Friend of this blog and Thunder from Down Under magpie of The Quiet Magpie has taken exception to my recent endorsement of Everybody Draw Mohammed Day in the comment section of that post. I was in the middle of writing a response when I decided that this issue is important enough that it should warrant its own post. First, magpie's rebuke:
I'm not totally with you on this one, JBW.I understand your concerns magpie but I think you might be missing my larger point. My parenthetical mention of "similarly intolerant individuals" was to address the fact that some will use this occasion as an excuse to specifically bash Muslims and Islam out of religious intolerance rather than an exercise of free speech and they should rightfully be called out for it if they blatantly cross the line into bigotry or have a history of such behaviour in the past. My point is that my merely posting a picture of your prophet or god should not be off limits in a free society, no matter what your views are on the subject. You have every right not to depict your god in bodily form and you have every right to tell me that you think I am wrong for doing so but you never get the right to tell me that I cannot do so, much less threaten me with bodily harm for doing so. In fact, that is the very definition of terrorism.
"Freedom of speech" is often a cosy refuge for those who seek simply to vilify, and then get away by calling themselves principled for doing it.
Like all our other freedoms, our conduct with regard to that freedom must be worthy of it.
It's not a catch-all get-out-of-jail for fucking people over. It's a political right to speak for truth.
"It's about fighting terrorism".... Not it's not. Destroying Al Qaeda training camps is fighting terrorism.
This has nothing to do with that. And if this were about sending up Jesus we wouldn't even be talking this linkage.
"Nobody in this world has a right not to be offended".
Whoa... reconsider what you're saying there.... Because the ancillary to that is that everyone has the right to go round verbally bullying people in any way they want.
Do you reckon the parents of teens who have killed themselves because of school bullying would be on board for your argument? I reckon not.
If someone called Obama (who - despite the paranoid imagination of the Right - is not even a religious figure) a "something@#$%something nasty" you'd be on their case faster than Republican going to a sex show with donor money.
And quite rightly so.
And if the difference there is that Obama is not a religious figure, but Mohammed is, then that's tacit acceptance that vilification is just fine as long as it's based on religion.
Have I just vilified Republicans? maybe... Depends whether you are a Republican.
In any case YOU are able to comfortably say "nobody has the right not to be offended" because you are a capable debater, have high self-esteem, are emotionally resilient, not in a minority, and are at all times up for verbal agro (confrontation) because you like it.
Not everyone is so well armored.
May 20th is my mum's birthday.
Anybody saying anything about her will meet my friend 'Pain' - to quote the great Mr T.
"Destroying Al Qaeda training camps" is not fighting terrorism, it's fighting terrorists. Terrorism is an ideology and as such is much harder to kill than mere terrorists. That's why the moniker "War on Terror" is as useless as "War on Poverty" and "War on Drugs", because these are wars that can never be won. We will never rid ourselves of terror and thus we will never be rid of individuals who would use terror as a tool to get what they want from others. The best way to fight back against these individuals is to never give in to their demands and thus not allow ourselves to be terrorized. South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone understand this better than anyone else at Viacom or Comedy Central (with the exception of Jon Stewart, who has publicly voiced his support for them on his show) and it's why they've created the various Mohammed episodes addressing the subject.
You are completely correct that if this were about "sending up Jesus" we wouldn't be having the conversation and that's pretty much the point. I don't want to sound all right-winger here but if this were about a depiction of Jesus the main difference would be that even if Parker and Stone were receiving death threats from Christians Comedy Central wouldn't have censored their work, just as they haven't when South Park has skewered several other major religions in the past despite loud protestations on their behalf. Islam is the only religion that gets a pass on being criticized by that corporation and it's because of credible threats of violence from Muslim organizations and religious fundamentalists that this is so. I'm not saying that there aren't violent adherents of those other faiths as well but certain branches of Islam do seem to embrace violence much more readily than do other religions (remember the murder of Theo van Gogh). If it's OK to poke fun at one religion then it should be OK to poke fun at every religion. Again, nobody in this world has a right not to be offended.
And I do not believe that "the ancillary to that is that everyone has the right to go round verbally bullying people in any way they want", it's that everyone has the right to say whatever they want unless that speech crosses specific lines that we as a society decide for ourselves and even then those lines are intentionally defined extraordinarily carefully in order to offer as much protection to our freedom of speech as possible. Now of course there are limits to that freedom and I'm not arguing that there shouldn't be: one isn't allowed to yell "fire" in a crowded theatre or aggressively bully another student at school, for example. These limits are specific to certain circumstances and are in place for the protection of individuals and the greater good of society but to suggest that they should also extend to constraining criticism of religious beliefs or institutions is a dangerous precedent to establish and quite frankly a direct violation of the First Amendment.
As I mentioned, last Easter I posted a picture of the Easter Bunny birthing (not "crapping out" as was criticized) bloody Jesus eggs. Many people took offense at the depiction and I was called all manner of foul names and was even threatened with being satirically portrayed as "goatseing" for doing so but to their credit the individuals who criticized me never threatened me with physical violence, nor did they insist that I should not be allowed to express myself in that manner, just that they disagreed with me for doing it. I have every right to say whatever I want about Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha or Santa Claus and you have every right to criticize me for it if you wish. Criticism is fine, censorship through intimidation is not.
You are quite right that I would be on someone's case if they (unfairly) criticized President Obama; to do so is my right as well as their's but I would never insist that they shouldn't have that right just because I disagree with what they are saying. And the only distinction I would make between Obama and those other individuals has nothing to do with religion but rather would be that he's an actual living person so slander/libel laws could apply, though even those legal limits on free speech are defined much more narrowly in the case of public figures.
And the fact that I am a capable debater (thanks, by the way), have high self-esteem, am emotionally resilient, not in a minority, and am at all times up for verbal confrontation because I like it may allow me to say "nobody has the right not to be offended" more comfortably than most but that doesn't make it any less true or applicable to all of us. Your or anybody else's comfort level should have nothing to do with determining what I am allowed or not allowed to say in a free society. The odds are fairly good that pretty much everyone will get offended or be made uncomfortable by something they hear at some point in their lives and my advice to them is to do what I do when that happens to me: change the channel. Insisting that the broadcast should be censored or taken off the air is politically correct overkill. Most of the time a remote control is the only armor one needs.
As to your momma's birthday magpie I will gladly wish her many happy returns come May 20th but I hardly think the choice of that date for this particular political protest had anything to do with her and I would of course never advocate attacking anyone's family members (something I learned from The Godfather) for any reason, especially mommas. I hope you don't mind that I turned my response to your comment into a post but again this issue is very important to me and (I think) to the American way of life. I didn't write it so much to convince you of my side of the argument but rather just to let you and everyone else reading this better understand why I am participating in Everybody Draw Mohammed Day. Everyone is of course free to disagree with me and I welcome all opposing opinions as always. That is one of my favorite things about living in a society that holds freedom of speech so dear and why I so vigorously defend it on this site.