Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Free speech

Today I heard that a paper in the Middle East is sponsoring a contest for the best political cartoon on the topic of the Holocaust. They say they are doing this to "test the boundaries of free speech."

Too bad it's seriously misguided. For one thing, the papers that published the Muhammed cartoons are probably not edited, published, or owned by Jews. They are attacking the wrong people. They are going with an easy scapegoat. But it will only further the misguided notion that Muslims and Jews are somehow intrinsically at odds. It will only provide further fuel for anti-Muslim sentiment in West, not only because of sympathy for Israel, but more importantly because most Westerners (especially Christians) feel pretty damn guilty about the Holocaust (and subsequent genocides about which we did - or are doing - nothing) and don't care to see it trivialized purely on the grounds that it brings up our feelings of failure for trivializing it at the time it occured.

If they wanted to really get at the heart and soul of Europe, I honestly don't know how they could attack. They can't lampoon Christianity, since it's pretty much dead there. Countries like Denmark are not much more than an abstraction to many people in the world, just one more in a list of names of places they've never been and don't really care.

But of course I don't think they are mad at the papers themselves, or the European nations. Probably it's about the West in general, with our sophisticated understandings of such things as tolerance and free speech. We allow so much to slide that is probably pretty hurtful or disrespectful, in the name of keep our "freedoms". We rationalize everything away, justifying endlessly, when in fact we just want a license to behave badly and treat other people unkindly.

The contest is just a stupid publicity stunt. And it only has the power to harm more than help. It's like violence begetting violence. We all just end up dead.

1 comment:

Dave said...

According to this FindLaw article, European free-speech law operates differently than U.S. First Amendment law does. E.U. law more greatly restrict offensive or hateful speech, and it seemingly is applied to every group but Muslims.

With that in mind, no wonder the Muslims are not only rioting, but asking for an apology from the Danish government, which I first thought was odd. The Danes are not applying the European equivalent of equal protection to its Muslim population, and that is unjust.