Driven by data; ridden with liberty.
The political director of the Huffington Post UK, Medhi Hasan, has written a screed entitled: As a Muslim, I’m fed up with the Hypocrisy of the Free Speech Fundamentalists. I shall begin on a point of agreement with Mr Hasan, who states:
[Y]ou appear to have updated Dubya’s slogan: either you are with free speech… or you are against it.
There are many restrictions upon speech which are commonly held to be righteous, such as prohibitions against blasphemy and racism. Consequently, there are differing levels of speech freedoms that people agree with, and so shuffling citizens into this dichotomy is unhelpful.
Mr Hasan implores those who regard an murderous assault on a satirical newspaper as an attack on free speech:
Please get a grip. None of us believes in an untrammelled right to free speech. We all agree there are always going to be lines that, for the purpose of law and order, cannot be crossed; or for the purposes of taste and decency, should not be crossed. We differ only on where those lines should be drawn.
There is a sprawling conflation between illegality of the expression of ideas and human decency within conversations. To believe in free speech is not to demand the dissolution of all social conventions concerning human interaction, but to believe that a published opinion should incur neither legal prosecution nor violent retribution.
The implication is, to avoid supposed hypocrisy, a person would need to talk and write in a gargling, meandering stream of consciousness. Differing “only on where those lines should be drawn” is a potent reason for not drawing a legal line, as what may seem anodyne and acceptable to one person is an outrage to another.
Mr Hasan then continues:
Has your publication, for example, run cartoons mocking the Holocaust? No? How about caricatures of the 9/11 victims falling from the twin towers? I didn’t think so (and I am glad it hasn’t).
It is not a requirement of expressive freedoms for every newspaper and magazine to print every article written, every drunken letter or every cartoon drawn. Nor does Charlie Hebdo reportedly sacking a cartoonist for an anti-Semitic remark six years ago create a “glaring” double standard. If a newspaper did want to run such cartoons, to advocate for free speech is to believe that the law should not prevent that newspaper from doing so. It is not said that Britain relinquishes its liberty because there has yet to be a Holocaust joke in The Times.
Furthermore, it is – unequivocally – not required that Muslims (or anyone else) “laugh at a cartoon of the Prophet”. Freedom of speech necessarily includes the license to offend, but also protects the right to find offence. A world of mandatory laughter would be a very unfunny joke.
Our concentration has been so focused on defending the roots of liberty from virulent violence, that we have ignored the flower.