Free Speech is Offensive*

Uploaded by C0nc0rdance on 18.06.2011

I'm going to keep this very brief. Interest in this topic is waning except for a few very
specific people who seem to want to keep the debate alive. I've somehow gotten tangled
up in this, and I want to make my position clear.
Thunderf00t keeps coming under fire by people critical of how he chose to protest what I'm
going to call "Islam-inspired censorship". Acts of violence around the world that have
served to suppress the expression of any message that is offensive to Islam, or critical of
Artists were killed in the aftermath of depictions of Mohammed.
Cartoons in the US were prevented from being aired for fear of generating more such violence.
A hick preacher in Florida burned a Qur'an and violence and rioting resulted in the deaths
of innocents.
This IS a real threat to free speech. Not that we'll be invaded, or that Islamic guerillas
will storm the New York Times, but that we'll start to censor ourselves, to avoid topics
controversial to Muslims because it might result in loss of innocent life. The moment
we put limits on our expression because of the fear of violence, or even some sort of
pragmatic concern of geopolitics, we've given up some of our freedom.
Fear. Fear of violence. Fear of offense. Fear of being called racist. Fear of being associated
with white supremacists. Fear of harming someone else's agenda. It's all based on an apprehension
of some harm, something we ought not to do. I don't think free speech can suffer much
abridgement of this sort. If it must be carefully prescribed, strategically withheld, it's simply
not free anymore.
I am not a racist, not that it matters since Islam is not a race. I am not anti-Muslim.
What someone thinks or believes or chooses to observe is their business. I am not an
anti-theist. I am not opposed to private religious beliefs.
I am a member of a secular society. I believe that I have a right to live without others
imposing their religious beliefs on me. If someone tells me that my free speech does
not extend to include any message they find religiously offensive, I will politely disagree.
If they threaten me to prevent my free exercise, I would hope I would have the courage to defy
them openly.
Some people are saying that drawing Mohammed is the wrong thing to do, because it advances
a narrative used by instigators of Islam-inspired violence. They propose instead a sort of general
exercise of free speech. This misses the point. One opposes censorship by defying what is
prohibited. If someone tells you that you may not do a thing, the only protest with
meaning is doing that thing.
We don't have to fall for reverse psychology. We needn't allow ourselves to be manipulated,
but I don't doubt the sincerity of the threats being made here. It is simply not okay for
elements within Islam to prevent the world from drawing a picture and calling it Mohammed.
They may not prevent me from saying or doing things which they find offensive. The moment
their influence extends to the free world it is no longer free.
I risk little or nothing by my participation in free speech protests on the Internet. I
can't compare what I do to the much braver souls who came before me. People who passively
resisted attempts to deny civil rights to a group of people. They put their lives, their
bodies and their freedom on the line. I don't have that kind of bravery.
These protests were not as I would have designed them. But the very least I can do is to participate,
to add my voice to the thousands of other voices that attempt to speak out when injustice
is being done, when artists live in fear, or are censored by well-meaning publishers
of media.
If I'm supporting a narrative that will be siezed upon by instigators of violence, I
regret that, but I can't let that concern have a higher priority than my exercise of
civil rights. Strategic silence is still silence. Strategic compliance is still compliance.
Responding to threats with acquiescence only invites further threats. It is impossible
for a diverse and free society to avoid giving offense to certain elements in Islam.
It's true that what we are doing is inflammatory, provocative, and intentionally so, but what
differentiates it from the words of a braggard or bully is that it is in response to a specific
threat or prohibition. It is an act in defense of something under attack: our right to draw
religious icons in a secular society.
You cannot defend that right without drawing the prohibited items. Softer protests, like
a general display of free speech, do not accomplish the same goal, as they aren't an exercise
of the rights under attack.
A lot of critics want to focus on the real reason for Islamic anger in the Middle East:
frequent wars with the West, Western intervention in local affairs, economic and political unrest,
social pollution, take your pick. I'm afraid that no matter how justified someone's strongly
held views are, or their level of dissatisfaction, that doesn't change my commitment to free
speech. I have a right not to live under Islamic law, even if my country is the cause of a
lot of your suffering.
I want to draw a simple parallel, flag-burning. I am very uncomfortable with the burning of
the US flag, simply because it's loaded with some very powerful imagery for me, it seems
offensive to the women and men who died defending the flag, and it's associated with anti-American
sentiment. It makes me a little queasy to see someone setting a US flag on fire anywhere
in the world, but I have to stop and remind myself that the right to burn a flag is key
to what rights make the US worth defending.
It could be that burning the flag will turn people against you, harm your cause, and get
people angry enough to yell or throw things. You might be associated with anti-American
elements. Does that mean we should just draw pictures of burning flags instead? Should
we let these things separate us from our free expression?
Another simple example: gay pride parades are sometimes criticized within the gay community
as supporting a narrative harmful to the gay rights movement. Perhaps they should tone
it down, critics say, so that gay people can be seen as more mainstream, more accepted.
Certain parades are very offensive to community standards, or it's just too offensive or in-your-face.
I disagree. I think pride parades are important to the soul of that movement, both in visibility
to the community, and to the principles of what they are trying to accomplish. Refusing
to tone down who and what they are, they are raising their visibility instead of diminishing
it. They are confronting their opponents instead of remaining strategically in the background.
I think we need a similar strategy in secular circles. We should be out and open about our
opposition to censorship. We should celebrate what about secularity makes it worth defending.
I certainly don't think this is a simple issue. I think free speech is worth defending. Islam
is a particular threat to the culture I live in because it's influence is very active and
in the news. China and North Korea are other big censors, but I can burn a Chinese flag
or draw Chairman Mao without fear of consequence. Trey Parker and Matt Stone can make a movie
mercilessly mocking Kim Jong Il. I can burn a hard drive with Bibles on it, or the Bagavad
Ghita, or the writings of Confucious. No-one would bat an eye. It's not that Islam is somehow
evil, it's that when I flip through the list of censored works, murdered artists and taboo
subjects, it keeps coming up.
If the Buddhists want to start some crap, I'll be all over Everybody Draw Buddha Day.
Thanks for watching.