Freedom of Speech = Freedom to Insult, to Criticize, and to Apologize

Many of the recent discussions about “free speech” in connection with the internet video about Islam called “Innocense of Muslims,” the violent reactions to it, and the apologies for it, seem to me to miss the point.

In our democracy, within limits to ensure that the safety of people is safeguarded, people can express themselves freely. That includes making movies, or art, or telling stories, or blogging, or doing anything else that someone of a particular religious viewpoint may find offensive.

If someone uses that freedom to express a hateful message, if someone else then apologizes to the victim of the hate-speech, and emphasizes that they themselves disagree with the other person and are sorry for what was said, that is not an apology for the existence of freedom of speech. Neither is it a curtailing of anyone’s freedom of speech. It is a use of their freedom of speech to distance themselves from the message of the other person, equally freely expressed, and to express their sympathy with the person who was denigrated and insulted by that freedom of speech.

Am I missing something? Does this pretty much sum the matter up? Isn’t the whole point with freedom of speech that you can insult someone and I can express my regret at the insult, and we both have our freedom to do so safeguarded?

Below is the video in question, which Google has blocked in certain parts of the world. I think it is not merely offensive to Muslims, but to everyone, being of such poor quality that it is hard to take more offense at the content than at the fact that its makers wanted anyone at all to see it. I think that preventing people from making offensive videos is wrong. I think that making an outcry that goes beyond the use of free expression into violence and threats is wrong. And I think that there is nothing wrong with feeling very sorry after seeing a video like this – not just sorry for those ridiculed and offended, but also sorry for one’s own time wasted in watching it.

If you watch it, I think that you will agree that regret is the only possible response that is appropriate. And if you think I am insulting the movie, you’re right – and thankfully, I live in a country where I am free to do so.

YouTube Preview Image

Here are some other posts and articles that relate to this topic.

Religion Dispatches tries to trace how events unfolded.

Jim West appreciates the freely-spoken sympathies expressed by Lybians. Jim also blogged about the aforementioned anti-Islamic film by Sam Becile.

Hilary Clinton spoke about not responding to insults with violenceCNN featured Stephen Prothero’s thoughts on the subject.

Rebecca Cusey emphasized that we cannot allow the violent offense some take at free expressions to lead us to curtail those freedoms.

Danut Manastireanu discussed Christan and other fundamentalisms and their relation to violence. He shared some thoughts from Omid Safi. Danut also linked to an NPR piece on whether the Bible or the Qur’an is more violent. The history of Christian violence suggests that Christians ought not to throw stones – metaphorically or literally. The Coptic Church has condemned the film.

Nancy Shehata had harsh words for her fellow Muslims, and wonders that the protesters have nothing better to do. Nick Covington appreciated what she had to say.

David Henson responded directly to Mitt Romney.

Timothy Dalrymple discussed whether Sam Bacile is fictional. Tim Suttle says the video at the center of the discussion was produced by American Christians. Mills River Liberal also had an update on the identity of the anti-Muslim filmmakers

Michael Homan discusses various aspects of the issues. So does Scot McKnight.

Christian Piatt suggests that the video reflects a “fetish for Armageddon”.

Morgan Guyton reciprocated with a peaceful reply to the Libyans who offered condolences, sorrow, and regret.

Phil Fox Rose says the problem is neither religion nor extremism but hate. Larry Derfner suggests that at its core the issue is fanaticism.

See also Richard Giannone’s thoughts on religious freedom in the Huffington Post.

UPDATE: A couple more links that came to my attention after I posted this:

Bob Cargill critically evaluates the Muslim Brotherhood’s response.

Ken Schenck looks at foreign policy proverbs.

 

  • http://nwrickert.wordpress.com/ Neil Rickert

    Yes, you are quite right.

    The answer to distasteful use of freedom of speech is more use of freedom of speech (so as to counter what is distasteful). Censorship is not the answer.

    • shiracoffee

      So… in what way does objectifying others into mechanical mouthpieces and then hiding behind a made-up, deliberately provocative (not to mention slanderous) false identity constitute freedom of speech? Freedom comes with responsibility, in this case, the responsibility to stand up and answer critics. The people behind this film didn’t accept that responsibility.

      • shiracoffee

        sorry about the above — I tried to edit my original comment and somehow got it in the wrong place in the string. And then I tried to delete it… which also didn’t work properly.

      • http://nwrickert.wordpress.com/ Neil Rickert

        I partly agree with that, too. Hiding behind anonymity to attack other is disgraceful. However, it is still speech and I still oppose censorship.

      • Hassnain

        You see there is fundamental flaw
        in this ideology! Although, I am an advocate for freedom of expression and
        consider is important for the development of societies but I also consider that
        one should express themselves in accordance with a level of moral consideration
        for other people, because there is a thin line between freedom to express and
        actions which have malicious intent to hurt and disrespect others. The latter
        clearly having malice aforethought, indeed there must be clarity in articles when
        discussing issues relating to freedom of expression and such points should be
        addressed. Take for example an individual’s freedom of expression to cause an innocent
        child’s murder acting upon his right to express because any action is
        considered a form of expression, how would you defend that right clearly there
        will have to be some ethical moral obligation which is due by any advocate of
        freedom of expression when putting forward its necessity one should also put
        forward the individual’s responsibility, otherwise there would be no harmony in
        any society.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Wilson/1355591760 Michael Wilson

    I don’t think it is proper to tell a violent mob that a private citizen is abusing their right to free speech by saying something others disagree with. Of course the state depart ment can say that the views of indiuvidual American citizens do not reflect that of the goverment and the goverment has no ill will toward Islam, but to castigate a private citizen for exercising his rights is equivalent to saying you agree with the mob, but your hands are tied by the law. Was Salmon Rushdi abusing his British citizenship by writing the Satanic verses? Are you abusing you freedom of worship by choosing a faith not approved by the Muslim Brotherhood?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Indeed, to say that someone should not have said what they did is to side with the opponents of free speech. What I was referring to and considered appropriate were those responses which emphasized that the film does not reflect the views of the American government or of most Americans – just as the violent responses do not reflect the views of most Muslims in the countries where those things have occurred.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Evans/100000619020207 David Evans

        “Indeed, to say that someone should not have said what they did is to side with the opponents of free speech.”

        I disagree. Negative results of making this movie – three deaths (so far) and much property damage. All predictable. Positive results – what? From what I’ve seen it has no artistic or intellectual value whatever. On any utilitarian calculus it should not have been made.

        To be clear, I’m not arguing for censorship. I do, however, think that we should make our disapproval clear to the makers in whatever non-violent way seems appropriate. Boycotts, maybe, or simply refusing to interact with them in any way.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          I agree, and my failure to express myself not only freely but clearly shows how hard it can be to get one’s point nuanced just right. I do not have any problem with someone saying “You should not have said this” in the sense that one is criticizing their judgment, morality, or wisdom. It is only saying something more along the lines of “you should not have been permitted to say that” that seems to me to be going too far.

          If you still disagree, you are free to say so! :-)

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Evans/100000619020207 David Evans

            I think we agree. On that, and also on the difficulty of getting the nuances right.

          • hassnain

            You see there is fundamental flaw in this ideology! Although,
            I am an advocate for freedom of expression and consider is important for the
            development of societies but I also consider that one should express themselves
            in accordance with a level of moral consideration for other people, because
            there is a thin line between freedom to express and actions which have malicious
            intent to hurt and disrespect others. The latter clearly having malice aforethought,
            indeed there must be clarity in articles when discussing issues relating to
            freedom of expression and such points should be addressed. Take for example an individual’s
            freedom of expression to cause an innocent child’s murder acting upon his right
            to express because any action is considered a form of expression, how would you
            defend that right clearly there will have to be some ethical moral obligation
            which is due by any advocate of freedom of expression when putting forward its
            necessity one should also put forward the individual’s responsibility,
            otherwise there would be no harmony in any society.

  • bluudywar

    youtube.com/watch?v=wHs0vM3gRTA

    you can thank RANDI

    now for some SYMBOLIC TWO-DIMENSIONAL ANALYSIS!

    on the TIMELINE

    0 min 33 sec – Randi in the RED SHIRT – signifying the *bl..dy deed* that is about to happen

    1min 18 sec – Banachek talks about respect for the claimant and then they mock “these kind” of people in the final part

    3
    min 20 sec – the test of the power bracelet that increases a person’s
    energy and balance. Notice our challenge is all about POWER &
    BALANCE, proving the existence of a HIGHER POWER

    5 min 15 sec TEST BEGINS. Skeptics one by one stand in CRUCIFIXION POSE

    1 hr 10 min 21 sec Test is ended in failure

    1 hr 10 min 30 sec request is made to make change in the PROTOCOL

    1 hr 10 min 51 sec Applause is made by all those who wanted him to fail from the very beginning

    1 hr 25 min 39 sec Now they talk about the Nightline clip that was filmed in Manhattan, also the scene of the 9/11 event

    1hr
    28 min 42 sec – They talk about make-shift tests. They think that
    because no one can win the prize that psychic phenomena does not exist

    1 hr 29 min 45 sec Banachek says “the majority of *these* people.’” A contemptuous reference that occurs repeatedly

    1 hr 31 min 53 sec The reference to envelopes. Remember the 911 in Angel’s envelope!

    1
    hr 37 min 11 sec Swiss says he is not worried about a paranormal event
    happening. Little does he know what is actually taking place

    1 hr 39 min 50 sec The mocking of SPIRITS!

    1 hr 40 min 27 sec Reference made to the TERROR of witnessing a supernatural event, i.e, the blood leaving the face

    1 hr 41 min 15 sec Reference to “these people”

    1
    hr 41 min 40 sec Belief in the supernatural is claimed to be a
    psychological defence mechanism to cope with reality. Swiss talks about
    how desperate the psychics become when debunked. Little does he know
    what is happening to the skeptics!

    1 hr 42 min 11 sec WHEN PROPHECY SUCCEEDS! KABOOM

    ___________

    youtube.com/watch?v=gHbYJfwFgOU

    which WORLD-VIEW will not exist, sh*thead?

    ______________

    5000 whining atheists vs the Great Prophet

    how the divine pen of Michel N. crushed the international atheist movement

    skeps.org/viewtopic.php?f=50&t=644

  • shiracoffee

    What about the actors, who have been turned into mouthpieces for things they never actually said? And what about the fraudulent claims of “Sam Bacile” (now widely reported as fact in some parts of the world) that the film was made by an Israeli Jew with the support of “other wealthy Israelis”? These are actions of true malice.

  • http://www.facebook.com/brenda.ahsen Brenda Von Ahsen

    No, you’re not missing anything and you’ve pretty well summed it up as far as I can tell. However I think we can now add a few things to our understanding of this incident.

    1) There were no protests against the video as initially reported.
    2) This was an organized premeditated attack on the US consulate.
    3) Dictatorships use conspiracy theories and paranoia to control their populace.
    4) Because of 3 above when the people are liberated they tend to attribute all media from other countries as officially sanctioned propaganda.
    5) The Right in America uses conspiracy theories and paranoia to control their followers.

    Five is exceedingly worrying to me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rashad-Abdul-Azeem/100003495967790 Rashad Abdul-Azeem

    Agreed, no censorship, however many people in the middle east have never lived under a truly democratic society where freedom of speech is allowed. In fact their violent reaction is their attempt to shut down freedom of speech which in reality hurts their ability to benefit from freedom of speech if it was truly allowed. Their governments allow them to react violently to insults againt Islam but not insults against the leadership. If one was to speak out against say, the leader of Sudan, they would probably find themselves in jail or worse. They should be fighting for freedom of speeh and assembly. There is no excuse for mindless mob violence, Muslims have become so predictable.

  • Tooba Siddiqui

    I am from a country which protested a lot on this video.Youtube has been banned blah blah.I am not not going in the depths but yeah i will only say that is ‘FREEDOM OF SPEECH’ is infact ‘FREEDOM OF INSULT and MENTAL TORTURE’ resulted from their HATRED towards Muslims.Holocaust denial is illegal,making blasphemous videos about the MOST respected Prophet of 2.2 billion Muslims is liberalism.I can NEVER get this.Being a student of Development studies,i feel myself is failure as all the theories,perspectives,books i have read so far are opposite to what i am seeing and facing.I believed that UNO atleast DO something.I have to change my view now.Peace.