Monday, September 27, 2010

Between freedom of speech and respecting the other

Over at Racialicius is a great essay discussing the issue of "Draw Muhammad Day" and surrounding drama.
There is indeed a difficulty to spot where my freedom of speech ends and someone's beliefs begin. It's one thing to be able to say what one beliefs in, it's another to intentionally belittle and ridicule the other's religion or culture. The author, Thea Lim, writes (emphasis mine):

 I emphatically support Molly Norris’ right to safety. I think it is terrible that she has to go into hiding, and I can only imagine the fear and distress that she is feeling right now.
But. I 100% do not support Norris’ right to mean-spirited mockery. I do not support anyone’s right to belittle, poke fun at, show insensitivity or thoughtlessness towards anyone else’s system of belief – but especially at Islam, seeing how it seems to have become some sort of Liberal American pastime to see who can make the most Islamophobic joke.  And this is while the rights of Muslims to pursue their system of beliefis under attack, all across the Western world.
And of course I support free speech. I support informed dissent. But what Norris did – and South Park, and Jyllends Posten and any other fool who carries on creating images of Muhammad as if to do so is some act of inspired and noble rebellion – was not informed dissent.  It was a nasty and childish response to being told, for once, that there was something we are not allowed to do, or cannot have.

Just today during my Holocaust class I have discussed the stages of Hate. From prejudiced attitudes, through prejudices speech, including ridicule or racist jokes, to discrimination and violence against humans and property.

It often begins with lack of respect for others' culture and tradition, jokes or holy anger about the other's "wrong" beliefs and rituals. It doesn't notice the "funny" rituals in own religion, only in the other. There is nothing weird of strange about the dress of a Catholic nun, but somehow the hadjib or burka are sources of constant racist and/or sexist attacks. People got used to the idea of wearing the image of a person hanging on a cross, but somehow turban or sari are justified sources of amusement.

I guess as long as something is common to the Western, Christian world, it's ok. Even if weird, strange, violent, racist, homophobic, sexist or against logic and rational thinking. Here Thea Lim again:
Sometimes it appears as if  any benign request made by another power to the Western, white, (culturally) Christian world (WWCCW), is received as an affront. As in, how dare anyone else tell us what to do? WE RUN THIS PLACE! As in, this refusal is an extreme manifestation of the way that certain Western, white, cultural Christians think they are entitled to do anything and consume anything, because they are the West, the boss of this town, and ain’t no one ever going to tell them what to do.

I do not like when a religion tries to impose its beliefs on others who do not share the same set of dogmas. But it is one thing if the imposition impacts directly my life (e.g. legislating the ban on same-sex marriage) and when there is very little relation between my life and a particular ban (why would I need to draw a picture of prophet Muhammad?). I don't see it as attack on my freedom of speech, it's a call for respect.
Of course I am absolutely against punishing the "offender" in anyway other than social critique. Violence is not the way to react.

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