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Free Speech Is "Hate Speech"

Reader comment on item: Two Decades of the Rushdie Rules

Submitted by Fred Baehr (United States), Nov 5, 2010 at 17:53

Free speech is what matters. The word "free" implies "for all" doesn't it? That is what we have to watch out for if we want freedom for everyone. Some sorts of speech are forbidden though. "Fire!" in a theatre (that is not on fire) is the classic example. Exhortations to riot and murder can be used against you in court if what you said led to rioting or murder. But it is hard to come up with examples for which I could support prohibition. Where should we draw lines on speech? We had better be careful. If we decide to keep the Nazis out of Skokie when will we be kept out of Anytown,USA? "You know we don' need you free-thinkers down here to tellin' us how to live." To have free speech we must have it all and a lot of it is going to be stupid, ugly and crude, just like we are. Free Speech as a political concept effectively applies to only one broad type of speech: unpopular. Who ever got lynched for saying,"You people are the greatest people in the world!" ? So don't we have to tolerate all the preachers of hate? But do we have to let our streets and squares be taken over by hate mongers? Hey, you reading this, I don't know. I have read several comments on this article and others at this site and some of it is not very worthy of comment. Just more vitreol. Fun to read or write sometimes but what does it really add? How constructive is it to answer invective with invective? Isn't constructive engagement the point of free speech? Since we are all inescapably engaged, isn't constructive engagement the only alternative to destructive engagement?

Still, constructive engagement is seldom the same as submission (to God or anything else). But why not submit to something else if you have already decided that what you have is not all that good? If we continue to tell ourselves that the values of free speech and the rest it are not necessarily worthy ideas, and that other ideas that may even repudiate the whole concept of free speech as we currently have it in the liberal democracies are perhaps just as worthy of the appraisal "good", and thus require our respect or we show ourselves to be bigots so only respectful speech shall be allowed, are we being constructive or are we submitting?

I read that there are rulings going back a thousand years in Islamic juris prudence to the effect that it is lawful to wipe you ass with pages from the Christian Bible or the Jewish Torah on the premise that those texts are not sacred. Okay. There is a body of opinion among scholars and theologians going back at least a few hundred years that the Koran is not what it purports to be: direct quotations from God, and that therefore it is not sacred but rather an example of impostor, and thus a kind of blasphemy. Okay. Now say I disagree with both statements and say they are all impostors, fakes, and not sacred. Okay? Now how about if I make a video of myself wiping my heretic ... with pages from the Bible or Torah? Okay? How about if I wipe my infidel ... this a page from The Holy Koran in Arabic with the gold edging? Okay?

What reactions might we expect from any of the above desecrations? Christians or Jews rioting everywhere, chanting "death to Fred"? I doubt it. But what about the Muslims? Depending on how much attention I had garnered before my monumental wiping of ass, it might well foment death and destruction around the globe, like a cartoon or something. So should I or should I not?

To wipe or not to wipe, that is the question. Whether 'tis nobler in the toilet to wipe with the Bible, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and wipe with the Koran? 'Tis a constipation devoutly to be reached. To sit, perchance to shit. Aye, theres the rub, for in that nasty shit what stink may come do we have not wiped with something must give us pause.

I guess it would be fair to call such a thing hate speech. Is even suggesting it hate speech? Is Amos and Andy hate speech? Would doing such a thing be con-structive or de-structive? Hey, you reading this, I don't know. Part of me would like to do it but part of me says it would be pointless. You want to stand up to the forces of regression, you feel free to use sarcasm or irony, free in fact to make any kind of statement even given the certainty that millions of people the world over will find it deeply offensive to their most cherished beliefs, but should you do it? Will it add to the conversation? It might. I don't know.


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