With freedom of speech comes responsibility

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I appreciated Zainab Abdualjaleel’s article, “This attitude is not part of Islam….just like the movie should not represent Christianity”, about protests in the Islamic world arising from an internet video lambasting Muhammad and Islam. Her article, and comments, are well worth reading.

As an American, I think we take our freedom of speech for granted. We like to imagine that we are free to say whatever we please and take no regard for the hurt or consequences our words and art can have. When we are confronted by anger or hurt over what we say, we tend to dismiss it as overreaction or dig ourselves deeper into a hole of pride.

The Islamic establishment has made it very clear that no violence should occur because of depictions of the prophet. But they have made no apologies for the public display of anger. Rightly so. Is it not just a little hypocritical on our part to dismiss expressions of anger over hurtful words and art?

As our tools of communication become better, faster, and more accessible, I would argue that our speech and discourse has taken a dramatic decline. Phenomena such as social media bullying, hateful speech, and trolling are commonplace in Internet forums. We’ve seen recently in the news how political campaigns need to be wary that what they say in public matches with what they say in private, and we’ve seen those campaigns flounder as they try to avoid taking responsibility for words said behind closed doors.

Imagine how our communication and mutual understanding would improve if we take care in what we say, and we are firmer in ascribing responsibility. Should any freedom of expression be illegal? Some already is — yelling “fire” in a crowded theater is one example of illegal speech. We have done little, if anything, to show that movies like “Innocence of Muslims” is something we don’t approve of, and don’t wish to see made. Perhaps if we were more proactive as a culture in showing restraint and good manners, videos such as “Innocence of Muslims” would not see anger directed at us, but at the individuals who are failing to live up to the responsibility that comes in equal measure with the freedom they’re given.

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Eric Blauer

I remember Theo Van Gogh when I think of all this, a controversial artist butchered and left for dead on the lovely streets of Amsterdam with a clever stuck in his chest. Free speech, art, film, protest, debate, critique, all of it came under attack with his barbaric murder. His co-worker on the film he was doing about islam amd women, Ms. Ayaan Hirsi Ali and former Dutch Parliament member said:

“How often have I endured bizarre conversations with government officials who cling to the illusion that the threat is temporary or that it can be negotiated. And then there are the even more delusional positions staked out by some prominent intellectuals who blame the writer, the politician, the filmmaker, or the cartoonist for provoking the threat. In the days after van Gogh was murdered, too many prominent Dutch individuals expressed precisely this position, declaring smugly, “Yes, of course killing is wrong, but Theo was a provocateur …” Will they never cease looking for ever more ingenious ways of apologizing for free speech?” (http://fcb4.tumblr.com/post/31795585257/muslim-rage-how-i-survived-it-and-how-we-can-end)

I loathe that stupid anit-Muslim film as Christians have with films/tv stuff in South Park… or Evan Almighty, or Bruce Almighty, The Da Vinci Code, The Last Temptation of Christ. Or Life of Brian, Michael,  Dogma, or Oh! God. How about Jesus Christ Superstar, or Hail Mary, or The Devils. Or Angels and Demons, or Hamlet 2, or Year One, or Jesus is Magic, or  on and on the list goes, I’ve not seen all these films, nor will I and I wish much of this stuff would not pollute minds or airwaves but I will never murder someone’s dad, husband or father because of it.

Words have power, the power to enlighten or darken, liberate or bind, bring freedom or oppression, create peace or ignite hatred but every human being bears the responsibility to act like civil members of a diverse planet not like roaming packs of ransacking killers.

I’m astounded how the left will vilify our government and military in days past under Bush because of the killing of innocents abroad via war with bombs, drones or guns. Righteous anger flared in the streets over a country that would spill blood unjustly but that same group of protestors are whispering now when the people we defended, stood up for and denounced our own government for are now acting like madmen and women. I’m ashamed of the peace movement innthembiblical country and I think it’s more political propaganda than true voices for justice amd peace.

A true lover of peace will stand up to Jew, American, Muslim or Buddhist, republican or democrat and call evil, evil no matter what stands behind the action. Slavery, homophobic hate, misogynist behavior, all of it is worthy of standing against no matter what that persons history or background has been.

I don’t care why nazi’s killed, what thier political, religious or cultural issue were, they were wrong,mevil and thank God we stopped them.

Sam Fletcher

@ Eric: I actually like South Park, Bruce Almighty, the Life of Brian, and others you mention there. 🙁

For every Benghazi embassy or Theo Van Gogh, may I point out to you a Jared Lee Loughner, James Holmes, or Ted Kaczynski? Because I think the underlying motivations are probably the same. The frequency of murders between (what do I call it?) American-style lunatics and Islamic-style lunatics is roughly the same. One group may use narcissistic hero worship as an excuse, and the other might use fundamentalist Islam as an excuse, but the superficial philosophy in either case could easily be done away with. They are people who will murder regardless. And I think no matter how utopian-ly awesome the future is, there will still be sick people who get off on killing.

Many more people who feel indignant and hurt are protesting without killing or hurting others. They’re angry, and they live in a culture where anger is still an okay thing to express publicly, instead of drinking/medicating/watching tv/working until one is numb to it all. In my view, all I’ve seen from America at that anger is to cover the ears and shout, “LA LA LA STOP IT”. We don’t want to know that they’re upset over something that came out of our country, and is legal under our laws. We don’t want to hear and understand their concerns, and change behavior so that we live in trust with our global neighbors.

But maybe, just maybe, we have some responsibility to take. Maybe we should hold ourselves and each other accountable for what we say? Maybe we should listen when people tell us we did something wrong? Maybe we shouldn’t really allow a complete freedom of speech, with words and art meant to defame, injure, and stir up hatred against whole groups or private persons? Our strict individualism would consider this anathema. But maybe there’s something about it that could actually make our world that much more peaceful and good to live in?

Sam Fletcher

@Eric Addendum: There are two sides to it all, of course. There’s a lot of discussion to be had — most appropriately, within the Muslim communities themselves — about how the video was bait, and many Muslims took the bait, and how to stop that from happening. But that’s not something we can tell them to do, or how to do it, and everything I’m seeing in this post-Arab Spring world indicates that Muslim leaders are up to the task.

Eric Blauer

I’ve never been a fan of the “we deserved 9-11” crowd’s message amd I don’t think ambassador Christopher Steven’s family would appreciate these sentiments either. I think you would feel much different if it was your loved one murdered.

I believe our foreign policy under Bush and now under “Kill from afar” Drone war president Obama, is continuing to build a “death to America” movement, which is one of the many reasons, I will to vote for Obama.

I agree that the say what you want culture we have is perpetuating ugliness but the options offered by our Muslim writer are absolutely out of the question in my book. The American way of life is one I cherish, I’m not a fan of Sharia law or the type of culture islamic fundamentalist demand. As a pro-gay guy you should do some homework on how gays are treated in Islamic run countries my friend. I’d like to read some of your responses in print for those fundy matters.

As for all the peaceful Muslim protests taking place for Americans, can you send me the places where those are happening? Not a few pics of kids with cardboard signs, but details and links to the pro-American support protests here in USA or abroad too.

Eric Blauer

Oops, I meant to say why I “won’t” vote for Obama.

Ryan Downie

Sam, most Americans don’t endorse this movie nor its message. America can’t be blamed for what this small group made. And yes, these Muslims ARE overreacting. It is never okay to kill and riot because of being offended. This seems like nothing more than pandering.

I agree that people should be careful with their words and freedoms, but the reaction truly was uncalled for. Public displays of anger aren’t necessarily wrong, but they become wrong when they involve destroying things and murder. Those things *should* be apologized for. Yes, the person who made this movie is an ass, and probably should apologize as well, but he shouldn’t fear for his life!

Sam Fletcher

@Ryan and Eric,

It’s a fact that the Middle East has a violence problem. It’s more dangerous than many other places. There’s even some institutionalization of the violence (although the Arab Spring was a strong statement against that).

The Middle East is, however, not more dangerous than some parts of the United States. You’re just as likely to die a violent death in urbanized parts of the South as you are in Afghanistan. Chicago has been in the news lately for deadly shooting sprees by its citizens. Violent deaths are regular occurrence in our country and are rarely remarked upon. What we imagine the Middle East to be like is a caricature at best and we are better off looking at the rampant violence in our own land before we start picking on someone else’s community.

And yet, when someone dies at the hands of someone who happens to self-identify as Muslim (even when Muslim communities are unanimous in condemning the violence) we can spend weeks of news cycle agonizing over it. And many in America choose, for whatever reason, to blame the religion itself. Do we blame Christianity when neo-nazi “Christian Identity” people beat and kill black people?

Are there social problems in the Middle East? Are they struggling with issues of gender, equality, and human rights? Absolutely. The Middle East has in large part missed a lot of the human rights revolution that we’ve had going for 400 years. Many of their problems were exacerbated by Western involvement in their politics, and that continues to be the case in some regions. But these are problems we have every indication are being taken care of within Islamic communities.

What you’re both doing is emphasizing the “otherness” of Muslims (who are in the _vast_ majority, peaceful and loving people of many different backgrounds and cultures). What you should be doing is seeking ways to understand them as neighbors. They aren’t stupid; they know that the West by and large despises them and doesn’t understand them. When we attack their faith and values because some criminals do horrible and awful things, we dig away at the gap between our cultures, making it as wide as we possibly can. Why can’t we take people like Zainab at her word when she says our cultural exports are causing pain and hurt? Why can’t we loudly and boldly shoulder some responsibility for bridging the gaps?

The best way to disarm and defang a terrorist is to take away the factors that cause grievance among the people. Since Lawrence of Arabia, the West has been reaping a bountiful harvest from Arab lands and Arab people, and we haven’t given much in return except for puppet dictators, poverty, and bombs. Wouldn’t you be frustrated?


I do want to address one last thing: No one (literally, no one) is saying we deserved 9/11. That’s mean-spirited, unfair and just entirely untrue. I have family who worked in the World Trade Center and were involved in the attack (and thankfully, were not among the casualties). It is, however, accurate to say that the perpetrators of 9/11 were not faithful in their following (and in fact the Arab world hates Al Queda, and has suffered from many violent attacks by Al Queda). It’s accurate to say that our response has been one of unthinking nationalism and blindness to what things we may have done that contribute to the animosity. Attacks like this don’t just come out of nowhere, and while no one, in absolute terms, deserves death or injury, we should at least take a little time to be introspective and see what what is making people mad at us. We might not like the answer.

Eric Blauer

I spent this week with three Muslim families discussing some of these very matters, helping them with making a new life in America, helping find work, and eating a massive meal in their home. I’m not sure what you are doing but my words are matched with more than just debate, i am and have befriended muslims. My views are built on Muslim conversations with me, not just what people write. I had to explain strongly why killing people that make YouTube videos are wrong. I’ve had to explain why killing your daughter if she dates a non Muslim boy is wrong amd a crime in America. These matters are not over there, other people matters but actual in Spokane conversations.

Sam Fletcher

Eric, you’re not hearing me. I just wrote, in a previous comment: “It’s a fact that the Middle East has a violence problem. It’s more dangerous than many other places. There’s even some institutionalization of the violence (although the Arab Spring was a strong statement against that).”

I’ve also befriended Muslims in the past, though the people I was friends with (mainly from Iraq) did not need to be instructed on these matters you mention. I don’t know if they quickly figured it out on their own by being in America, or if they knew it before, and I can’t know that now. But I’m not blind to the social issues plaguing the area, and I’m speaking with full understanding (OBVS!) that it’s far from utopia.

Ryan Downie

I also know people who are Muslim. Note, that I was careful to specify “these Muslims” in my response, so it is inaccurate to say that I am blaming the religion as a whole.

You also said, “(even when Muslim communities are unanimous in condemning the violence) “. I’m not sure exactly what you mean by this because you seem to be leaving out a large community that does not condemn the violence, but rather endorses it.

Eric Blauer

I am reading everyone everyone of small little chirping section says but I’m not getting answers. I asked where you are reading about these communities that are condemning the violence. Send the links along, the only written site I’ve been pointed too, said the Libyan murders were actually Mossad. :/

What stats are you basing your statement that the ME is safer than some parts of the US?

As for the 9.11 response, I think you’ve spent most of your response pointing the light your own country instead of at the actual events going on. Your argument to me seems like talking past a proverbial rape and trying to explain about why rape happens in your opinion. I think this line of reasoning belittles the pain and suffering of victims and is used to justify violence by violent people.

If a religion is basing its self idea of honor on being stronger or responding to dishonor and then threatens death to all who oppose their view, I think that religious group needs to bear the work of explaining how they should not be feared.

Aaron Weidert

Eric, I’m curious about your research methods, because the only way you could possibly not have found evidence of widespread Muslim condemnation of violence is if you didn’t look at all. it’s not widely reported in the media for a variety of reasons, including both the fact that it doesn’t uphold our current paradigm of Islam and it isn’t particularly exciting (it’s a lot easier to sell news of extremists than stories about moderates). Here is a brief list of the laziest possible research. I seriously googled it and am including the top 3 hits, in order. It took me literally 5 seconds.




Now, to be fair, those are all condemning either 9/11 or 9/11 AND terrorism in general and in the decade since 9/11. I actually had to spend ANOTHER 5 seconds refining that search to add the words “libya attacks” to my search for Muslims condemning violence. Here are some examples of that (in this case I think it was the 2nd-4th hits in order, since the first was just an op-ed piece):




Sam Fletcher

Eric, with regards to violent crimes in the US vs. Afghanistan, here are some stats:


New Orleans, St. Louis, and Baltimore top the list, with 49.1, 40.5, and 31.8 violent deaths per 100,000 per year. (Compared to a US average of around 4 violent deaths per 100,000 people)


According to the UN, Afghanistan comes in at an actually quite low 2.4. It might be a little higher than that depending on how it’s counted, but it’s really quite obvious that regions of the US are far and away some of the most violent and dangerous places in the entire world.

Eric Blauer

Aaron, thanks for the snarky reply and the links, I was asking Sam what articles he had read, but thanks anyway.

Do you have any thoughts on why we see international protest and not national protest against the film among Muslims?

Eric Blauer

Thanks Sam appreciate that info.

Aaron Weidert

“I am reading everyone everyone of small little chirping section says but I’m not getting answers.”

“I’ve never been a fan of the “we deserved 9-11” crowd’s message amd I don’t think ambassador Christopher Steven’s family would appreciate these sentiments either. I think you would feel much different if it was your loved one murdered.”

First of all, I took your use of “everyone” to mean more than Sam. Second, regardless of who you were talking about, calling us the “small little chirping section” combined with the “we deserved 9/11 crowd” was at least as snarky as anything I wrote to you. Despite that, you’re absolutely right that what I wrote was snarky and condescending, and I apologize for it. I was frustrated, and it’s never a good idea to write in anger, even if that means you don’t write a response at all. Having said that, I’d like to explain why I was frustrated.

The first part of my anger comes from the hypocrisy I see on both “sides” of this. And it’s existed at least since 9/11. Both “sides” want to disavow their extremists as not representative of their larger culture and community while simultaneously holding the extremists of the “other side” as representative. (And I put sides in quotes because, for the love of Jesus and/or all things decent, can we PLEASE take a deep breath every now and again and realize we have more in common that we have differences?) Muslims are angry about the video, and want to blame all Americans as responsible for it. Americans are angry about the violence, and want to blame all Muslims for it. (Yes, I realize these are generalizations, but I’m talking about things I’m seeing WAY too much volume of all around.) If it weren’t so serious, with tragic real world consequences, it would be hilarious. Instead it’s profoundly depressing, and it leaves me desperate for hope in the face of what seems to be a darkening world.

The second part of my anger comes from you calling us the “small chirping section” and the “we deserve 9/11 crowd.” In the first case I took that as extremely disrespectful because it effectively reduces our arguments to screechy bird noises. I don’t take that as a particularly kind or generous comparison. In the second case, you’re taking the positions, feelings, and arguments of a large and diverse group and reducing it to an insulting caricature. There were a lot of people, myself included, who were frustrated and distrustful of a black and white, un-nuanced, downright laughable “they hate our freedom” arguments for the causes of 9/11. We wanted to question that, and to find out the real motives and reasons. We wanted an understanding so that we could move forward with policies and attitudes that would (hopefully) avoid anything like that ever happening again. And yes, that included examining the actions of America. However, as a part of that, I don’t recall knowing or even hearing anyone say “we deserved 9/11,” so it made me very angry to see you reduce us to that. I’m sure you could find a few people who said that. The less than liberal Fred Phelps comes to mind. But to lump us all into that felt unfair, inaccurate, and rude.

Finally, part of my anger is directed at a much larger social trend which repeatedly frustrates me. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard someone argue that Islam is some kind of radical, extremist, violent religions, and then respond to arguments that it’s not with something along the lines of “if there are so many moderates, why don’t they denounce the attacks?” It drives me nuts, especially when the evidence for that is literally a 5 second google search away. It’s every bit as frustrating as when snarky atheists use the worst actions and people linked to Christianity (like, again, Fred Phelps) as representative of the religion, without ever bothering to acknowledge the good that many Christians do, let alone the fact that the fringe elements aren’t representative. It’s effectively a straw man, setting up the weakest and worst parts of something in order to attack it and gain a sense of cheap moral superiority. It’s a kind of bullying tactic that I despise, and when I saw what looked like those same words from you, I snapped. Again, I apologize.

And now I’m going to go take a nap and hope the world looks like a lighter, more rational place when I wake up.

Yuri Morozov

Sam, would you agree with Zainab on her last paragraph,

“U.S. should issue an international law, which protects Islam. Ideally, such a law would criminalize anyone who insults or harnesses any of the Islamic figures”

or that this is “just like the Global Anti-Semitism law”,
“Global Anti-Semitism law which protects jewish from any harm”?

(the first one is a matter of opinion, so I would be interested in your opinion
the second, I believe, is a fact, so I would be interested to know do you think it is true or false)

Eric Blauer

Ok, first of all, my comment about small chirping section got jumbled, I meant to say ‘our’ small chirping section, which just meant that there just a few of us wrangling here, I didn’t mean it in a demeaning way, but a solidarity way. We are wrestling with serious issues, that I think should be intense, loud and full of passion. Especially because innocents are dying in this ongoing, perpetual state of war. Obama just recently continued our national status of being at war with terrorists. Blood is being spilled, murder is happening, not just anger but murder.

I want it it to stop. War, religious violence, rampage, and ruthless murdering of innocents.
Im willing to get in the mess of it all to shout and cry aloud about the insanity of the Rebublican charge to war and the gallop of the democrats in the slaughter.

But that said, I’m not pretending to be some neutral, third place person. I tend to get frustrated by the position that tries to be above and outside the fray. As if we are not all Americans, when one dies we all suffer and pay the cost. This is the 911 thing that bothers me. The position that lays on the guilt thick about all the reasons we have set up the conditions and the kindling for the fire, oh sure, we didn’t throw the match but see…we created the problem, kind of perspective. I think that message most comes from democrats, progressives and liberals and yet…their party keeps dropping the bombs.

THAT is hypocrisy to me.

I want us out, home and detangled from our international colonialism, protectionism and militarism. I vote accordingly, protest accordingly and hold whoever accountable for taking my tax dollars and killing Muslims with them.

If your religion says kill in the name of God…I think it’s evil.

The only reason I am a Christian is because of the witness, work and message of Jesus.
Apart from the revelation of God is Christ, I doubt I could believe. The only thing that keeps me sane in the religious world is that Christ makes sense of God to me. He explained Him and that revelation is something that changed my mind and heart about who God is and how he wants people to live, worship and work in this world.

Anything that carrys a sword in one hand and a holy book in the other…makes me an unbeliever.

I appreciate your piss and vinegar Aaron, keep it coming, im not a baby, these matters…matter, and you have a great mind.

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