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Don't Kill Me for Being Right

One of the principles of this country is that ideas should not be censored, that truth is only found when people have the liberty to explore a playground of ideas. This principle is so effective that it has been adopted in some form or another by the majority of the civilized world. However, as should be painfully obvious to us now, freedom of speech is under assault around the world by Muslim extremists and political apologists.

This demonstrator in Amsterdam, protesting Wilders and his film, is arguing in the civilized manner--without a gun--and I applaud him for it
This demonstrator in Amsterdam, protesting Wilders and his film, is arguing in the civilized manner--without a gun--and I applaud him for it
Take the Dutch anti-Islam short film “Fitna,” made by right-winger Geert Wilders, which existed on the Internet for only a day. I have not seen it, but from all accounts it is a pretty awful little film containing factual inaccuracies, political extremism, and incitement. In other words, it’s like a short Michael Moore film.

The point that the film makes has a few Muslim countries up in arms (and I mean that literally), and the threats are not to be taken lightly. Bangladesh said the film would lead to “grave consequences,” Iran said it is proof positive that the Western world has a “vendetta” against Islam, and there have been a number of more personal threats that lead to the film being pulled from the LiveLeak.com servers. The poetic part, though, is that the main point of the film—the thing people are getting so crazy over—is the theory that Muslims react to freedom with threats and acts of violence, a theory that seems to have some weight thanks to the reactions of offended Muslims.

I find it hard to argue otherwise, in fact. September 11 was caused by offended Muslims—albeit extremists—and murdered Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh certainly knows the cost of talking smack about the Arab world. To be fair, though, many Muslims (most notably those in the Netherlands) are urging tempered reactions, calm discourse, and responsible dialogue.

However, it is not the reactions of Muslim extremists—who are clearly already angry at the Western world—that disturbs me as much as the reactions of government officials. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, for example, while urging for calm, condemned the film as strongly as possible and argued that there is “no justification for hate speech or incitement to violence.” By the Secretary General’s definition, the Declaration of Independence is unjustifiable, for it clearly incites violence against the British. The Secretary General went on to say that “freedom must always be accompanied by social responsibility,” to which I say, “Bullshit!”

Voltaire: I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.
Voltaire: I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.
Being free does not mean keeping yourself from offending other people. Being free does not mean being forced to apologize whenever somebody says something offensive. Being free does not mean that you have to be sensitive to others. Freedom of speech is the freedom to say what you like, even if what you say is offensive, so that people can have open debate. Wrong or unpersuasive theories will eventually die, so there is no need to be offended by threatening ideas.

I understand that we can’t get this idea to stick in the extremist Muslim world, where something as simple as a doodle of Mohammed is punishable by death, but the rest of us have to be better than that. “Fitna,” though being deliberately offensive and reaching a further conclusion that I do not agree with, is trying to make that point.

If Michael Moore’s hate-filled films are allowed, so should the films of other nutjobs in this world. If they are offensive to you, say so, but no government should have the right to keep you from seeing them, and nobody—NOBODY—has the right to point a gun at you (or your publisher or your government) to shut you up.



-e. magill 03/31/2008








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