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What About Thy Hallowed Freedom of Speech?


lastsupper.jpgBefore I get too far and people wrongfully accuse me, I wish to be clear that I am indeed very much in favor of free speech and very thankful that I do not have to be afraid of what I say in this country. This though does not detract from what many people feel is an abuse of this great privilege of ours in America and elsewhere.

Case in point was the absolute bipartisan insanity over the supposed depiction of the Prophet Muhammad (saas- may the peace and blessings of God be upon him) that divided the Muslim and non-Muslim West. On one side, some enraged Muslims wrongfully lashed out at society in various riots, acts of terror and general acts of mayhem. To be fair though, far more Muslims expressed their disapproval through peaceful demonstrations and actions designed to educate the public in general on who the Prophet Muhammad was and why we love him so dearly.

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On the other side too there were those in the non-Muslim world who defiantly proclaimed their right to depict the Prophet in any way they wished – insulting or not – as guaranteed by the freedom of speech. Again, to be fair though, a large number of other non-Muslim Westerners disagreed with this position as voiced to me by one airplane seat-mate of mine who was visiting the US from Denmark. She reported to me that on the contrary, a number of surveys in her country had shown a majority of Danes were unhappy with their government’s position and felt there was very much a difference between freedom of speech and respecting someone else’s feelings.

Seeing the obvious support for the freedom to insult and disrespect that seemed to predominate – at least as portrayed in the media – I was thus quite surprised two months ago to read about how a number of outraged Catholics in Austria succeeded in having a sacrilegious painting of the Last Supper removed from Vienna’s Roman Catholic St. Stephan’s Cathedral museum. They were no doubt appropriately offended by the so-called “work of art” by celebrated Austrian artist Alfred Hrdlicka which depicted “a homosexual orgy” of the Apostles as Hrdlicka described it. This homo-erotic version of Christ’s Last Supper immediately came under fire by Church patrons to the museum as well as across the Christian world where bloggers in both Europe and the US rightfully decried the painting as a “blasphemy” and “desecration”.

Instead of invoking the almighty right of freedom of speech though, something amazing happened – the museum respectfully took down the painting at its Cardinal’s request just over a week after the ‘Religion, Flesh and Power’ exhibition had opened. Cardinal Schoenborn, the archbishop of Vienna, said through a spokesman regarding his decision, “This has nothing to do with censorship, rather corresponds with the understood “reverence for the sacred”. He continued, “It is also an act of respect towards those believers who feel this portrayal offended and provoked them in their deepest religious sensitivity.”

As Muslims who believe in the Qur’an and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, we have a great love, admiration and respect for the Messiah, Jesus the son of the Virgin Mary (saas). Just as we were offended by the sacrilegious depiction of our beloved Prophet Muhammad in newspaper cartoons, we are equally offended to the highest degree by any portrayal – visual, written or otherwise – of any of the great Prophets of God. As a Muslim, I am still horrified that although the Last Supper painting was removed there continue to be other works of “art” that remained in that display like that of a Crucifixion picture showing a soldier simultaneously beating Jesus and holding his genitals.

So in conclusion, although it appears to me to be a double standard, I am very pleased to see that freedom of speech was not abused to keep such a piece of trash masquerading as art in the Cathedral museum. I also hope this will lead to further discussion and reflection in the Western world regarding a delineation between freedom of speech and “reverence for the sacred” so that we may truly become a global civilization that respects all of its members.


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Dr. Ali Shehata is the author of Demystifying Islam: Your Guide to the Most Misunderstood Religion of the 21st Century. Dr. Ali is an Emergency and Family Medicine physician currently living in an area of central Florida. He was born in Maryland to parents who had immigrated to the US from Egypt. He has studied Islam mainly through traditional methods among various scholars, du'at and students of knowledge here in the US.



  1. ummafnaan

    June 9, 2008 at 4:19 AM

    Assalmu alaikum,

    I can’t say I know what it is like to live as a muslim in the West. The only time I came close to that was when I spent 5 years in the UK while doing my A-levels and degree. And I must say it was the worst five years of my life as a practising Muslimah. I questioned how it was that I had to live among people who wud insult Allah and my Beloved Nabi and there was nothing I could do about it.

    I also found the whole freedom of speech thing to be quite hypocritical. On the one hand it is perfectly ok to insult the Creator of the universe, but I could get locked up for denying the Holocaust and saying I despised homosexuals made me ‘homophobic’.

    I have lived my whole life in Africa, Nigeria to be precise. And I know how the muslims over here deal with people who dare to insult Allah Azza wa Jal and His Beloved Messenger (saw), and I also know what can happen to anyone who openly declares to be gay. And call it barbaric, uncivilised or whatever, but I believe that I wouldnt trade our principles in anyday for the so called ‘civilised and advanced’ western lifestyle. Cos to me to be able to live in the Western World today and be fully accepted and welcomed, you would have to compromise on your islam big time. And if you refuse to compromise you join the bandwagon of the likes of Ali Tamimi et al. May Allah hasten their release. Ameen.

    I pray that we all live to see the day when the banner of islam will once more be raised up high and when Allahs soldiers will silence His enemies for good.

    The lecture below is by Imam Anwar al Awlaki and I feel it says it all.

  2. ummafnaan

    June 9, 2008 at 8:15 AM


    Just one more thing. Though my knowledge of the deen is not that vast, from the little that i know, the concept of freedom of speech is alien to islam. Time and time again we are warned both in the Qur’an and Sunnah about watching what we say with our tongues.

    1) Our Beloved Messenger (saw) clearly tells Mu’adh Ibn Jabal that majority of the people that will be dragged on their faces and thrown in the hell fire, will be as a result of what their tongues have uttered.
    2) The slanderer gets lashed for daring to dishonour his brother with his tongue, while the backbiter is likened to one who its the flesh of his dead brother.
    3) We are strictly forbidden from engaging in idle talk.
    4) He (saw) clearly states: “Let him who believes in Allah and the last day say something good or remain silent”.
    5) We are forbidden even from insulting the ‘gods’ and worship of other faiths lest they in turn insult Allah and islam.

    Hence I respectfully, but strongly disagree with any muslim who promotes this concept of ‘freedom of speech’, except if they mean the freedom to:
    a) Recite the praises of Allah
    b) Speak a good and kind word to our brothers and sisters
    c) Enjoin the good and forbid the evil
    d) From the Blessed tongue of our Nabi: “Speak the word of truth in the face of a tyrannical ruler”

  3. anon

    June 9, 2008 at 9:51 AM

    “And I know how the muslims over here deal with people who dare to insult Allah Azza wa Jal and His Beloved Messenger (saw)”

    Ooooh, how scary. Seriously lady. The problem is not with people who insult God but with people who have backwards mentalities like yours. Who feel that only they are entitled to express their opinions, good or bad, on matters or religion and God because “we have the truth” and all other criticisms must be silenced with physical violence or prison. Ridiculous. I hope that one day in the future you welcome yourself into the 21st century.

    And newsflash. Saying you despise homosexuals does make you homophobic LOL. If I said that I despised muslims for no other reason that that they were muslim I would probably get every single person on this site lambasting me with “bigot, islamophobic, racist, blah blah blah” so why are gay guys any different? Oh, cause your religions tells you to hate them and that they are disgusting? Well maybe I follow a religion that tells me muslims are disgusting and I should hate them. I guess that I wouldn’t be an islamophobe anymore. I would just be doing my religious duty (as you are, clearly)

    Good article btw. I had heard about that painting and found it to be rather gross but figured what the heck, In the end people can paint what they want. Although it did amuse me to read that the painter received death threats or something. Way to go freedom of speech lovers.
    In the end, where most people stand on the issues of freedom of speech generally boils down to where they were raised, irrespective of religion. Umm Afnaan was raised and lives in a culture that considers it acceptable to do personal harm to those who speak against what the majority believes, hence the anti freedom of speech rhetoric. While the author of the article, (who I shall assume practices Islam just as much as UmmAfnaaan does) is pro freedom of speech most likely due in part to either an upbrining in a society like that or an extensive education in an uncensored society. Or it could be neither of those and he just has amazing powers of reason.

  4. ummafnaan

    June 9, 2008 at 10:11 AM


    It is clear from ur comment that u are not a muslim and as such will never understand what Allah and His Messenger means to a true muslim. I am therefore not interested in having an exchange of words with u. And as I mentioned previously, my religion does not permit me to indulge in idle talk.

  5. AnonyMouse

    June 9, 2008 at 1:24 PM

    While I too am glad that such a disgusting depiction of the Prophet ‘Eesa (‘alayhis-salaam) was removed from public viewing, the double standards infuriate me.

  6. Philip "Ahmed" Brown

    June 9, 2008 at 1:27 PM

    Freedom of speech can be abused just like any other right. Awfully ironic how the situation with the painting worked out compared to the Danish cartoons of Muhammad (s.a.s.)

    On another note, how can freedom of speech be forbidden in Islam? We are free to say whatever we please, within certain guidelines like those sister ummafnaan outlined above (i.e. don’t slander, lie, etc). This is much like America’s “right to bear arms”: You can carry a weapon, but you’d better be licensed, over 21, not going crazy…i.e. sure you have the right to own a weapon, but you’d better follow the rules. The Western concept of freedom of speech permits everything and anything, so there is an obvious difference from the Islamic standard, but I would prefer to restrict that right to kind speech anyhow.

    If someone more knowledgeable could address freedom of speech in Islam, that would be awesome.

  7. Aboo

    June 9, 2008 at 2:22 PM

    You shouldn’t really be showing the pic of the supposed depiction of Jesus and his disciples at the table.

  8. Safia

    June 9, 2008 at 3:10 PM

    I think much of the issue is that Muslims are perceived to be forcing their values upon the Western world. Though it’s disrespectful for us to depict the Prophet in that manner, it isn’t so for the non-Muslim West, which has a history of mocking all religion. Though I do agree that there is a definite double standard here, I’m not sure the best option is to ban or censor all material that may be offensive to any one group. There’s a huge difference between ‘freedom of speech’ which may cause offense and hurt feelings to one group, and something that can incite hatred against a group and may be considered hate speech.

    That said, I’m still trying to decide where I stand on the issue.

  9. Abu Noor Al-Irlandee

    June 9, 2008 at 6:27 PM

    Important point brother Ahmed Brown.

    Saying something like Muslims believe in free speech…or I am against free speech…or I am for free speech….none of these mean much of anything.

    “Free speech” as a certain understanding based on the first amendment to the U.S. constitution and the court decisions that have interpreted that amendment.

    Other countries besides the U.S. (like Canada or in Europe) may believe in some sort of “free speech” but they do not have first amendments like the United States and so what that means practically and even philosophically is different.

    Many Muslims have argued that Islam provides for a certain kind of free speech, and I don’t necessarily think that has to be wrong but it is obvious that the mindset and worldview that produced most modern notions of free speech is utterly alien to any mindset or worldview known at the time of the Prophet (saw) or during the classical Islamic period when most of what we accept as the Islamic tradition was formulated.

    So, there are some hard questions and serious work that needs to be done to address such questions in our time in a meaningful way from an Islamic point of view. Pointing out double standards is fine, sloganeering about free speech from either side is to be expected but not really meaningful…but none of this really gets to the actual substantive issues involved as far as I can tell.

    And Allaah knows best.

  10. abc

    June 9, 2008 at 6:42 PM

    Maybe the reaction, which isn’t protests in the street all over the world, but rather a tame request, is the reason the issue doesn’t get blown out of proportion.

    Muslims get vilified because we over-react, and we over-react because we get vilified. The cartoons were offensive, yes, but not worth riots, and those riots overshadow the numerous tame, moderate voices. We come across as a hypersensitive ignorant community for the ‘western intellectual elite’ to point fingers at and mock muslims even more, when really, there’s enough sensibility and rationality within our own ranks to possibly make a difference in a less aggressive way. I like to think of a playground: bullies love to pick on kids that cry or fight back in ways that are ineffective, like names throwing punches in the air, but would probably leave a kid who’s sensible and unfluttered alone, coz he’ll get boring to pick on. Muslims need to become boring to pick on!

    As for freedom of speech in the United States, there is legal precedent in supreme court decisions against irresponsible and hate speech.
    The classic example of this is whether you have a right to scream ‘fire’ in a crowded theater, knowing very well that it is false, and that you endanger others’ lives by potentially causing panic, . According to the law as interpreted by the US supreme court, if something is going to incite violence or hate (racial, homophobic, religious) it is an offense. Its not that anyone can say whatever they want- there is an element of responsibility that comes with the right, much like the right to bear arms doesn’t automatically give you the right to shoot anyone without having to be responsible. Look up supreme court rulings for Schneck vs United States, from 1919 that uses the theater example, or Brandenburg vs Ohio from 1969 that uses the phrase ‘imminent lawless action’, ie hate speech, threats etc.

  11. Hamdi

    June 9, 2008 at 7:16 PM

    The hipocrisy of the West in this regard goes without saying. I mean, there are Western countries that implement thought crimes. Just look at the case of David Irving.

  12. Philip "Ahmed" Brown

    June 9, 2008 at 8:50 PM

    Jazech’Allah khair Abu Noor!

  13. Ibn Masood

    June 9, 2008 at 11:53 PM

    Interesting post. Also, Jazakallahu Khair to umm Afnaan and Abu Noor for their excellent comments.

  14. Amad

    June 10, 2008 at 8:39 AM

    Aboo, the picture will be changed soon inshallah. JazakAllah khair.

  15. whawha

    June 10, 2008 at 10:17 AM

    As Salaam Alaikum,
    I believe that people should be allowed to expres themselves in anyway that they like as long as it is not harmful to other people (such as advocating someone’s death) and isn’t defaming another person based on lies (like randomly calling someone a pedophile). I mean sure these people can say it, but they should be prepared for hte consenquences, such as a lawsuit or even jail time when you advocate that someone be murdered.

    It’s very complicated.

    What I do know, concerning Muslims, according to the Quran we are suppose to just turn away when someone is speaking evil. We are suppose to let them be.

    The way that Muslims advocated for the death of those cartoonist is completely outrageous.


  16. Talha

    June 10, 2008 at 12:25 PM

    Abu Noor, you’re right on the mark. Muslims shouldn’t just jump on every single word that gets bandied out (freedom, democracy, and what have you), and jump on every bandwagon. We must analyze the connotations of words, the culture and context in which the principles behind them were developed, and then study their compatibility with Islamic principles.

    To not do so would be intellectually dishonest.

  17. lois

    June 10, 2008 at 1:04 PM

    An excellently written article, Mr. Shehata. And there are some very insightful and thought-provoking comments as well.

    I’m on a personal mission to understand Islam as well as I can (and I wish all Americans, indeed, people everywhere would). Forums like this one are enormously helpful.

    One of the things I’ve learned is there are many, many different “brands” under the umbrella of Islam, well beyond Shi’a and Sunni, and for people to lump the actions of a few extremists onto the whole population is very, very wrong. And, I think that might be the root of the debate over free speech.

    Americans fiercely — and correctly — guard their First Amendment rights. We believe it is the cornerstone to guaranteeing life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness under the Constitution. We believe there should be as few restrictions on it as possible (the crowded theater example cited above is one, because it is a DIRECT incitement to violence). We also believe in strict separation of church and state. Therefore, freedom of speech does not protect anyone — or any religion — from being offended. I, too, have been disgusted by so-called “art” depicting someone urinating on Jesus, etc. — and I understand why the cartoons offended so many Muslims. In Denmark, however, as in the US, they aren’t seen as direct incitements to violence, simply mockery, and thus don’t constitute a reason to restrict them.

    As I see it, there are many Muslims who understand this principle and accept it, and there are many who do not. Regarding those who do not, I respect their view — but the national laws trump religious traditions every time, whether Christian, Muslim or Jewish, if those traditions require restricting speech. Under the First Amendment, many things offending many people can be, and have been, said. But many injustices have also been brought to light. Furthermore, we could not have given the world some of the astonishing things we all enjoy had not freedom of speech been in place — the refrigerator, telegraph, telePHONE, cures for many diseases, the list goes on.

    I’m not saying others haven’t contributed to the world’s well-being as well. But I’m convinced that it was a climate of openness — protected by the First Amendment — that provided such fertile ground here in the US.

    I often wonder why those who don’t believe in free speech — whether Muslims or otherwise — come here to live, since something so fundamental clashes with their tradition. I was raised on the maxim “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” and if I felt I couldn’t, I wouldn’t go to Rome. I’m not like those xenophobes who advocate “kicking ’em out” — I only hope they see reason, someday.

    It does make me angry, however, to see what’s going on in Canada right now with the Maclean’s/Mark Steyn case. Canada has kangaroo-court “human rights tribunals” that are not accountable to law in any way, shape or form, but they have the power to stifle free speech without accountability. Mark Steyn is, indeed, a very polemical writer, and he turns off a lot of people with his one-sided view of Islam. But he never advocated direct violence, and thus does not deserve to be silenced. The result of this trial will be, I fear, even more negative stereotypes being placed on Muslims at large. Because of the publicity, hundreds of thousands will buy the book at the core of the trial, and will be swayed by it. Millions of non-Muslims will view this as “yet another attempt” by Muslims to “take over the world.”

    What to do about it? There are scores of excellent books on the market that address Muslims and non-Muslims, and the issues they generate. To me, one of the best is “Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think” link to Amazon And, friend by friend, acquaintance by acquaintance, I’m trying to spread the word. I think this forum is an excellent place, as well, for educating everyone, non-Muslim and Muslim alike. Someday, I believe, we WILL come together in harmony and understanding.

    But remember — can’t do it without free speech!

  18. Abu Noor Al-Irlandee

    June 10, 2008 at 1:18 PM


    Thanks for your comments.

    By the way, if one does look at Schneck v. United States, I think almost all of us would agree that the case was wrongly decided by the Supreme Court. In fact, the Court itself in subsequent decisions refined its own test as to what type of speech could be prohibited to a much narrower ground. (In Schneck itself, the defendant had mailed out literature to prospective draftees encouraging them to resist being drafted into World War I). Of course, the issue of free speech during war has been a touchy one historically. People interested should read the work Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terror by Geoffrey Stone (you can get it at a bargain price from here:

    The hate crime speech issues are quite tricky as well (see R.A.V. v. St. Paul)

    So, you are correct to of course point out that every type of system, including even the U.S. under the First Amendment which is probably one of the most liberal free speech regimes ever, has some type of limits on speech. At the same time, we should also be clear that there is no chance that something like the cartoons purportedly of the Prophet (saw) or these other religiously blasphemous or offensive items we’re discussing here would ever be allowed to be made illegal in the United States.

    Some people may be familiar with the Falwell — Hustler case in which the magazine published a completely made up story about Min. Falwell having sex with his own mother. This was found by the court to be protected speech which the government could not outlaw nor could Hustler be required to pay any damages for its slander.

    The traditional Shari’ah views on Free Speech and the 1st amendment understanding, as a said before, come out of different worldviews and cannot easily be reconciled.

    As abc and others have pointed out, however, there is a distinction between the legal issues and personal and community relations, etc. So, one can attempt to address concerns with private parties and can sometimes prevent hateful or hurtful speech in that way. Because there is a wider 1st amendment culture in the U.S. or free speech culture in the West that goes beyond legal issues, some people will sometimes react negatively to private entities censoring or even to people censoring themselves, but there are no legal issues raised by such practices. The 1st amendment only applies to government attempts to stop speech.

    And Allaah knows best.

  19. Abu Noor Al-Irlandee

    June 10, 2008 at 1:32 PM


    Thank you for your well-informed, well thought out and well argued comments.

    I agree with almost everything you said.

    The only quibble I would have is the “if you’re going to come here, accept the way “we” do things here” part.

    The United States has a long and complex history and is today and has always been made up of diverse groups of people who have always disagreed and contested the way to do things including around issues of freedom of speech.

    Everyone here who wants to should engage in and contribute to that ongoing discussion — there is no settled way that “we” do things, a brief study of the history of free speech or any other legal concept in this country would make that clear. Interestingly enough, the majority of Muslims who are immigrants themselves would probably agree with this misguided notion that there is a single settled “American” way that things are done and that people who come here have to accept it. That’s due to their own experiences of other places, their desire to fit in and to succeed and their own ignorance of U.S. history.

    Their children who are born and raised here and all the rest of us who have only known this country of course would never accept the notion that our own ideas are somehow foreign to the one correct “American” way of doing things.

    I hope you catch what I’m saying.

    Again, thanks for adding your perspective and May God reward your efforts to learn more about Islam and Muslims and to promote understanding and interaction between different groups of people. This is why God made people different, so that we can know each other better!

  20. DrM

    June 10, 2008 at 2:05 PM

    Theres no such thing as a free lunch or free speech. The whole thing is a charade of hypocrisy. If you agree with the usual suspects its “freedom of speech,” if you don’t its “hate speech.” Dixie chicks anyone?

  21. abc

    June 10, 2008 at 7:16 PM

    Abu Noor,
    Thank you for the details on the legalese, I didn’t intend to start a first amendment interpretation thread. I’m in no way saying that the supreme court decisions about free speech are right or wrong, was just pointing out that free speech can and has been curtailed by law, there’s been precedent, and as you pointed out, various decisions that have gone against prior rulings and all i was doing was pointing out that ‘free’ isn’t free.

    DrM, free speech is a legal right, which doesn’t guarantee that individuals will tolerate that right of yours, but then again, they have the right to dissent. “hate speech” has a narrow definition in legal terms, but in the popular media, it gets thrown around and the speaker gets attacked. Which is why you need people on your end who can defend views without getting personal in their attacks.
    Say something that doesn’t agree with the majority view, you’ll get allegations and mudslinging galore in the media, the internet etc, but you probably can’t be sent to prison for it. That isn’t true in many countries. Try criticizing the monarchy in the Middle East.

  22. Faiez

    June 10, 2008 at 10:07 PM

    Anwar alAwlaki is the man

  23. Charles

    June 12, 2008 at 10:49 AM

    There’s an interesting article in the New York Times today on this topic called “Unlike Others, U.S. Defends Freedom to Offend in Speech”. The link is

  24. DrM

    June 13, 2008 at 5:35 PM

    Nice try “abc” but I’ve heard this fashionable and convenient spiel before. “Freedom of speech” is a myth, no where in the world are you allowed to say whatever you want. The fact of the matter is theres a very blurry line between “free” speech and “hate” speech. As for “criticizing the monarchy in the Middle East” the reality is that these are client regimes of the West, so why the false pretense? Dixie chicks ban mean anything to you? Or perhaps Michele Malkin’s idiotic Dunkin donuts fiasco? Don’t even get me started on how zionism is the sacred cow in the western world. You may very well get thrown in prison and have your reputation destroyed, ask Samy Al-Arian.

  25. ummafnaan

    June 13, 2008 at 11:55 PM


    May Allah reward you.

    It seems that the Western ideological campaign has really succeeded in brainwashing a lot of our brothers and sisters. I can’t believe there are people who believe ‘free speech’ exists even in the west. As I said earlier, try openly denying the holocaust or even quoting one of the many ahadith where Rasulullah (saw) talks about the muslims fighting and defeating the Jews at the end of time and see if you do not at the very least, spend a month in solitary confinement for ‘inciting hatred’.

    Oh Ummah of Muhammad (saw), WAKE UP!!!!!!

  26. DrM

    June 14, 2008 at 2:25 PM

    Jazakallah Khair Ummafnaan,

    I’m currently doing a series of posts titled “Immigration, Integration and the Illusion of Inclusion” on my blog. I’ll be addressing this “freedom of speech” rabbit which the usual suspects like to pull out of their hat, all the while self-censoring themselves on other topics. I might have to create a “freeDumb of speech” file section for this as well.

  27. Mary (also known as Lois)

    June 14, 2008 at 7:17 PM

    Abu Noor Al-Irlandee, thanks so much for your answer.

    (By the way, I’ve posted under different e-mails on this website, as I have two I use interchangeably and often forget which one I’ve used before — sorry for any confusion! I use “Lois Lane” as a reference to my profession of journalism. My real name is Mary — I’ll try to remember only to use that e-mail here.)

    You said: “The only quibble I would have is the “if you’re going to come here, accept the way “we” do things here” part.”

    Fair enough — and I didn’t mean it to come across as xenophobic. I truly can’t understand how someone could live somewhere whose culture was so diametrically opposed to their own beliefs. I can only see it as painful in the extreme, especially for devout Muslims. Trying to raise modest young women, for example. And for the more conservative believers, who advocate the harsher punishments of Sharia law, it’s got to seem downright impossible. I’d never get along in Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia, to speak for myself.

    What I meant was we do things the way we do because, by and large, it works for most of us. We celebrate diversity and pluralism, and the only way to protect that is to protect freedom of speech as unrestricted as possible. Of course, there ARE cases (which have been tried in courts of law) that restrict certain speech — yelling “fire” in a crowded theater when no fire exists, for example. But these restrictions are very rare; and, as I say, must be challenged in court to become legal precedent. The burden of proof on speech that is alleged to incite hatred is an imminent danger to the person (or group) being hated. Simply being wrong, or insulting, won’t hold up in court. Nor should it.

    And that’s where that particular thought was leading. Americans believe the proper forum for objecting to something someone said or printed is in the public forum, i.e. letters to the editor or personal opinion columns. They become resentful when someone tries to circumvent this by lawsuits or “human rights tribunals” Canada-style. These actions are seen as “whining” and underhanded, and only serve to even more tarnish the view of Muslims. This is something that frustrates me, as I’ve learned not only is understanding possible, but very much “doable.” But as regards free speech, generally speaking, Americans believe the truth will out, given enough time in the public debate. (Which should be as unfettered as possible.)

    Frankly, I wish many more Americans would come to websites like this one so they can learn more. Talk about the value of free speech! I’ll do my best to get the word out.

  28. abc

    June 14, 2008 at 9:27 PM

    from the economist:
    Islam and the West- When religions talk

  29. Jim C.

    June 16, 2008 at 12:38 AM

    I don’t know how far freedom of speech applies in Austria, so I will discuss it from the USA perspective.

    In the USA the removal of this art would involve no double standard. It would be perfectly legal and would not violate freedom of speech.

    The first amendment to the US Constitution states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

    It’s CONGRESS that must not make laws to restrict speech. There are obvious exceptions, the classic example being shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater.

    The museum is private, owned and operated by the Cathedral (and thus by the Catholic Church). In the US they could display or reject any art they want. You could make an argument about artistic freedom, but the answer to that is that it isn’t a law that prevents the artist from displaying it there. There is no law against creating such art or displaying it elsewhere.

    From the US viewpoint, there is no comparison between this and the cartoons published in Danish newspapers.

    A closer comparison would be if, say, cartoons portraying Muhammad in homosexual acts were posted in a museum owned by Muslims. There no one would have real objection to the cartoons’ removal.

    I remind you of Ofili’s “Holy Virgin Mary”, displayed in the Brooklyn Museum. The depiction of the mother of Jesus included daubs of dung and photos of women’s external sexual organs. There were protest demonstrations and much public outcry. But the “art” remained. The most violent thing that occurred was that someone tried to deface the “art” with white paint. There were no actual riots. No one was killed.

  30. Mary

    June 17, 2008 at 10:22 PM

    I’m sorry to have to say this, but speaking as one of the very few who wants to advance the Muslim viewpoint, if only for the sake of fairness, you are making it very hard.

    I would have liked to have put forth reasoned opinion “out there” in the general discourse. Because general discourse demands a reasoned answer. I’m a non-Muslim who wants to answer.

    But I’m finding no support, here.

    I’ll continue to try and advance the public debate. But I have to say I’m very disappointed in any support to be found here.

  31. DrM

    June 18, 2008 at 5:07 PM

    Nice straw man arguments, Jim. Freedom of Speech does not exist anywhere in the world, only someone living in Disney land believes otherwise. The main difference being that the Catholic Church has not had a war declared on it, with multiple Catholic nations under brutal foreign occupation. The killings only happened after trigger happy police shot Muslim demonstrators(the majority of the demonstrations were peaceful BUT the media only focused on a handful of violent ones) following the REPUBLICATION of the cartoon in Europe 4 months after the initial provocation.
    Don’t worry though, I’ll be posting a complete time line on the Danish hate cartoons. Watch for it…

  32. Jim C.

    June 18, 2008 at 6:20 PM

    From wiki: “A straw man argument is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position.”

    DrM, kindly point out whose position I misrepresented and what their true position is.

    I’ll assume you meant freedom of speech. Yes, freedom of speech does exist, but there are exceptions (such as the one I pointed out) so it’s not absolute. There is no such thing as absolute freedom of any kind. All thinking people know this.

    But I’ll add my personal opinion: if we do protect/restrict speech, it must be protected/restricted equally without regard to race, religion, or gender. If we protect speech offensive to one religion, we must equally protect speech offensive to all other religions.

  33. badfrog

    June 19, 2008 at 2:46 PM

    As a Christian and an American, there are things in the Koran and especially the Hadiths that I find hateful and objectionable. I will not enumerate them here, you already know what some of them are. On the day in the USA that hate speech is made illegal, papers will be filed to supress the Koran and Hadiths, and there is an excellent chance that at least some of them will be upheld.

    If Mark Steyn’s work is supressed in Canada, the Koran and Hadiths will also be supressed as there is much in them that is interpreted as a direct call to violence, pedophelia, and hatred.

    Be careful what you wish for, as you may get it.

  34. Amad

    June 19, 2008 at 3:13 PM

    I guess badfrog, then the bible being actually worse in terms of possible interpretations, would also be subjected to the same issue.

    How you interpret is an important aspect of the issue.

  35. Jim C.

    June 19, 2008 at 4:29 PM

    Answer to Wilders’ “Fitna” shelved.

    The film was “one of the plans for participating in the debate that Geert Wilders has aroused with his proposal to ban the Koran. After extensive research, linking Bible quotations with real political events and acts of violence however produced an insufficient basis for a thorough journalistic production.”


    Amad, perhaps you know of someone who could do a better job. I personally would really like to see such a film.

  36. Abû Mûsâ Al-Ḥabashî

    June 20, 2008 at 12:13 AM

    Now that’s a strawman.

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