Posted: 21 September 2012 at 6:28pm | IP Logged
While in DC, I met a diplomat's wife also applying to be a diplomat. Her family has been in Egypt and Jordan and she had some interesting insights on one of the main problems.
Most Islamic countries tend to be highly autocratic. Even if democratic, the government wields extreme control. Freedom of speech is an alien concept to them. News, media, entertainment, books, Internet everything they are exposed to is heavily censored, edited and controlled by the government. Nothing makes it through without a stamp of approval by those in power.
So they have a hard time understanding why an anti-Islamic film (or any other material) is the work of a rogue group or individual. They assume that if the movie was made, released and published everywhere - that it must have received an implicit stamp of approval from US government and society. That someone can freely speak something even with explicit disapproval from society and government is something they simply cannot fathom. They don't understand that the government does not have legal standing or power to censor or control speech.
Extremists tend to exploit this mindset of the people. They incite the people to hate USA or hate the west as a whole. That is why spreading the notion of free speech can be very important in these nations. Perception of society radically changes when you have the power to speak against authority and society. You also understand better that one small individual or group can do something unsavory without blaming an entire nation or society for it.
That is why protecting freedom of speech is important. Oxygen fuels fire and makes it grow stronger, but we cannot limit the air we breathe because of it. It becomes a slippery slope when we start restricting freedom of speech in any area. Interpreting lines is very difficult. You make exceptions for one thing, you end up making more. Eventually, you end up in a society run by fear and control. You cannot question authority. You see that in China where the internet is wiped clean of anti government literature. You see that in India where they wipe out FB groups for criticizing and trashing corrupt officials. You see that in theocratic nations where practicing a different belief system or legitimately criticizing a bad religious leader can lead to imprisonment.
Now I'm not condoning the film. This film was definitely an abuse of free speech. It was unethical, hateful, harmful, wrong, immoral and wrong on several levels. I have scant respect for people who are disdainful and hate mongering. But the way to counter abuse of free speech is not violence, nor is it censorship. The only way to counter it is proper use of free speech. Get the debate going. Educate and inform against the hate-mongers. Present your arguments and expose them as small minded racists, bigots, xenophobes, homophobes whoever they maybe.
I'm a colored minority, and no matter how much it offends or hurts me - I still support the rights of Neo Nazis and white supremacists to trash colored people, immigrants and minorities. I still support the rights of church groups to scream out "God Hates Fags". I support the rights of people to make fun of my country and my culture as dotheads, Apus and people who smell like curry. It is not because I am weak or have no pride in who I am, but because I am stronger and better than them. Suppressing their views will not change them or anything else. Their hatred will simmer and they will spread it in the privacy of their homes etc. Only when I let them speak out do I get the chance to speak back and counter them. Only when I let them speak out can I prove them wrong and perhaps change a few minds. Only when I let them speak out can I expose their small minds and prevent the easy spread of their ideas.
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