtually anything. All speech would be squelched, possibly even saying it was a nice sunny day if somebody simply hated sunshine. This would be one way to end every political discussion and make governance impossible as how can laws be enacted if simply by rioting people can prevent their discussion? This would not even produce a polite society; it would produce a silent society. Freedom from hearing or reading anything anyone considered to be offensive material, is that even possible?

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