Reflections on Free Speech and the Danish Cartoons: A Panel Discussion

by | Jun 13, 2006 | Free Speech, POLITICS

On April 11, 2006, the University of Southern California Objectivist Club sponsored an event titled “Free Speech and the Danish Cartoons: A Panel Discussion” which was attended by more than 300 people. Many critics on the Left grudgingly uphold the right of our organization to speak out on the issue, but often raise an issue […]

On April 11, 2006, the University of Southern California Objectivist Club sponsored an event titled “Free Speech and the Danish Cartoons: A Panel Discussion” which was attended by more than 300 people.

Many critics on the Left grudgingly uphold the right of our organization to speak out on the issue, but often raise an issue worth addressing: the ethical consideration of whether one should properly engage in criticism of a religious minority.

Many Leftist intellectuals attempt to obscure the issue by lumping together an individual’s race or ethnicity with his religious persuasion, and damns criticism of either as “racism” or bigotry. This has the effect of skirting any real discussion of the issue at hand. Let us proceed to untangle the confusion.

Race is a set of un-chosen, biological attributes, which have no bearing on an individual’s character. Religion, by contrast, is as a set of chosen beliefs, values and practices. Any freely chosen set of beliefs and values are properly subject to examination and scrutiny. For this reason religion, unlike race, can be a proper object of moral criticism.

Islam, like any religion, demands faith from its adherents. Faith is the subordination of one’s reason and individuality to the dictates of a deity or its alleged spokesman. Radical Islam is a particularly virulent religious viewpoint, which advocates a literal interpretation of the Qu’ran, and seeks to impose Sharia (Islamic law), on both Middle Eastern and Western nations. Radical Islamists use the Qu’ran to justify violence against non-believers and the curtailing of freedom of their own citizens, and increasingly, of those of other nations.

Radical Islam has a history of opposition to freedom of speech. In 1988, the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for the assassination of “apostate” and British citizen Salman Rushdie, for the crime of writing The Satanic Verses, which was deemed blasphemous. More recently, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published twelve cartoons depicting Muhammad and criticizing the teachings of Islam. Islamic fundamentalists sought to impose their religious doctrine, which forbids depiction of Mohammed, on non-believers. They responded with violent protests, and death threats against cartoonists and publishers. This threat of violence and censorship has reached even the United States. Recently, Borders announced the decision not to carry the April-May issue of Free Inquiry magazine because it featured the cartoons, citing concern for the safety of their employees and patrons. Even the TV show South Park, well known for satirizing the most sacred ideas and beliefs of its viewers, under pressure from Comedy Central chose not to depict the Prophet Mohammed, again citing safety concerns.

In response to these events, campus Objectivist Clubs throughout the country, together with the Ayn Rand Institute, have staged panel discussions on this issue in which the cartoons were prominently displayed.

The New York University administration, in response to pressure from “moderate” Muslim organizations, decided to violate its own policy regarding free speech and forbid display of the cartoons. The administration limited attendance to “members of the NYU community” (students, faculty and staff) excluding the public from the event. Members of the Muslim student organizations openly admitted to deliberate sabotage of the event by purchasing and destroying tickets to the event so that others who wanted to attend could not do so.

Thankfully, neither the USC nor UCLA events were impeded by administration. Respective campus police organizations, however, found the security risk sufficient enough to secure the venue by taking wide-reaching measures, including the use of metal detectors, bomb-sniffing dogs, and an extensive police presence. More than two dozen armed university police and LAPD officers staffed the USC event.

Our purpose of having this event was not the mindless, hurtful ridicule of a particular group of people for its own sake. Rather, it was to criticize a specific set of ideas, which if implemented by its practitioners, are a threat to freedom in the United States and in the Western World. It is true, however, that not all Muslims advocate violence and imposition of Sharia.

To reiterate panelist Yaron Brook’s point, I would be willing to befriend anyone, including Muslims, who vigorously condemns the violent actions of terrorists and opponents of individual rights.

But the undeniable fact is that there are groups of individuals who engage in or advocate for these acts, creating a very real climate of fear and intimidation. It is in response to this threat that we deemed it morally proper, indeed morally mandatory, to bring attention to this threat, and to speak out against it. We invite anyone who values human freedom and the protection of individual rights to join us.

Jason Hoskin is a graduate student in pathobiology, and is president of the USC Objectivist Club. For more information, visit www.uscobjectivistclub.com.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

Related articles

No spam. Unsubscribe anytime.

Pin It on Pinterest