JAZZMAN CHRONICLES. DISSEMINATE FREELY.
FREE SPEECH IN A DANGEROUS WORLD:
FANNING THE FLAMES OF RELIGIOUS VIOLENCE
By Jack Random
“Nothing tests one's intellectual honesty and ability to apply principles consistently more than free speech controversies. It is exceedingly easy to invoke free speech values in defense of political views you like. It is exceedingly difficult to invoke them in defense of views you loathe.”
Glenn Greenwald, “Conservatives, Democrats and the Convenience of Denouncing Free Speech”, The Observer / UK, September 16, 2012.
I believe in freedom of religion. Every man and woman should be free to worship whatever god and practice whatever system of belief he or she chooses. But there are limits to freedom of religion.
No religion should entitle its followers to assault any other human right (freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to assemble in protest, or indeed the freedom to practice other religions). No religion should be used as a pretext for violence against nonviolent adversaries.
I believe in freedom of speech. I believe every man and woman should be able to speak or write or create and disseminate any work or any message within the realm of human imagination. But there are limits to freedom of speech.
The classic example is the individual who cries out “Fire!” in a crowded theater. The act is intended to do harm and does so with a high level of probability. In that sense speech can be used as a weapon and should be constrained.
How then do we consider the incendiary device unleashed on the Arab street on the eve of September 11 with the clear intent of inciting violence? Because it took the form of a crude film by a fake filmmaker are we to forgive this malevolent act?
For those unfamiliar with the chain of events, it began with an obscure radical right activist on a crusade against Islam, placing a crude 15-minute film clip attacking the character of the Prophet Mohammed on You-Tube. With the assistance of Arab media, purportedly centered in Saudi Arabia, the hack job was widely disseminated across the Arab-Islamic world on the eve of September 11. A brief statement by the man assumed to be behind the film suggested that violence on the Arab streets was the expected and intended outcome.
Predictably, the film inspired protests, some massive and some small, from Egypt and Somalia to Yemen and Libya. The US Embassy in Egypt sought to constrain the protests by issuing a statement distancing the American government from the deranged work of a misguided individual. Hours later, angry mobs attacked American embassies in Cairo and Benghazi, Libya. The latter resulted in the death of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three of his aides.
We do not at this time know whether the fatal attack in Benghazi was the direct work of the protestors or the work of a terrorist group using the cover of the protestors. We do know that Mitt Romney, Republican candidate for president of the United States, used this opportunity to attack the incumbent president for coddling the enemy. We know that his statement was based on a fictional timeline and a deliberate misreading of the facts.
The protests continue across the Middle East and the stability of an already fragile region is thrown into question.
At this juncture Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to weigh in by attacking the American president for failing to draw a “red line” on Iran’s development of nuclear weapons beyond which military intervention is pre-determined. Knowing full well that no responsible president could draw such a line and would not do so on the eve of an election, Netanyahu’s statement was clearly intended to influence the American election by throwing the Jewish American vote to Romney.
It enrages me that an isolated extremist living in obscurity somewhere in Southern California could unleash a chain of events that potentially could tip the balance of power in the US and affect the course of global history. It enrages me that a presidential candidate could potentially further his ambition by capitalizing on an act of sabotage and terrorism with a statement so irresponsible it should disqualify him from higher office. It enrages me that the Prime Minister of Israel would play politics with a tragic event.
It enrages me but none of it surprises me.
I join those who condemn this so-called filmmaker for his irresponsible act. I believe that much of the responsibility for the damage done belongs in his soul. I join those who condemn Mitt Romney for his arrogant display of ignorance and carelessness. I condemn Netanyahu for his irresponsible betrayal of an American president who has never failed to defend Israeli interest, even to the point of raising the wrath of the American left.
While I find the actions and statements of these individuals despicable and hope that each is somehow held to account, I must nevertheless uphold their right to speak. As one who is committed to the universal rights of all, I am compelled to defend the right of every individual, however despicable, to say or create works with any message under any circumstances without fear of censorship or legal consequences as long as the exercise of this right does not directly interfere with the rights of others.
If we believe in freedom of speech it is not sufficient to say that an individual’s actions are a metaphor to crying “Fire!” in a crowded theater. In matters of human rights, a metaphor cannot stand as a barrier to protected speech.
Similarly, while I may believe than any number of organized religions are foolish or primitive and potentially harmful to human kind and human dignity, I must defend every individual’s right to choose his or her own creed and system of belief.
I have my own beliefs, my own opinions and my own convictions of moral behavior and I claim the right to express them under any and all circumstance.
I know what it is like to feel constrained in speech. Many of us do. We felt it in the days and weeks and months following September 11, 2001. Even those of us who felt compelled to speak out against the vengeful storm of war that was building to a crescendo in those fearful times felt a need to hold back, to temper our passions, if for no other reason than that we would lose our ability to communicate with and influence our fellow citizens if we were perceived as anti-American.
If we have learned anything at all after eleven years of unnecessary and immoral war, it is that we have not only a right but also a duty to speak out against the mob. We are living in dangerous times. We cannot allow the danger to compromise our core principles and we cannot be silent when politicians for their own self-serving reasons begin to beat the drums of war.
We must defend the right of those we disagree with to speak out but we must also exercise our own free speech in opposition.
JACK RANDOM IS THE AUTHOR OF THE JAZZMAN CHRONICLES (CROW DOG PRESS) AND GHOST DANCE INSURRECTION (DRY BONES PRESS). THE CHRONICLES HAVE BEEN POSTED ON NUMEROUS CITES OF THE WORLDWIDE WEB, INCLUDING THE ALBION MONITOR, BELLACIAO, BUZZLE, COUNTERPUNCH, DISSIDENT VOICE, THE NATIONAL FREE PRESS, GLOBAL FREE PRESS AND PACIFIC FREE PRESS. SEE WWW.JAZZMANCHRONICLES.BLOGSPOT.COM.