Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Confusing Hate Speech With Freedom of Expression, Again!

Dr. Khaled Batarfi

Many commented on my last column about the difference between freedom of expression and hate speech. Some are still confused about the issue and couldn’t understand the strong Muslim response. But before I give a summary of the main arguments advanced by some of my readers, here’s some “breaking news” from Denmark.

According to, Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper that first published the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), refused to run drawings making fun of Jesus Christ three years ago, on the grounds that they could be offensive to readers and were not funny.

In April 2003, Danish illustrator Christoffer Zieler submitted a series of unsolicited cartoons dealing with the resurrection of Christ to Jyllands-Posten. He received an e-mail back from the paper’s Sunday editor, Jens Kaiser, which said: “I don’t think Jyllands-Posten’s readers will enjoy the drawings. As a matter of fact, I think that they will provoke an outcry. Therefore, I will not use them.”

The illustrator told the Norwegian daily Dagbladet, which saw the e-mail, he felt Jyllands-Posten rated the feelings of its Christian readers higher than that of its Muslim readers.

No comment! Now, let’s go back to some of the comments. I’ve discussed this issue with dozens of people in the West, including many in the US and Europe, and the overwhelming response is curiosity and cynicism.

Three trains of thought seem to come up the most: 1) In the West, Christians and Jews are mocked and insulted in articles and cartoons all the time.

This usually leads to many angry letters to the editors and public debate on talk radio and cable news. It never leads to violence and destruction. Freedom of religion also means that others don’t have to live by the rules of your religion.

2) The claim that hate speech toward religion is causing this rage seems bogus, since the Arab and Muslim press routinely prints horribly vile cartoons about Jews. This leads many to believe that this whole controversy is being contrived by anti-Western imams, or others with an agenda that includes attacking the West or causing a distraction, (Syria and Iran for example).

3) Don’t Muslims see the irony that in response to cartoons claiming an inherent link between Islam and terrorism, they commit acts of terrorism?

It seems many still don’t get it. You can’t compare the holiest man in Islam with Hitler, Statue of Liberty and Uncle Sam but to Jesus, Moses and Mary (peace be upon them). And you don’t compare apples to oranges. The Holocaust is an event, not a prophet.

The Western media is full of negative depictions of Islam and Muslims in movies, talk shows, news analyses and commentary, especially after Sept. 11.

But they never generated the outcry the Danish caricatures of the Prophet did.

I am against any stereotyping and targeting of people of any race or faith, in any part of the world.

That’s why I am calling for widening the scope of the anti-Semitism laws that protect Jews to include the rest of us. Can anyone explain to me why not?

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