Saturday, March 04, 2006

Freedom of Speech

This week's Picket column was on freedom of speech and how the reaction to Turkish film The Valley of the Wolves can be compared to the reaction to the political cartoons to show us a little bit of the difference between the understanding of freedom of speech in the Muslim world versus the understanding in the non-Muslim/Western world...

Turkish Movie and Danish Cartoon Offer Opportunity for Learning

There is little doubt that Americans hold the freedom of speech to be one of (probably the most) important rights guaranteed to us in our Bill of Rights. Through this freedom, Americans seemingly believe that anything can be accomplished. Inequalities can be revealed. Evils can be exposed. Healthy discussion can be initiated. And if the problem is bad or pressing enough, changes can be initiated. So it should be no wonder that such an premium is put on spreading this freedom in our quest for ‘democratizing’ the Middle Eastern world.

I have written before about the good that we have done in spreading freedom and democracy; I honestly believe that we have done good. However, if there is one freedom that we have failed to properly educate those in the Middle East about, it is freedom of speech. This right works in a back-and-forth manner. It is one in which we must be willing to read things or hear thing with which we may not agree in just the same manner that we say or write things which others will not be supportive of.

The recent release of and anti-American, Turkish film called “Valley of the Wolves” can be compared with the controversy over the Danish cartoons--which depicted Muhammad sporting a bomb in his turban-- to provide a good opportunity to some-what examine the difference in the understanding of free speech.

In the case of the cartoons, a series of cartoons sparked weeks of violent and destructive protests. Muslims around the world stormed embassies of ‘guilty nations,’ burning them down or inflicting other danger. Leaders through the Middle East proclaimed that the Jews were to blame for the cartoons. Several Islamic clerics called for beheading the illustrators responsible for the cartoons and proclaimed (to paraphrase) that ‘apology is not enough.’

One the other side of the same coin, “The Valley of the Wolves” depicts Jews and Americans as murderous villains. The Turkish film shows American soldiers murdering innocent civilians in a wedding ceremony in Iraq. In another scene which as been described as chilling, Jews are depicted as Nazi-like surgeons, removing organs from Muslims. Europeans have responded by encouraging cinema owners/managers not to show the film. No burning of Turkish embassies, no calling for cutting off of heads or hands, no murders—no violence. None.

So from these two brief analyses it would seem as if it is simply free speech for a Muslim production to put down Christians, Americans and Jews, but it is slanderous and punishable by death for anyone to speak unfavorably of Muhammad. Why the difference?

I propose that the difference lies in the fact that Americans have enjoyed freedom of speech for 200+ years; the Muslim world has lived in a completely controlled environment, where every word has been met by censorship and published only after approval of ‘the powers that be.’ We can only hope that the progress we make in Iraq will spread a sense of freedom throughout the Muslim world. In the mean time—while we must meet violence and destruction with strict punishment—we must also be mindful that the Muslim world is in a period of transition. We must, to some degree, judge illogical and unacceptable response, such as that which emerged in the wake of the cartoon publication, on a learning curve. With patience, support, hope and faith, we will help to change the hearts and minds of the people.
Midterms are over. With luck, I should be able to get back on track with posting...


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