Sunday, January 20, 2008

Free Speech and the Right to Offend

Through a posting at The Frame Problem, I learn that the Dutch are preparing for protests from an anti-Muslim film.

The actual news article shows up in The Guardian, Violence fear over Islam film..

First and foremost, no civilized person responds to mere words with violence. If any sect of any religion advocates responding to words and images with violence, then that sect of that religion turns its followers away from being civil members of a civil society and leads them towards barbarism.

The Dutch government should be delivering this message in no undercertain terms. There is no contradiction is stating and insisting that one will enforce the principle that, even though we may question the morality of those who would depict such images, anybody who reacts to words and images with violence is far worse and will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

The Dutch government should also announce to its citizens that all good Dutch citizens will not only refuse to respond to words and pictures with violence, but will offer no quarter or safety to neighbors who violate this rule. They should be encouraged and rewarded for aiding in the arrest and capture of anybody who cannot respect the moral principle of no violent response to words and images.

Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen said, "Freedom of expression does not mean the right to offend."

This is false. Freedom of expression means the right to offend, and the duty of those offended to respond only through words and private (peaceful) actions. The idea that, "You have the freedom to say whatever you want as long as it meets with my approval" is an absurdity. Dutch who understand what freedom of expression truly means should see Verhagen removed from his position.

The right to freedom of speech is a right to say whatever one pleases without fear of a violent response. It does not imply a freedom from criticism. So, it is still open, and perhaps even to be encouraged, that people respond to this blatant provocation with condemnation and private actions that announce their displeasure. This is consistent, and can be done at the same time, those same people insist that critics who resort to violence be given the harshest of criminal penalties.

The Guardian reports one response to what this film displays.

During a visit to the European Parliament in Strasbourg last week, Ahmad Badr al-Din Hassoun, the Grand Mufti of Syria, said that, were Wilders was seen to tear up or burn a Koran in his film, 'this will simply mean he is inciting wars and bloodshed ... It is the responsibility of the Dutch people to stop him.'

Sorry, but . . . no.

Ahmed Badr al-Din Hassoun is showing the same moral character here as a kidnapper, who holds a gun to his victim's head and says, "Unless you meet my demands, I will kill her, and it will all be your fault. You will have to live with the guilt, because her death will be your fault, not mine."

Actually, the moral responsibility rests with the kidnapper. Morally decent people will seek a peaceful resolution to this situation if possible, and want to save the victim. However, if the victim is not saved, then the kidnapper is the agent morally responsible for that harm.

al-Din Hassoun, in making this claim, shows that he has the moral character of a terrorist, and not the character of a civilized human being.

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