Thursday, January 15, 2015

Freedom of Speech and Religion: Hypocrisy, Luke Skywalker, and The Charlie Hebdo Shootings

Charlie Hebdo was a failing tabloid style newspaper. Infamous for controversial cartoons that mock everyone from the political left/right, and every religion under the sun. It was barely hitting 60000 copies a week and on the verge of bankruptcy.

You see, freedom of speech is a wonderful thing. While everyone has the freedom to speak, others have the freedom to not listen. I would be one of those people. I find many of CH's jokes repugnant and offensive, not to mention subtly racist and insensitive. I wouldnt spend money on an english CH.

Then the Islamist gunmen came. They were offended that their prophet had been satirized by the tabloid. People died. And now, with all the publicity, CH is due to sell 5 million copies in 16 languages not just french. This does not even include viral digital distributions. Welcome to the internets - behold the Streisand Effect

France has had a long tradition of separation of church and state. The centuries of bloody chaos that preceded the enlightenment and renaissance taught them one thing: The separation of church and state. It also taught them the value of freedom and civil liberties.

Those civil liberties would ultimately result in the CH shootings.

You see, freedom of speech is a double edged sword. The Islamists have always been tolerated in France under the protection of free speech. They openly preach their religion, proselytize their kids, and spread their ideals. As a reminder, the bog-standard (Sunni) interpretation of Islam followed by a majority of Muslims include the following beliefs:
  1. The punishment of apostasy is death
    1. Children born into the faith have no option of ever leaving the faith.
    2. People who convert have no option of leaving the faith.
  2. Polygamy is permitted in all mainstream sects
    1. ...and, depending on the particular school of jurisprudence, encouraged.
  3. Gender biased laws, on the pretext of "protecting women".
    1. clothing
    2. inheritance laws
    3. family laws and family court
Muslims will give all kinds of reasons to justify the above, but that is the bottom line. Those beliefs not only violate the French (and just about every first world country's) constitution, but offend many other citizens. Note that the Muslims are a minority in France.

Regardless. Their beliefs are tolerated in France because of the free speech ideal.
  • The Islamists held protests on the streets held rallies calling out for sharia law.
  • The Islamists openly preaching their faith to anyone who would listen.
  • The Islamists segregated their children from society to proselytize them with religion.
  • The Islamists openly called others Infidels/Kafirs.
True to the spirit of free speech. They were tolerated.

Could you imagine what would happen if a  Jedi/Sith/Christian/Jew/Atheist/Scientologist/Pastafarian started preaching/proselytizing/protesting publicly in [name an Islamic country]?

The Islamists are calling for an erosion of the freedom that they are using to spread their ideals. The two shooters in the terrorist attack were both second-generation French born Islamists. If upon immigration the Islamists did not have free speech and could not indoctrinate their children sent to mandatory secular school until they are 18, the outcome could have been very different.

This is hypocrisy to the n'th degree. It's so glaring I wonder why more mainstream media is not reporting it...perhaps out of the fear of being non-politically correct or being labelled racist.

When Free Speech becomes Hate Speech
  • (1) [Luke Skywalker] is a fucking faggot.
  • (2) [Luke Skywalker] is really evil deep down inside. Those who say he is good fell for the conspiracy. [Darth Vader] is the one true master.
  • (3) *Draw a funny cartoon of [Luke Skywalker] on his knees in front of [Darth Vader] with his pants down (implying he's giving Darth a blowjob)*
  • (4) [Luke Skywalker] spreads a dangerous ideology. He needs to be silenced. His followers need to be killed or chased out of the country. We the Sith cannot tolerate this. [Darth Vader] will lead us to victory!
  • (5) We should rally against the followers [Luke Skywalker] and guide them towards the right (our) path.
  • (6) Let's march and demonstrate against the evil teachings of [Luke Skywalker]
  • (7) The followers of [Luke Skywalker] are infidels and heretics!
  • (8) The followers of [Luke Skywalker] are infidels and heretics! Death to the infidels! Especially since they offended the teachings of our beloved [Darth Vader]
  • (9) We the Jedi and the Sith must unite and kill the cartoonist who drew our beloved [Luke Skywalker] and [Darth Vader] in a dispicable sex act.
The Jedi [Luke Skywalker] and Sith [Darth Vader] are obviously placeholders. Replace them with [ your choice of character ].

Remember, your ideological opponents will be replacing him with people like Richard Dawkins (yes, you atheists are not exempt!), Siddartha, Lord Ganesh, Muhammad, The Flying Spaghetti Monster, Jesus, Superman, L Ron Hubbard, Gandhi, Hitler, Moses, Lord Xenu, Joseph Smith or heck... Jenna Jameson.

My point is. When does free speech no longer apply and when does it become hate speech?
(1), (2), and even (7) are opinions. Anyone is free to voice an opinion. Free speech covers that. Note politeness is not the issue. One could have called Luke Skywalker a 'homosexual who enjoys anal penetration' or a 'fucking faggot' it does not matter. Either way, it is an opinion. Whether people want to listen is another issue. Also remember if Luke Skywalker were alive he can sue you for defamation/libel. Dead people or their families cannot sue.

(4) and (8) are obviously hate speech. It incites violence and hate towards real people - the followers of Luke Skywalker.

(3) is a drawing of Luke Skywalker. It's satire/comedy. Crude? Yes. Insensitive? Yes. Offensive? Yes. But is it hate speech? No. For the simple reason it does not incite people to violence against the Jedi's. People will laugh at the Jedi leader, but it does not inspire people to attack the Jedi's. Some will argue it actually makes the Sith look immature/childish in their criticism of the Jedi.

(5) and (6) are covered by freedom of speech and freedom of association.
 "If freedom of expression can be sacrificed for criminalizing incitement and hatred, why not for insulting the Prophet of Allah?"- Anjem Choudary, leader of banned UK Islamist group.
The answer is simple. Mocking/ridiculing belief systems is not hate speech so long as you are not inciting violence against the followers of said belief system. It is the reason the preacher has the freedom to ridicule/mock the western way of life and the "infidels". Freedom of speech cuts both ways. You want freedom of speech to preach and ridicule the western way of life in the UK? Well guess what, your opponents have freedom of speech to call BS and mock/ridicule your beliefs too.

(9) is hate speech...duh.

...But but the Jews/Christians are immune to criticism!
This is a classic red herring, but I will address it anyway because it keeps popping up in the discussion about Charlie Hebdo.
No They Are Not.
There is legislation protecting Jews from Anti-semitism in most of the western world, especially in countries formerly colonized by Germany and where Jews were actively persecuted during the war. This is to protect them against discrimination and hate speech. I stress, ridicule and satire is not hate speech. The Jews are still regularly the target of jokes, some of which are very crude.

I watch plenty of western comedies and talk shows, and it is not uncommon to see Jews being the target of jokes and ridicule - more so than Muslims, from my anecdotal experience.

South Park (now in season 18 and counting) ridicules Jews in almost every single episode, and depicted their prophet Moses as a a ridiculous flame. They also portray the JudeoChristian God as an ugly hippopotamus, with Jesus being inept and comical at his job. Yes, a long-running TV series regularly portrays Jesus as an idiot and mocks Jews in almost every episode.

...and depicts Christian Priests as gay child-rapists.
Guess what. 18 seasons later the creators of South Park are still very much alive.

Charlie Hebdo satrirized everyone. From The President to the pope to Jews to Michael Jackson. To say that Jews are immune to ridicule or that muslims are being targeted is simply not true.

...but Some Things Are Taboo Right?
I still cannot criticize the 9/11 attacks or the holocaust. That muslim comedian was arrested for supporting the CH terrorists where's the free speech in that?

Common misconception. You can make jokes about the 9/11 twin tower attacks. You can make jokes about the holocaust. This happens regularly on Comedy Central (daily show, southpark, colbert). Believe it or not, it's completely legal in the United States. You can even make a documentary about the 9/11 attacks being a conspiracy and sell it legally for profit (as the creators of Loose Change, a brilliant conspiracy theory, would attest to). People will be offended and hate you for belittling the deaths of the 9/11 or holocaust victims, and it is their right to do so. In the same way, Muslims have the free speech to express their anger at the publication of a caricature of their prophet. I cannot stress this enough. There must not be a double-standard.

Neither the people hating the holocaust deniers or the muslims hating the cartoonists are guilty of hate speech. Being offended does not mean that hate speech had occured.

  • if a US soldier said: "Let's shoot the next asshole that cracks a joke about the 9/11 attacks".
  • if a Jew said: "Let's kill those holocaust deniers"
  • if a Muslim said: "Let's kill those cartoonists who drew our prophet"
That would be clear cut hate-speech. To this day, while the Jews despise the holocaust deniers and are deeply offended, they have not been calling out for violence. The same cannot be said for the muslims. Unfortunately, some asian people (even hindus wearing turbans) have been shot in racist attacks post 9/11 in the states. That's how dangerous hate speech is people. It's no joke. There can be no excuse for it.

Now imagine if:
  • A US soldier says: "I support the shooting of the turban wearing gas attendant he deserved to die because of different views from our freedom loving 'Murica.
  • A Muslim said: "I support the Charlie Hebdo shooters"
  • A Jew said: "I support the eradication of holocaust deniers by Mossad death-squad"
  • A Golden Dawn thug says: "Yeah, those stupid immigrant chinks and arabs who got beaten up yesterday deserved it for taking our jobs"
That is hate speech. It's directly promoting terrorism/violence. It is not covered by free speech!

I always thought that prophets in the Muslim faith were holy, and that idol worship was forbidden. It does not make sense. Why would they get so upset over a depiction of the prophet Muhammad, but not the prophet Moses, or the prophet Jesus? Both Moses and Jesus are mentioned in the Quran and are considered Muslim prophets too. Why all the emotion over one but not the others? If there ever were evidence of idolatry this would be it.

The Charlie Hebdo shootings are quite possibly the biggest threat to free speech this year.

Surprisingly, this is not because of intimidation - the french have already shown much bravery and not caved into the demands of terrorists. CH had no choice but to publish an image of Muhammad the following week. Otherwise, the terrorists would have won and set a precedent: That violence can silence criticism of the [insert-belief-system-here] belief system.

What I fear would happen is an erosion of free speech. Increased state censorship. Increased digital surveillance. Increased stereotyping (of brown people, for "random" searches) and further division of the community.

The Price of Freedom
Is eternal vigilance.

I am of the opinion that (1) to (9) are inappropriate in facilitating discourse and believe that civil discussion on whatever issue is the most appropriate way to resolve conflict. There needs to be greater awareness of logical fallacies (such as red herrings above) and a higher standard of truth and reasoning in discussions. Every side needs to be aware that freedom of speech comes with the freedom to be ignored and ridiculed. Being able to say whatever you want also means that other people can say whatever they want about you.

This is what ultimately distinguishes a civilized society from an uncivilized one. Freedom of speech and freedom of belief go hand in hand.

Why You Should Not Buy Charlie Hebdo
Or equivalent publications.

Being offensive for no clear reason is a negative thing. Yes, freedom of speech may cover these publications, but ultimately they do not add anything constructive to the discourse on a particular topic. Keep in mind, offensive publications include other media too, including the publications of the religious/political right. These people are a direct threat to free speech as they will incite more censorship and surveillance. Avoid supporting:
  • Media that offend other people for the sake of offending, without any reasonable/logical justification.
  • The far right. This includes the more racist publications of parties like the Golden Dawn in Greece, Islamist magazines calling for an end to the civilization supporting their publications, PERKASA in Malaysia, and pretty anything coming out of the Westboro Baptist Church. You get the idea.
One can use free speech to call [Luke Skywalker] a stupid faggot-faced cunt. But I wouldnt buy a magazine or newspaper that calls him that for no apparent reason other than to offend. Similarly, it's not illegal to have very strong views on immigration and suggest that immigrants (who are mostly of a certain color) should be deported, but I will not buy said magazine or newspaper - I will also go out of my way to call bullshit on their arguments. Remember, freedom of speech works both ways. You have the freedom to ignore and criticize/satirize/ridicule other people too. Charlie Hebdo was heading towards bankruptcy for a reason.

The Bottom Line
Think of the countries in the world where a minority can express a view that the majority finds offensive but tolerates it. Would you like to live in said country? That's what is at stake here people. Freedom of speech is a civil liberty we must not take for granted.
I am not Charlie.
I am not Islamist
BOTH sides are offensive in my view....but it is their freedom of speech and they must be allowed to continue, unless they preach violence - then arrest them / deport them / detain them.

The Price of Freedom Is Eternal Vigilance
- Wendell Phillips, Slavery Abolitionist, on January 28, 1852