Freedom to hate
With the ongoing furore of certain groups of Muslims feeling they can decide what we should and shouldn't be free to say or do - even when it doesn't harm any of them directly - I enrolled on the Muslim Political Action Committee's UK forum. I was fascinated to see just what activist British Muslims did have to say about issues and how they really did see the world.
Much of what I've seen on there so far is predictable. There are many who rail against irrationally-perceived Zionist-Anglo-American oppression. There are, however, and this lifted my spirits greatly, a significant number of members - even of this fairly militant group - who do want to engage in rational, reasoned discussion. There are a not insignificant number who have fully endorsed my comments about the "cartoon war". This encouraged me, but it also made it quite clear that we have to be careful not to alienate all Muslims. We have to entrench and develop our common cause with rational, outward-looking and, dare I say it, sensible Muslims at the same time as being uncompromising with the headbangers: just as Thatcher took on and defeated the loony lefties without alienating the working class as a whole.
Here is one discussion I had about the Muhammad cartoon question:
Originally posted by me
I agree that the cartoons themselves weren't published "for free speech". Nevertheless, if we believe in free speech at all, don't we have to accept that we have to allow such things to happen even though we disagree? If we did that, then we could condemn the newspaper for printing such an offensive image and the world would agree with us. As it is they just think we are trying to oppress their traditions and trying to stop them permitting free speech.The fact is human nature is such that people will do things which we disagree with. Shouldn't the response to that be to reason and educate rather than shut them down?
Response by long-term poster
Personally, I'm neutral on the cartoons - I don't think they were intended to offend originally (even the bomb one, when I first saw it, I took to be a reference to how Islam was being misused by some).But the disproportionate reaction has made the Arab governments look foolish - where is the boycott now that Germany and France need to be included? - and hypocritical.
It has also given endless ammunition to the those who would demonise Muslims. The responses threatening murder will be used to show that Muslims can't live in a civilised way, and there is now the opportunity to endlessly reproduce these cartoons and far worse ones. Explaining WHY Muslims found this offensive would have been far better.
I completely agree and agreed with this. One of the most common arguments raised, as well as the one I have most trouble with and which has certainly most perplexed a number of the more rational Muslims, however, is the question of why incitement to hatred on the basis of race is illegal and yet Muslims have no protection for things which are at least as important to them as their race. They point out that we do not actually support free speech unless it involves a physical impact on someone else - why do so many European countries have laws against holocaust denial (remember Mr Irving being detained so recently in Austria). Why is it that we rate the offence they are caused by caricatures of Muhammed so much lower than that caused by merely questioning the extent of Jewish persecution in the past?
I have to accept they have a point. If we do accept the right to free speech includes the right to offend, then we have to accept people will use their free speech to offend on the grounds of race. We have to accept that making offensive comments about race in such a way as to demean that race in the eyes of others - what would be incitement to race hate at the moment - is of the same moral equivalence as breaking religion's taboos in such a way as to demean that religion in others' eyes. It is the very persuasive arguments in favour of such equivalence, and the difficulty of responding to them, which have convinced me we should remove the confusing concept of hatred from our laws. It is becoming imperative that we take a real stand for freedom of speech to prevent further incremental incursions being made until we have no such thing as freedom - merely permission to make authorised comments. For, if we don't, the prospect of our freedom being progressively restricted on the basis that we don't have real free speech anyway is all too real. It is only from the civic sphere, and as a result of interactions within communities and between individuals, that the pressures upon what we choose to say and not say should arise.