UN against free speech

According to Reuters, “The U.N. General Assembly condemned defamation of religion for the fourth year running on Thursday, ignoring critics who said the resolution threatens freedom of speech.” Here’s one item that caught my eye:

Islamic states say such resolutions do not aim to limit free speech but to stop publications like the Danish cartoons showing the Prophet Mohammed that sparked bloody protests by Muslims around the world in 2005.

At first glance, that seems to be a blatant contradiction, “we don’t aim to limit free speech but to limit free speech.” I think what they really mean is not to limit responsible free speech. And almost all Muslims consider blasphemy—insults to the sacred—as a very clear example of irresponsible abuse of the freedom of speech.

I don’t see anything particularly strange or illegitimate about wanting to limit free speech this way. I don’t like it, but that’s just my interests coming into conflict with the interests of Muslims. Figuring out what happens next is up to politics.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13939147823645982746 R

    Cartoons, jokes, etc. are just a way of expressing that islam (or other issues) are comical, absurd, silly, contradictory, etc. Therefore, what you mention is a clear limitation of free speech.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15712687960643444659 Julio Carrancho

    Islamic vote in the UN is an offence and hypocrisy because had it had the majority in the world it would rule by the power of weapons and destroy the UN!
    (See my book “Islam From Outside” at lulu.com)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10523307255698594696 Dale

    What on earth is “responsible” speech? Who gets to decide what speech is “responsible” and what isn’t? Touchy Muslims? Why?

    Maybe it’s true that “almost all Muslims” consider blasphemy or insults of the sacred as irresponsible.

    It takes two parties to make a conflict. Here, the conflict is between certain expressions on one hand and certain religious beliefs on the other. That being so, it’s exactly as reasonable to seek legal limits on religious beliefs that care about “irresponsible” speech.

    Placing legal limits on either side of this conflict is an absurd way to resolve it. To the extent that it needs to be resolved (as opposed to being seen as a regrettable but inevitable feature of free human societies), there are better ways.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13939147823645982746 R

    I have to say that your post sounded a bit on the relativist side …

    You said:

    “I don’t see anything particularly strange or illegitimate about wanting to limit [irresponsible] free speech this way. I don’t like it, but that’s just my interests coming into conflict with the interests of Muslims. Figuring out what happens next is up to politics. “

    Something is not irresponsible because a group of people (the muslims, the mafia, etc.) consider it to be so. Something is irresponsible because it has disastrous consequences for society. I don’t see any dire consequences in allowing diffamtion of religion. On the contrary.

    In any case, the muslims are entitled to limit free speech in their own societies if they so wish, but I wonder what this has to do with Denmark.

    In fact, what the muslims want with this resolution is “to stop publications like the Danish cartoons”. They want to limit free speech, period. And defenders of free speech should be a bit less lukewarm about it, I think.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10523307255698594696 Dale

    R: ” … the muslims are entitled to limit free speech in their own societies if they so wish, but I wonder what this has to do with Denmark.”

    They have no right to limit free speech in Denmark and they have no right to limit free speech outside of Denmark. They have no right to limit free speech anywhere. No matter how large a majority they might enjoy.

    They can, of course, protest and yell and scream and and speak out — that, too, is free speech. But they are outside the bounds of their rights when they seek legal restrictions on speech they don’t like.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16641266062186767500 Keith Parsons

    In the U.S. the courts have interpreted the right to freedom of speech very broadly. This is wise. I think a court even ruled that nude dancing was a form of protected speech (strippers are making a political statement!). As soon as we start imposing requirements that speech must be “responsible,” the right, in effect, is nullified. It would be the easiest trick in the world for those in power anywhere to make the operational definition of “responsible” to be “what we like.” To claim that speech is irresponsible if it is likely to incite a vehement or even violent response is a bogus argument. As I asserted in a comment to an earlier post of Taner’s on free speech, there is no right not to be offended. To say that speech should be forbidden because somebody might react violently is like saying that short skirts should be forbidden because they provoke uncontrollable male lust. Come to think of it, Muslim countries do forbid short skirts for precisely that reason. But their hang-ups, whether about about short skirts or free speech, give them no authority to curtail or restrict human rights.


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