Came across these links while surfing and I have to say I’m very disappointed in a person and an organization I’ve respected in the past for their indefensible position on the issue. The first is Gary Trudeau, who is taken to task by Rogier van Bakel, and rightly so, for his recent comments on the matter. He was asked the following question:
What did you make of the Danish cartoon mess? I understand that you said you would never play with the image of Allah. But did you feel you should have done so out of a sense of professional solidarity, or to make a statement about freedom of speech?
And here is his response:
What exactly would that statement be? That we can say whatever we want in the West? Everyone already knows that. So then the question becomes, should we say whatever we want? That, to me, is the crux. Do you hurt people just because you can? Because you feel they shouldn’t be deeply hurt, does that mean they aren’t? Should the New York Times run vicious caricatures of blacks and Jews just to show the First Amendment in action? At some point, common sense and sensitivity have to be brought to bear.
What would that statement be? I’m taken aback that a cartoonist who has made a career out of harsh political satire can’t think of anything to say in defense of other cartoonists who are doing the same thing and are now living under a death sentence? As van Bakel notes, 10 of those cartoonists have still not appeared in public in the year since receiving serious death threats. And Trudeau can’t think of a single thing to say in their defense? Rogier gets it precisely right:
Ah, common sense. Is appealing to people’s common sense strictly a one-way street? Because I confess that common sense is not the first quality that comes to mind when I think of jihadists who want to cut off a man’s head for drawing a picture.
Trudeau has quite often used his Doonesbury cartoon to make fun of Christian groups in the US (and rightly so, and to often hilarious effect). Do you suppose that if he had crowds of Christians threatening to kill him he’d find that “common sense” argument a compelling one? I’m guessing not.
The second source of disappointment is Amnesty International, a group I used to belong to in my younger days. Like many others, I was caught up in the concert tour in 1986. I got to meet former political prisoners and hear their stories and I joined up and began to do my part, writing letters to dictators on behalf of those whose rights they were violating. I spoke with people who had been imprisoned under Saddam Hussein, the Shah of Iran, and befriended the daughter of a man killed by Pinochet in Chile.
Unfortunately, in the wake of the Danish cartoon situation, this group that considers itself a human rights group actually called for making such “hate speech” illegal around the world:
Newspaper editors have justified the publication of cartoons that many Muslims have regarded as insulting, arguing that freedom of artistic expression and critique of opinions and beliefs are essential in a pluralist and democratic society. On the other hand, Muslims in numerous countries have found the cartoons to be deeply offensive to their religious beliefs and an abuse of freedom of speech. In a number of cases, protests against the cartoons have degenerated into acts of physical violence, while public statements by some protestors and community leaders have been seen as fanning the flames of hostility and violence.
The right to freedom of opinion and expression should be one of the cornerstones of any society. This right includes “the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media, regardless of frontiers” (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19). For more than forty years, Amnesty International (AI) has defended this right against attempts by governments across the globe to stifle religious dissent, political opposition and artistic creativity.
However, the right to freedom of expression is not absolute — neither for the creators of material nor their critics. It carries responsibilities and it may, therefore, be subject to restrictions in the name of safeguarding the rights of others. In particular, any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence cannot be considered legitimate exercise of freedom of expression. Under international standards, such “hate speech” should be prohibited by law.
Sorry, Amnesty, you just lost any claim to being a defender of human rights. The most important human right is the right to express one’s opinion without fear of reprisal. No one has a “right” not to be offended by those opinions, so any talk of this being a question of balancing competing rights is complete and utter nonsense. And you, of all groups, ought to know that. The problem with this notion that free speech shouldn’t be free as soon as it constitutes “incitement” to hostility is that it lets the violent thugs among us determine the limits of free speech; if they would tend to react violently to it, then it’s no longer protected speech.
This is particularly destructive when those violent thugs will react that way to virtually anything, even if it’s not insulting. Remember, the whackos threatening to kill these cartoonists think that any representation of Muhammed, whether insulting or otherwise, is grounds for murder. The mere act of rendering his image is enough to provoke such threats. Also bear in mind that the very same people often take great delight in portraying Jews as inhuman devils, so their response is pretty much the last measure of what should and should not be allowed.
This notion that someone’s violent reaction to free speech should determine whether it should be free or not is patently absurd. AI certainly wouldn’t buy that argument if it applied to governments. Does the mere fact that a given statement is known to set off the insane on flights of violent thuggery make such speech unprotected? If the violence is perpetrated by a government, punishing those who dissent from an enforced orthodoxy, Amnesty International is the first group to protest such barbarism. But if the violence is committed by mobs of thugs, they’re suddenly calling for that mob’s insanity to be the deciding factor in determining what orthodoxy governments should impose. Shame on you, Amnesty. You should know better.