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Free Speech or Fighting Words?

Reader comment on item: Cartoons and Islamic Imperialism

Submitted by Sappho (United States), Feb 9, 2006 at 04:03

In the US, free speech has limits. We have laws against hate speech, sexual harassment, telemarketing people on the "no call" list, and of course, slander and libel. You don't have the right to incite to riot. You can't yell "fire" in a crowded theatre. Some states in the US have the concept of "fighting words." If you use "fighting words" you are responsible for the consequences, i.e., if someone hits you for insulting his mother, too bad. You used fighting words, so it's your own fault.

I understand that the original editor refused to publish cartoons satirizing Catholicism earlier in 2005 because they might offend Catholics. That puts a whole different complexion on things. It seems to me that he wanted to stir up trouble. The bomb-in-turban and subsequent cartoons elsewhere remind me of WWII propaganda cartoons, with gorilla Huns and yellow-skinned, monkey-like Japanese. The whole point is to incite hate and fear on both sides. Actually, the publisher's point was to make lots of money selling papers, with reprint sales all over the world as a bonus. The controversy and violence simply increase sales. I'm with the cartoonists who called the whole thing a publicity stunt and reactionary propaganda. As my Grandma used to say, poke a hornet's nest and you'll get stung.

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