The Freedom of Think Differently
“Freiheit ist immer Freiheit der Andersdenkenden” — Rosa Luxemburg
The time to condemn Sam Bacile’s film on grounds of artistic merit, of which it possesses none, will come. The time to condemn those Islamists who stormed the U.S. embassy in Cairo, burning the American flag and creating a climate of intimidation in order to eradicate free expression, is now. The time to condemn those who slaughtered the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other embassy staff in Benghazi, Libya is now.
Sam Bacile is not responsible for the actions of terrorists in Benghazi and protesters in Cairo. To place the blame for these murders on to him would be a form of surrender to those who favour granting religious exemptions to the principle of freedom of speech. And, it would grant kudos to the idea that it is acceptable or understandable to react in the most sanguinary ways when one’s faith is tested.
It does not matter that Bacile’s film was rude, or — heaven forbid — blasphemous. It does not matter that Geert Wilders’ movie Fitna was incendiary and may have inflamed tensions in Europe. It does not matter that when David Irving stands up and denies the Holocaust, it offends our sensibilities and undermines the very study of history.
These people not only have the right to speak, but their right to speak as dissenters must be given extra protection, for what they have to say will at the very least ensure that we better comprehend why we know what we already know and why we think what we already think. Or, maybe, just maybe, it will challenge our understanding give us cause for reflection. As John Stuart Mill wrote in On Liberty:
There needs protection against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling; against the tendency of society to impose its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them; to fetter the development, and, if possible, prevent the formation, of any individuality not in harmony with its ways.
In the case of Bacile’s steaming lump of Youtube crud, I consider the former to be more likely than the latter — his assertions would be be crude representations of the most wacko and schismatic interpretations of the life of Muhammad. But even to say this, and to condemn Bacile at this time, would be to miss the point entirely. One does not have to defend his speech in order to defend his right to it, free of violence and intimidation.
I will have more on this topic tomorrow…