Friday, July 28, 2006

Freedom of Speech... Anarchic Freedom or Responsibility?

My favorite post on my favorite blog by Michelle Malkin is called "SUPPORT DENMARK: WHY THE FORBIDDEN CARTOONS MATTER". In a move so brave and forward, one I'll never be able to replicate, Malkin posted the political cartoons that a Denmark newspaper (the Jyllands-Posten) ran in Sept. 2005. The 'toons are now dubbed the "forbidden cartoons". The cartoons depicted the Muslim prophet Mohammed. Muslims worldwide were instantly offended, even taking to burning flags, rioting, and demonstrating. Perhaps we take for granted the political freedom and the freedom of speech we see exercised all the time here in America. Each of us can think of cartoons, paintings, or art that has "bashed" Jesus Christ, God, President Bush, and other world political and religious leaders. Muslims think it is wrong to create images of Mohammed, I guess especially if you aren't Muslim. But there is a painting of him next to other historical religious leaders (like Hammurabi, Moses, and Confucius) in the United States Supreme Court building in Washington, DC. Due to controversy surrounding the image, the words "bears no resemblance to Muhammad" had to be added.
SouthPark aired an episode in 2001 depicting Muhammad, but in 2006 pulled another such episode from running. They did, however, run an episode showing President George W. Bush defecating on Jesus Christ. Shameful?
The newspaper ran the following statement in Jan. 2006 in response to the eruptle response to its cartoons:
30 January 2006 In our opinion, the 12 drawings were sober. They were not intended to be offensive, nor were they at variance with Danish law, but they have indisputably offended many Muslims for which we apologize.
The chaos has since died down over the media, but still the Jihad continues worldwide. A group that continues to spread hatred for Jewish and anti-Muslim people groups, including and especially Americans, demands to be respected. Are political cartoons spurners of hatred and bigotry or a guiding mechanism used to question, ponder, and explore truth? The Jihad, meaning to exert utmost effort or struggle in Arabic, now brings fear into hearers of the term, now taken to mean "holy war". The struggle between the Muslim world and the rest of the world, literally the Jihad, has resulted in much terrorism, death, fear, and censorship. Should requirements for religious tolerance, including censorship of speech in press and the blogsphere, be unanimous? Should blanket rules be applied that protect religions from being insulted and depicted by outsiders, or should people everywhere uphold and revere the freedom of speech? The freedom of speech, the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, was probably created for the time when problems like this would arise. It does not just protect unbiased and simple ideas, but controversial ideas. Wikipidia describes the freedom of speech like this:
The right to freedom of speech is guaranteed under international law through numerous human rights instruments, notably under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, although implementation remains lacking in many countries. The synonymous term freedom of expression is sometimes preferred, since the right is not confined to verbal speech but is understood to protect any act of seeking, receiving and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used.
Blasphemy as a crime?
Some recent restrictions on the freedom of speech have included:
* Some consider the deportation of a foreign peace activist Scott Parkin from Australia in September 2005 to have been an attack on free speech, claimed by the federal government to be a risk to national security.
* Dr. Elsebeth Baumgartner currently faces up to 109 years in prison in the state of Ohio for her criticism of, and accusations of corruption against, government officials in Ohio.
* In Finland, a new copyright law was enacted in October 2005, which prohibited "services making possible or facilitating the circumvention of effective technical [copy prevention] measures".
* Blasphemy is illegal in Finland and several other Western countries. Defense of freedom of religion is cited.
* Gunns Limited, a Timber and woodchip product company in Australia (Gunns Website) is suing 17 individual activists, including Federal Greens Senator Bob Brown, as well as three non-profit environmental groups, for over 7.8 million dollars. Gunns claims that the defendants have sullied their reputation and caused them to lose profits, the defendants claim that they are simply protecting the environment. The defendants have become collectively known as the Gunns 20 (Friends of the Gunns 20). Although this example involves a private law suit, not government censorship, some claim that it is an abuse of defamation law, since it ties up the environmental activists in court proceedings, during which time Gunns may build a Pulp Mill in northern Tasmania. According to this view, the plaintiffs are not genuinely seeking to vindicate their reputations and they are seeking to scare off other activists with the prospect of ruinous legal expense. Such cases raise interesting questions about the extent to which powerful corporate interests should have access to defamation law.
* In the UK Parliament passed the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act in 2005 banning protest without permit within 1km of Parliament. The first conviction under the Act was in December 2005, when Maya Evans was convicted for reading the names of British soldiers and Iraqi civilians killed in the Iraq War, under the Cenotaph in October, without police permission.
* In Italy, media Tycoon Silvio Berlusconi censored the satirical Raiot series by Sabina Guzzanti after the first broadcast on RAI (the state TV), arguing that it was plain vulgarity and disrespectful to the government. As his company Mediaset threatened a lawsuit for €21,000,000, the RAI board of directors, appointed by Berlusconi's political majority, closed the series effective immediately, claiming that such a lawsuit was an economic liability for the company. Ms. Guzzanti went to court and won the case, but the Italian government and RAI refused to follow the court order and the show never went on air again. Berlusconi had previously had two highly esteemed journalists (Michele Santoro and Enzo Biagi) and a comedy actor (Daniele Luttazzi) removed from RAI by saying explicitly, in a press conference in Bulgaria, that the new board of directors, which his majority had just appointed, should not allow their "criminal usage" of television.
* In some European countries, holocaust denial is a criminal offence. A prominent proponent of this view, David Irving, was sentenced for 3 years in Austria for denying the holocaust in February, 2006.
* In Canada, school teachers have limited freedom of speech, both on and off the job, regarding certain issues (e.g., homosexuality). Chris Kempling was suspended without pay for writing letters, on his own time, to a local newspaper to object to LGBT-related material being introduced into public schools. Kempling pursued the freedom of speech issue all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada without success.
* The first clause of UK's Terrorism Act 2006 punishes "Encouragement of terrorism" with up to seven years in jail.
* Some countries still have censorship laws that are rarely used. British law technically still prohibits blasphemy, displays of erect penises and promotion of suicide.
* In Sweden a law called "Hets mot folkgrupp" (Roughly translated "people offense") denies promotion of racism and homophobia. (found here)
Now it's getting sticky. Not all of those sound like bad things to censor-- some could be considered "hateful". But some, of course, are not and are infringing on people's rights! But which ones are which?
With freedom comes responsibility. With our right to the freedom of speech also comes a responsibility to speak up for the lost, unheard, and quieted. With our freedom comes a responsibility to use the freedom for good and for useful pursuits. Gosh, that's hard to judge what is useful and good and what is harmful and unuseful. It seems like most instances of free speech bring both good and harm. Obviously, speaking against a certain people or practice may bring harm but also may bring good.
Consider this: The Chinese government censors on the Internet information about such things as Tiananmen Square, religion, and democracy.
Food for thought:
"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." - Evelyn Beatrice Hall

"If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear." - George Orwell

"...When compared with the suppression of anarchy every other question sinks into insignificance. The anarchist is the enemy of humanity, the enemy of all mankind, and his is a deeper degree of criminality than any other. No immigrant is allowed to come to our shores if he is an anarchist; and no paper published here or abroad should be permitted circulation in this country if it propagates anarchist opinions." -Theodore Roosevelt

"The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic. [...] The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent." Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. (found here)
You are encouraged to link to this post and blog about this topic! :) Discussion will be engaged. Want to discuss a topic or get linked? E-mail me!

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1 comment:

Grokodile said...

Hmm, no offense, but you may really want to consider increasing your font size a bit.

Space is fairly cheap on the Internet after all.

I wanted to read your post, and I started, but it was too much effort to bother, really.