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The Atheist Muslim by Ali A. Rizvi

The Atheist Muslim by Ali A. Rizvi

Author:Ali A. Rizvi
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: St. Martin's Press


SIX

Islamophobia-Phobia and the “Regressive Left”

“Freedom of speech does not mean the freedom to offend!” a born-and-raised American Muslim friend says to me, in reference to the Charlie Hebdo attacks, protesting my telling him that I’m a free speech absolutist. We’re at a small party, and I am ideologically outnumbered by a group of young, bright, and inebriated American Muslims, all of whom have condemned the shootings but have taken issue with the content of the satirical French magazine, articulating some version of an argument beginning with the words, “I believe in freedom of speech, but…”

“On the contrary,” I reply, making an argument I sadly have to make too often. “Freedom of speech is the freedom to offend. Without the freedom to offend, what is the point of free speech?” Indeed, the most transformative revolutionaries throughout history could not have achieved what they did without offending a lot of people. This doesn’t just include scientists like Darwin and Galileo, or visionaries like Susan B. Anthony and Martin Luther King Jr.—it includes Jesus Christ himself, not to mention Muhammad, who was chased out of Mecca for gravely offending the Quraysh, the merchant tribe that ran the city.

The conversation now veers toward hate speech. “Doesn’t hate speech cross the line? Or do you think that should be protected too?” I understand why my friend is asking this. Even France, where the attacks happened, has laws against hate speech. Shortly after the attacks, the French comedian Dieudonné was arrested for Facebook posts sympathetic to the views of the terrorists. And in 2011, fashion designer John Galliano was famously arrested, tried, and fined for anti-Semitic hate speech. Is France right to criminalize hate speech?

I don’t think so.

In the United States, you can deny the Holocaust all you want. You can join the Ku Klux Klan and hold white supremacist rallies with police protection. You can print cartoons of Muhammad (the self-censoring of some American media outlets being a separate matter) and not be prosecuted for it. You can buy Mein Kampf or borrow it from a library. You can join the Westboro Baptist Church and picket the funerals of slain soldiers with signs reading, “God hates fags,” backed by the full support of an eight-to-one Supreme Court decision in your favor.1

In the United States, hate speech is protected as free speech, and for good reason.

France, like many other European countries, does not understand free speech. It enforces secularism by banning the wearing of religious symbols. It arrests people like Dieudonné for nonthreatening Facebook posts, as vile as they may be. To me, this feels like more of a Saudi Arabia / Iran thing, and really shouldn’t be a France thing. France is inconsistent—an inevitable consequence when you get into the business of legislating what is and isn’t hateful. There is a legitimate (though flawed) debate about why anti-Semitic cartoons are a crime while cartoons offensive to Muslims and other minority groups are considered fair game under “free expression.”2 Here, the apologists who say France has double standards on free speech may have a point.



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