Community Voices features opinion pieces from a wide variety of authors and perspectives. (Submission Guidelines)

A free society depends on the ability to dispute, criticize and ridicule members of authority

On free speech, specifically the attack last week on Charlie Hebdo: Let’s start with the basics.

The satirical newspaper’s cartoons should not justify murder. They may be disrespectful and distasteful, but in a free society, drawing and publishing such a picture should not carry a death sentence. It also should not carry a fear of prison or fines or any such thing. Possibly it will bring social penalties, but that risk is up to the artist and publisher.

A free society depends on the ability to dispute, criticize and ridicule members of authority. This can be messy, but it’s necessary. As Voltaire said, ‘To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.’ No person or institution is granted that position in a free society.

Not everyone agrees with the second point. Here is Anjem Choudary in USA Today, writing about the Charlie Hebdo massacre:

Contrary to popular misconception, Islam does not mean peace but rather means submission to the commands of Allah alone. Therefore, Muslims do not believe in the concept of freedom of expression, as their speech and actions are determined by divine revelation and not based on people’s desires.

Although Muslims may not agree about the idea of freedom of expression, even non-Muslims who espouse it say it comes with responsibilities. In an increasingly unstable and insecure world, the potential consequences of insulting the Messenger Muhammad are known to Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

That last sentence seems to say, “They were warned and they had it coming.”

I have no idea how widespread this thought is among Muslims. Obviously some millions of Muslims live in the United States and other countries that share our notion of free speech. The vast majority of them seem able to deal with the prospect that something personally precious to them may be ridiculed. I hope Choudary’s viewpoint is held only by a tiny minority.

It would be good for us, and the world as a whole, if we could help make that minority even smaller. As J.S. Mill said, ‘If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.’ We are better off with more and more speech, not less — even if that speech makes others uncomfortable or offended.

Freedom isn’t always pretty

I don’t know how good of a job we do really explaining the concept of ‘free speech’ to the rest of the world. Of late, we’ve done a really terrible job of explaining that a commitment to free speech means that listeners just might hear some terrible things. You might hear things that make you conclude that the speaker is a terrible human being. You might hear things that make you angry. You might hear things that make you feel a little sick inside. Freedom isn’t always pretty.

What’s the alternative? The only way of avoiding all of the bad stuff is to wall off sections of speech. This means (per Voltaire’s point) figuring out who is in charge and must not be criticized. It also means (per Mill’s point) that minority points of view must be silenced. An adult society rejects those choices and deals with the possibility of being offended.

So how do we communicate this to those who aren’t convinced? By being steadfast in our defense of allowing people to talk. If someone makes art that is anti-X, we stand up and defend their ability to do so. We stop looking for ways to tell each other to “shut up.” That means terms like “micro-aggression, mansplaining and privilege” should be used to open up avenues of conversation, not bring it to a halt. It means a rather thorough re-examination of the concept of “hate speech.” Any time we are telling someone else that they must shut up, we give credence to the arguments of someone like Choudary and his belief that people should stop talking in ways that bring him offense.

By all means criticize

None of this should be taken as saying that people shouldn’t criticize speech that they don’t agree with. If you see obscene art, tell the artist and gallery that you find it offensive. If you read sentiments you disagree with, talk back and explain why you disagree. This may get messy and loud. So be it. That’s better than the alternative.

Of course, another way of dealing with offensive art and the like is to simply roll your eyes and ignore it. This is another way that mature, pluralistic societies work together. They avoid the worst arguments with a sort of “live and let live” attitude. We could use more of that. We’d be better off if we could comfortably go to a restaurant even if we disagreed with the politics of the owner. We’d be better off if bakers could simply bake cakes without worrying whether they were topped by two brides or two grooms.

Large numbers of people can live together with other people who say and do things that they find disagreeable. We’ve proved that. We should be exporting these ideas to any of the rest of the world that will listen to them.

Peder DeFor, of Minneapolis, writes the blog Peder D4. This commentary originally appeared on the blog.


If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (46)

  1. Submitted by Raj Maddali on 01/13/2015 - 09:50 am.

    Freedom of Speech or Freedom.

    “I don’t know how good of a job we do really explaining the concept of ‘free speech’ to the rest of the world. ” –

    Most terrorism comes from countries whose peoples freedoms have been denied by Western countries.

    A shout out to the Saudi Ambassador who participated in the “Freedom of Speech” march while a blogger was being lashed back home.

    A shout out to another Naftali Bennett of Israel who actively supports and promotes apartheid in Israel.

    Wonder who the Egyptian dictatorship sent.

    But then it was all for “Free Speech”. Thank God it was not for “Freedom”.

  2. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 01/13/2015 - 10:27 am.

    Oddly enough, the biggest threat to freedom of speech in this country comes not from religious radicals, but from radical secularists and the victim class being created most college campuses.

    • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 01/13/2015 - 10:36 am.

      I think I lost a few IQ points just from reading this. Please elaborate on how the biggest threats to free speech come from ‘radical secularists?’

      • Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 01/13/2015 - 12:58 pm.

        ???”Radical secularists”

        Maybe Mr. Swift is taking about the radicals who shout down and intimidate conservatives who are speaking or trying to speak on the college campus?

        • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 01/14/2015 - 08:29 am.

          Maybe he is.

          But it’s hard to tell. How does one group of people exercising their rights of free speech impinge upon someone else’s free speech? Maybe a thicker skin for your campus conservatives is in order.

    • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 01/13/2015 - 11:10 am.

      Charlie Hebdo

      Be reminded that the cartoonists and editors of Charlie Hebdo would fit your definition of ‘radical secularists.’

    • Submitted by Ray Schoch on 01/13/2015 - 11:25 am.

      Just for fun

      …please define “radical secularism.” Bonus points if you can define “the victim class.”

      • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 01/13/2015 - 12:57 pm.

        The radical secularists

        are those who work to deny religious expression in the public square.

        The “victim class” are those people who are protected from imagined harm by those who support the concept of “hate speech” and/or laws that prevent others from offending them in some other way.

        • Submitted by Kurt Nelson on 01/13/2015 - 03:28 pm.

          That’s all it takes

          To define radical secularists, if they deny religious expression in the public square. Are you talking about praying, because like in public schools, you can pray all day long – nobody’s going to stop you. Or are you talking about putting up a manger during Christmas, because that violates the constitution, and you don’t want to do that now do you.

          • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 01/13/2015 - 06:56 pm.

            Putting up a manger in the public square

            does not violate the constitution.

            The 1st Amendment says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; ”

            Anyone who is so offended by religion that seeing a manger in the public square and believing it to be unconstitutional would probably be considered a “radical secularist.”

            • Submitted by Ray Schoch on 01/13/2015 - 08:16 pm.

              “Radical secularist”

              …is a right-wing zealot’s term to begin with (Thomas Jefferson would have qualified, as would several other members of the Constitutional Convention), but even if we leave that aside for the moment, the reason for that phraseology in the First Amendment is specifically to avoid the reality and/or the appearance of any sort of state-sanctioned religion. Some of the folks who wrote those founding documents had direct experience with (or had recent antecedents who had direct experience) the imposition of religion upon those who didn’t share those same beliefs.

              This is a nation with a sizable Christian population, but it is not, nor has it ever been, a “Christian nation” in the sense that Sarah Palin uses the term. What the First Amendment protects is freedom of conscience, and the right to believe whatever you want, as long as you make no attempt to impose those beliefs upon others. Even the Minnesota Constitution (Article 1, Section 16) touches on the subject in much the same way. To wit:

              “…The right of every man to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience shall never be infringed; nor shall any man be compelled to attend, erect or support any place of worship, or to maintain any religious or ecclesiastical ministry, against his consent; nor shall any control of or interference with the rights of conscience be permitted, or any preference be given by law to any religious establishment or mode of worship; but the liberty of conscience hereby secured shall not be so construed as to excuse acts of licentiousness or justify practices inconsistent with the peace or safety of the state, nor shall any money be drawn from the treasury for the benefit of any religious societies or religious or theological seminaries.”

              It’s the “can’t be compelled” and “no preference given by law to any religious establishment” parts that we’re dealing with here.

              What Charlie Hebdo practiced – what any good satiric magazine would practice – was skewering the established powers-that-be, whether they were religious or secular. Irreverence toward causes and icons of both the left and the right, especially by secular voices, is as American as apple pie, baseball and Chevrolet, and has been around in this country for as long as the country has existed.

            • Submitted by Kurt Nelson on 01/14/2015 - 09:05 am.


              I always thought of myself as more of a moderate, but now I know, I’m a radical secularist – thanks.
              Of course you can’t put up a Christian themed manger in the public square, even you ought to know that much. If you can point to a decision saying otherwise I would love to read it, but of course, you can’t because the Court is not fond of mixing church and state.

              Now some might believe quite wrongly that those words, “Congress shall make no law” are final, but COngress has made plenty of laws around the 1stA, so I’m not sure what your point is. Do you?

            • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 01/14/2015 - 09:07 am.

              I think that, in your reasoning, what makes the ‘secularist’ ‘radical’ is the simply fact that they ARE secular. I, as a ‘secularist’ am not offended by religion, or by religious people. What I don’t appreciate is when state-controlled entities endorse specific religions. People of faith can pray wherever they want, they can put up religions decorations on their own property, they can go to whatever church or place of worship they choose. Regardless, cases such as this are routinely decided (in favor of separation of church and state) in court across the country every year.

            • Submitted by jason myron on 01/15/2015 - 01:32 pm.

              It does favor one religion over another however.

              One only needs to look at the howls of outrage over any other public depiction of religion that doesn’t happen to fly with people who toss around labels such as “radical secularist” to find that their attitude of what constitutes “religious freedom” only extends to THEIR religion. That’s ultimately why none of it belongs on public property or in government offices and meetings.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/14/2015 - 10:07 am.

      Secularists in our midst

      The Christianity practiced in much of the word today–the type that may be offended by publications like Charlie Hebdo, but that doesn’t do much more than grumble about it–is Christianity after it was filtered through three hundred years of secularism, coming largely from the French and Scottish Enlightenment. That secularism was shocking in its day. It led to a division between public affairs and religious affairs which leads to a semblance of tolerance (and before you start whining, criticizing religious bigotry is not intolerance, as long as there is no move to make that bigotry illegal).

      Put another way, is beheading apostates or shooting up “blasphemous” publications anything the Inquisition would not have done?

  3. Submitted by jody rooney on 01/13/2015 - 10:28 am.

    Anyone who quotes J.S Mill is going to make


    I agree completely. I would like to see a lot more people use actual fact, comparative numbers and percentages to make their point rather than massaged numbers by special interest groups.

    This is an extremely well reasoned and excellent essay.

    I believe that Raj Is mistaken that the oppressors are only western countries unless you have a very short view of history, or believe everyone is west of someone. The folks who blew up the Federal Building in Oklahoma City weren’t really oppressed and I think they were from Michigan.

    • Submitted by Raj Maddali on 01/13/2015 - 11:27 am.


      I’ve pointed out that a majority of these terrorists come from such countries. Maybe i should be more clear and stated “Islamic terrorists”. Try and dispute that.

      • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 01/13/2015 - 01:06 pm.

        I’m not sure if this is that cohesive a thought, but here goes..

        I think there is a point to be made about Islam vs the West here that Raj is trying to make, albeit a bit bluntly. I believe it IS true that ‘the West(initially, Europe)’ has played a fundamental (no pun intended) role in the internecine strife across the middle east and Africa, both in the aftermath of colonialism and the breakup of the Ottoman Empire (and the 20th century’s unending quest for oil). And certainly, the USA has played a role in supporting dictatorships in Muslim countries (Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq (pre gulf-war-1), Indonesia, etc. That being said, we also did a lot of not-so-good things to non-muslim countries (Cuba, Chile, Nicaragua, Vietnam depending on your outlook), and yet citizens of those societies tend to not engage in terrorism against the west. We can’t ignore that history, but we can’t point to it as a justification for any of this behavior, either.

        To me, what’s strikingly absent from the claims of ownership on so many of these attacks, is an indictment of the social/cultural structures that led so many muslim countries to be led by autocracies in the first place. They rail against Western Influence, but so rarely against their own dictators. Those who DO tend to be taken out by yet more Islamic extremists (see Syria-vs-Syrian Rebels-vs-ISIS). While many (yet by no means all) of the roots of fundamentalist islamic terrorism can be tied to ‘western’ colonialism and adventurism, what we have been dealing with over the past two decades is in no small part a battle WITHIN Islam as to who gets to control it, and who gets to claim ownership of it.

        We should all be very thankful of our own pluralistic society, our 1st amendment rights, and the fact that we actually DO engage in dialogue, bleak and nasty as it may be, instead of defaulting to murdering one another to satisfy a sense of honor. We can get our aggression out with words rather than actions, and it’s what allows us to live in relative peace.

  4. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 01/13/2015 - 11:28 am.

    Well said

    …Mr. DeFor. A First Amendment is unnecessary for the thought or idea with which we all agree. It’s those other, unorthodox, thoughts and ideas for which the Amendment was created, and whose protection the nation’s founders deemed essential.

  5. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 01/13/2015 - 01:02 pm.


    CNN is not showing the front cover picture of Mohammed on the latest edition of Charlie Hebdo.

    Have they been intimidated?

  6. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 01/13/2015 - 03:42 pm.

    Some of us

    …are missing the point. It’s not just the right to speak that’s at stake, it’s the right to express, using words and images, a message that many will not like. It’s the right to offend. It’s what keeps Rush Limbaugh on the radio…

    Well said by Jonathan Ecklund on several counts…

  7. Submitted by chuck holtman on 01/13/2015 - 05:25 pm.

    The Messaging Directorate pronounces,

    And the loyal subjects carry the message forward: “Radical liberals (sic) on college campuses” overly sensitive to “hurtful” speech are no different from the psychopaths who attacked Charlie Hebdo.

    Let me explain: The two groups share the trait that they support constraints on free speech more extensive than “we” believe appropriate. BUT, they are different – pay attention, now – in that one of them believes that if you don’t hew to their constraints, you should be murdered in a bloody fashion. See the difference?

    Just one note about the whole discussion: The concept of free speech in a democratic society rests on an idealized assumption that we are all autonomous, critically thinking individuals who are capable of sifting and evaluating speech and coming up with even better truths, to our own benefit and the benefit of our civic society. In fact, of course, we are profoundly ignorant and lazy in our civic duty of critical thought, and are deluged with manipulative messages from those with a myriad of agendas, which only make us more ignorant, more divided and more incompetent as citizens. Free speech doesn’t work. Nor do constraints on free speech. I’m just identifying the problem, not solving it.

  8. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/14/2015 - 11:31 am.


    “I’ve pointed out that a majority of these terrorists come from such countries. Maybe i should be more clear and stated “Islamic terrorists”. Try and dispute that.”

    It’s not hard to dispute. It’s hard to make a case that Saudi Arabia, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, or Somalia are victims of Western oppression. Syria is a dictatorship sponsored by the Soviet Union/Russia. Afghanistan repelled a Soviet invasion. Yemen likewise was a Soviet client state as was Somalia. Western oppression didn’t create the Taliban.

    The majority of radical Muslim terror attacks are against other Muslims, in Muslim countries, not Western Targets in Western countries so the idea that this a response to Western oppression doesn’t quite track.

    You can deploy a perverse logic of sorts if you want to argue that Boko Haram is reacting to Western influences when it blows up 12 year old girls in a Nigerian market if you want…

    I’m not saying that Western oppression doesn’t or hasn’t existed or is irrelevant, but the claim that Islamic terror as an expression of Islamic intolerance, flows out of colonial oppression rather than religious fundamentalism is a cloudy argument at best. The US dominated and oppressed Central and South America for decades, not to mention Southeast Asia, and we never saw terror attacks like this, there’s something else going here.

    • Submitted by Raj Maddali on 01/14/2015 - 01:18 pm.


      “It’s hard to make a case that Saudi Arabia, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, or Somalia are victims of Western oppression”

      However the victims of Saudi oppression are todays terrorist. Syria was a soviet client. His “opposition” we created with the help of “moderate” Saudi Arabia spawned ISIL. The offshoot of Afghan war in the 80’s was Bin Laden and the Taliban.

      Boko Haram is a religious conflict within Nigeria. Just like Serbs vs Kosavars. We don’t call Serbs terrorist. We called them killers.

      Western oppression didn’t create the Taliban. – Really.

      “The Taliban movement traces its origin to the Pakistani-trained mujahideen in northern Pakistan, during the Soviet war in Afghanistan…”

      Please answer why there is no serious terrorism from other free countries with lareg Muslim countries like India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia.

      • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 01/14/2015 - 01:58 pm.


        Indonesia has a serious problem with terrorism. And so does India.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/14/2015 - 02:44 pm.

        No we don’t

        “We don’t call Serbs terrorist.” Well, when was the last time a bunch of Serbs planned and carried out executions in Paris? Or flew panes into skyscrapers, or… But if you want to call Serbs terrorists go ahead.

        We don’t call Muslims terrorists, we call Muslims who commit acts of terrorism terrorists. What do you suggest we call Muslims who commit acts of terrorism?

        “”The Taliban movement traces its origin to the Pakistani-trained mujahideen in northern Pakistan, during the Soviet war in Afghanistan…”

        Neither the Soviet Union nor Russia are Western powers, they are/were East European powers. By all accounts the Taliban are the most oppressive force in Afghanistan, not the victims of oppression Western or otherwise.

        “Please answer why there is no serious terrorism from other free countries with lareg Muslim countries like India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia.”

        Well, all of these countries have been subject to terrorism, but whether or not that terrorism fits your definition of”serious” terrorism instead of what? frivolous terrorism? I don’t know. I suspect all victims of terrorism think the terrorist attack that killed and injured people was serious.

        Raj, what’s you point? These are Muslim terrorists. They’re not the only terrorist in the world, and these aren’t the only acts of terror in the world, but that doesn’t change the facts, and it doesn’t excuse their violence. There’s always history, history isn’t an excuse for some actions. And history does not have the explanatory power regarding this terrorism, these are extremists, their extremism explains their actions.

        • Submitted by Raj Maddali on 01/14/2015 - 03:12 pm.

          We don’t and didn’t call Serbs terrorist, because their violence was a religious conflict within their country. Just like Boko Haram. You seem to have missed the point.

          “The Taliban movement traces its origin to the Pakistani-trained mujahideen ” – And were funded by whom during the 80’s ?

          “What do you suggest we call Muslims who commit acts of terrorism?” – Terrorism. But not pretend that Islam breed terrorism. Lack of freedom breeds terrorism. Which is why terrorist groups have not been able to establish roots in most free countries like India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia. Every country has its share of nuts. It matters more if these nuts/terrorists are able to establish deep roots.

          My point, if you read my first post, is that terrorism could be more directly related to the deprivation of freedom in these countries by Western countries. As i’ve stated. “Freedom of speech form me, no freedom for you. “. I don’t excuse it. I point out an inconvenient fact.

          Oh btw the French are today arresting people today for their “speech”. So much for Free speech for all in France. And proves my point of the hypocrisy of the French and their supposed Free speech.

          • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/14/2015 - 05:11 pm.

            What we call terrorism

            The description of an act as “terrorism” does not depend on whether it was based on a conflict within one country. Terrorism is an act of violence perpetrated only to cause fear. When Tim McVeigh bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City, that was an act of terrorism, but it did not relate to a transnational conflict. When the IRA bombed Army band concerts in London (a much freer society than many), they were trying to cause fear in the public, and so it was an act of terrorism.

            I do agree with you about the hypocrisy of the French prosecuting hate speech right after the public march/politicians’ photo opportunity in favor of free speech. L’ironie, il brûle.

  9. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 01/14/2015 - 01:30 pm.

    Free expression

    What happened to Charlie Hebdo was tragic and unconsionable. However, even if it happened here in the US, it wouldn’t have been a violation of the 1st Amendment because it wasn’t perpetrated by the government. Charlie Hebdo took a risk, and they had a right to do so.

    Charlie Hebdo does remind us that our freedoms are risky and come with a price.

    I fully agree that the kind of speech protected by the 1st Amendment isn’t always pretty. In fact, I support the right of anyone to spout disgusting speech, if they want to, so long as there is legal room for another individual to reasonably avoid it. For example, I can avoid the people preaching on the street corner by crossing the street or otherwise ignoring it. If, however, I’m in a public building with someone harassing me or anyone else and cannot avoid them, I’m also ok with the individual being legally prosecuted.

    That is, I don’t agree that all speech (or other forms of expression) should be considered immune under the 1st Amendment. For example, intentionally creating dangerous public panic isn’t considered protected under the 1st Amendment (Schenck v. United States, U.S. Supreme Court, 1919). Based on that decision, it would suggest that “hate speech,” which directs violence toward a particular group, is also not protected. That being said, if we paint “hate speech” with too broad a brush, we can certainly violate the 1st Amendment. On the other hand, if we paint “hate speech” with too narrow a brush, we negate the freedoms of others in favor of the freedoms of a few, hateful people.

  10. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/15/2015 - 09:41 am.

    Hate speech vs. blasphemy

    What do you suggest we call Muslims who commit acts of terrorism?” – Terrorism. But not pretend that Islam breed terrorism.”

    I haven’t seen anyone here claim that Islam breeds terrorism. What I DO see is a reliable observation that Islamic scripture is at odds with liberal democratic concepts of free speech. There is simply no coherent concept of blasphemy in secular democracies.

    This is why I part ways with you and Mr. Holbrook as to whether or not hate speech laws are hypocritical. Hate speech, like antisemitism, is not blasphemy. Blasphemy is religious proscription dictated by scripture, by definition blasphemy laws are not enforceable in a multi-religious secular society. You can’t subject members of one religion, or no religion, to the laws of someone else’s religion without violating the basic principles of individual rights in the context of a liberal democracy.

    Hate speech is not a violation of religious scripture, it’s an attack on real people in the community that can produce or encourage actual violence or harm.

    You simply can’t equate the Charlie Hebdo cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammed with something like antisemitic hate speech. Muhammed has been dead for what? 1,300+ years? The cartoon may be offensive to Muslims but it doesn’t depict a generic stereotype of Muslims and invite or promote violence or discrimination against Muslims. No one can attack and kill a long dead prophet, the Jews that were killed in that Paris deli were real people. When you try to equate blasphemy with hate speech you end up equating offensive speech with murder and that doesn’t shake out at the end of the day.

    There are other valid distinctions between socio-political commentary or satire and hate speech. We call hate speech “hate speech” for a reason… it’s speech that flows out of illegitimate hatred. Commentary, (protected speech), doesn’t emerge from hatred alone. The Charlie Hebdo staff didn’t wake up one morning and say: “Man we hate Muhammed, let’s make a offensive cartoon about him today”. These cartoons didn’t emerge from hatred of Muslims, nor do they promote hatred of Muslims. These cartoons emerged from terror attacks, death threats, intolerance, and violence committed by Muslims in the name of Muhammed. These cartoons were/are a response to real contemporary events, they’re not product of racial, religious, or ethnic hatred.

    The terror attacks that have been launched by some Muslims in are real. The Jewish conspiracies that Hitler used to justify the Holocaust were Nazi fantasy. When we make laws that distinguish between hate speech and blasphemy we’re making a distinction between something that actually harms members of our community and something that merely offends members of our community. That’s not hypocritical

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/15/2015 - 11:13 am.

      Whose Ox is Being Gored?

      I’m not sure what you’re talking about when you distinguish hate speech from “[c]ommentary, (protected speech).” It seems to me that you are drawing lines based on the legitimacy of what is being said. I’m not clear on all of the details of any French laws on hate speech, but I do know that distinction is not made in the US. We do not make such laws here, and we do not restrict speech based on the notion that one point of view is some horrific fantasy (The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is freely available in this country, and denial of the Shoah is legal here).

      Hate speech, as the term is used colloquially does come out of hatred (is hatred ever “legitimate?”). You are making an artificial distinction based on current prejudices. The Charlie Hebdo cartoon is, by your lights, legitimate because it is a reaction to real acts of terror committed by some who profess Islam. Does it matter to the target of the speech that the hatred is based on the perception of actual events? If I called for the state to outlaw the Roman Catholic Church, is that a legitimate commentary because I justify it with the pedophilia scandals in the church? Is the Ku Klux Klan not engaging in hate speech when they hold a rally and highlight crimes by African Americans?

      “You simply can’t equate the Charlie Hebdo cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammed with something like antisemitic hate speech.” Well, I suppose that depends on one’s point of view. Der Stűrmer, I hear, used to feature a lot of cartoons about Those People. It all starts somewhere.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/15/2015 - 12:48 pm.

        Hate speech isn’t hard to identify.

        “I’m not clear on all of the details of any French laws on hate speech, …”

        Well maybe you should familiarize yourself with the French laws before declaring them to be hypocritical.

        ” If I called for the state to outlaw the Roman Catholic Church, is that a legitimate commentary because I justify it with the pedophilia scandals in the church? Is the Ku Klux Klan not engaging in hate speech when they hold a rally and highlight crimes by African Americans?”

        These are examples of protected speech in the US. You’re point? Neither of these are examples of blasphemy. There’s nothing artificial about the distinction between free speech laws and blasphemy laws.These aren’t examples of hate speech either. If you want to convert your examples into hate speech it’s not that hard to do, just call for the extermination of all Catholics or KKK members, the distinction between hate speech and NOT hate speech isn’t artificial or capricious. The KKK can talk about black crime if they want, but when they call for the extermination or deportation of all blacks simply because they’re black… do I even need to finish that sentence? Now in the US this may be protected speech, but let’s not pretend we can’t recognize it as hate speech.

        There’s also nothing artificial about the distinction between speech that is connected to reality and speech that flows out of ethnic, religious, or racial prejudice. Commentary that condemns the planning and execution of the Charlie Hebdo murders by Muslim Extremists is based in the reality of those attacks. Commentary declaring that all Muslims are monkeys from another planet that should be sterilized and exterminated is not connected to reality. One commentary is hate speech, the other is not. Can you guess which is which?

        Whether or not the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 actually occurred and whether or not the vast international Jewish conspiracy referenced by the Nazi’s is real, are not a function of perspective or current prejudices. One is demonstrably real, the other is not.

        The distinction between being murdered and being offended is likewise not artificial or a product of current prejudice.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/15/2015 - 01:29 pm.

          Not hard to identify

          So it’s “hate speech” only if it calls for the extermination of all members of a group? Or only hate speech if you disagree with the premise?

          As a general matter, hate speech is protected speech in the US. Your distinctions between “commentary” and “hate speech” are meaningless.

          “Well maybe you should familiarize yourself with the French laws before declaring them to be hypocritical.” Well, maybe not. I can tell hypocrisy in practice. Piously declaiming the importance of free expression at a photo op with leaders who routinely deny their own countrymen that protection, and sending out the police to make arrests based on speech strikes me as hypocritical, no less so because the Code Pénal allows such arrests.

          “There’s nothing artificial about the distinction between free speech laws and blasphemy laws.” Who is talking about blasphemy? Blasphemy is, at most, a subset of what one might call hate speech (and you might be surprised at the number of countries–including supposedly pluralistic democracies–continue to have blasphemy laws on the books. Pennsylvania enacted an anti-blasphemy law in 1977).

          • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/15/2015 - 04:46 pm.

            Circular debating….

            So it’s “hate speech” only if it calls for the extermination of all members of a group? Or only hate speech if you disagree with the premise?”

            The examples speak for themselves, if you’re left with the impression that mere disagreement constitutes “hate” it’s not because of anything I’ve written. If you want more examples of hate speech you can Google it.

            “As a general matter, hate speech is protected speech in the US. Your distinctions between “commentary” and “hate speech” are meaningless.”

            Recirculating my observation as your own doesn’t render my distinctions meaningless. Hate speech may be protected speech in the US, but that doesn’t mean hate speech doesn’t exist and cannot be publicly recognized or defined. As for your ability to recognize hypocrisy despite your ignorance, I’m not impressed.

            I should refine my statement regarding blasphemy laws vs. free speech laws. Civil and Criminal laws in liberal democracies are the product of legislation and litigation within the democratic processes. Governments are obliged to enforce such laws. Neither the French government or the US are obliged to enforce religious laws that emerge from scripture and law based on scripture are expressly prohibited by constitutions. By the way, Pennsylvania’s blasphemy law was struck down as unconstitutional in 2010.

            We’re talking about blasphemy because the Charlie Hebdo offices were attacked on the grounds that their cartoons were blasphemous representations of the Profit Muhammad. Again, the French aren’t doing anything hypocritical when they enforce their own laws and refuse to enforce Muslim law.

            • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/15/2015 - 05:22 pm.

              I think I understand

              “Again, the French aren’t doing anything hypocritical when they enforce their own laws and refuse to enforce Muslim law.” So even though enforcement of those laws goes against the principles that were being espoused by President Hollande and his freedom supporting pals (e.g. Turkish PM Davutoglu, whose country is ranked 154 out of 180, when it comes to press freedom), it’s not hypocrisy because it’s the law in France. For reasons I don’t understand, however, recognizing and defining hate speech strengthens this conclusion.

              “[L]aw based on scripture are expressly prohibited by constitutions.” Not really, no. Many constitutions prohibit establishing religion (and good for you for finding that the Pennsylvania blasphemy law was struck down! Its invalidity doesn’t mean it wasn’t passed through the democratic process, though). There is no “explicit prohibition” against law based on scripture (if you find one, please show it).

              Incidentally, I don’t see anyone who is suggesting that the French enforce Muslim law.

              • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/16/2015 - 08:44 am.

                You Understand

                I was referring liberal democratic constitutions, obviously not theocracies.

                Seems to me YOU are arguing that if the French government is going to enforce hate speech laws, they should also enforce Muslim restrictions against depicting the Prophet Muhammad? And some Muslims ARE arguing that their blasphemy laws should be recognized and enforced in liberal democracies.

                Clearly you don’t like Frances hate speech laws, but that doesn’t make them hypocritical or “wrong”.

                The establishment clause in the US Constitution prohibits laws based on religious scripture alone. This is why blasphemy laws are unconstitutional. You’ll notice for instance that the ban on Sunday Liquor sales isn’t being defended on purely religious grounds, if it were,that would be unconstitutional. The French have an even more robust bullwork of secularism.

                The courts are integral part of our democratic process, passing a law is just part of the the democratic process. While Pennsylvania’s blasphemy laws was struck down by our courts, France’s hate speech laws have been upheld by their courts.

                • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/16/2015 - 09:03 am.

                  You misunderstand

                  I don’t believe the French government should be enforcing its hate speech laws. Restrictions against depicting the Prophets (or any type of blasphemy) are not matters with which the government should be involved.

                  The French hate speech laws are hypocritical in the context of the outpouring of official endorsements of free speech. They are hypocritical in the same way that it was hypocritical for slavery and racial segregation to be legal in the United States, whose founding document espouse the equality of all.

                  “You’ll notice for instance that the ban on Sunday Liquor sales isn’t being defended on purely religious grounds, if it were,that would be unconstitutional.” Duly noted. The idea of a mandatory day of rest is based on scripture, and the selection of Sunday as that day has obvious Christian origins. Christmas is a legal holiday, but it was once a religious holiday.

  11. Submitted by beryl john-knudson on 01/15/2015 - 06:51 pm.

    so where do we go from here?…

    This is in no way a justification’ of terrorism but it does make one seriously wonder if western powers had not created wars in order to control oil-as-power…for death is the global song singing a dirge of terror on citizens unable to protect or save their mother their father; children; villages all going up in smoke for-the-sake-of of western super powers we cannot , dare not recognize?

    …and No; no justification here for terrorist acts being a most unacceptable wave of oppressive acts by those who for whatever sick mindset torture, terrorize unjustified acts on random citizens.?

    However, it could be we share some sense of ‘understanding’ when life has lost its flavor and turn human beings into terrorists who somewhere in their minds devise unjustified acts on the populace at random or otherwise?

    Where did it begin and where will it end? No answers here by this one, no indeed; and no logical rationale will do more that satisfy our minds maybe…

    Could be what has been created in the 21st century is a god-awful world that has no end and humans become terrorists be it in the name of some distorted views, validated by a false abuse of religion which too becomes its scapegoat.

    So goes abusive power seeking its source among marginalized societies etc.?

    Nothing makes much sense here or even a peaceful solution, how to stop those anti-human instincts that turn humans into unacceptable monsters so hopelessly engaged and only activating more fear, more hate?

    Only the footprint of history remembered and future attempts to stop the pointless killing will decide its outcome maybe…such a sad waste if we go back and then find its root source which actvated too many followers; past, present and future; too many leaders who will not, dare not, cannot stop the spiraling tragedy?

    Hope is a thin line that gives the possibility of change but how?

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/16/2015 - 09:29 am.

      Where do we go from here?

      Well, one thing we have to consider is the distinct possibility that terrorists are just psychopaths, there’s no point in tying to understand a psychopath who’s killing people, you just have to shut them down. Saving lives and protecting the innocent is the priority and the primary moral imperative.

      Charlie Rose actually had nice discussion with several knowledgeable guys about Islam and terror last night. (The show will be available for streaming tomorrow: ) One undeniable fact that all agreed upon is that it will be Muslims that ultimately put an end to Muslim terrorism. Muslims are the primary targets of most Muslim terrorism, and Muslims are the ones who are fighting the big battles against Muslim terrorism. The Majority of Muslims believe in a nonviolent Islam, and eventually they will prevail in making Islam a non-violent religion. This isn’t something that US or French government is going to do, and it’s not something that will happen in Paris or New York, ultimately the fight against Muslim terrorism will be won in the Muslim world, and it will be won by Muslims themselves.

      In the meantime we have to find a way to protect our communities and people from terrorism without surrendering to Islamophobia. I think this may be Raj’s point, and he’s right. Trying to deflect responsibility for Muslim terrorism (i.e. what about the Serbs? What about the Israelis? What about the oppression? This isn’t Islam.. . etc. etc.) isn’t helpful, but at the same time we can’t expect ordinary Muslims to accept responsibility for something some other Muslim does. We may be experiencing an era of intolerance run amok within a sector of the Muslim community, but that doesn’t mean that Islam “breeds” terrorism. Religious intolerance isn’t a unique feature of Islam.

      • Submitted by beryl john-knudson on 01/16/2015 - 12:45 pm.

        Where do we go, back again

        Thanks for the response to my structurally-challenged comment, and yes indeed Charlie Rose and those really sharp fellows…one impressive collage of voices analyzing the issues and even took a few moments for Rose to open up his mind to their points-of-view; or maybe that’s his ‘style’, who knows?

        “Islamophobia” is alive and growing as I did mention…religion, a distorted view of Muslim religion in this case and has been become the “Scapegoat”; the uninformed doing the blame game as hate is fired out of ignorance; false assumptions which breeds more hate sans truth.

        The debate here is a good one; well done and history and points-of-view worth reading. thanks.

        However, in all this discussion the Western Mainstream Media has a few responsibilities to which the world press finds lacking? Asia Times online has a powerful indictment; an in-staff piece, ” Charlie Hebdo and Fredou: Who’s awake, Who’s Still In Bed?”… and cannot be read as mere serendipity…

        Second article, “UN helpless as Saudi Flogging Flouts Torture Convention” THalif Dean… same page done initially by INTER Press Service on a thousand floggs for a blogger in Saudi Arabia for speaking out with torture; that one being Ralf Bawal its victim… even as we ignore the torture as we do not pas muster on that score either, eh?… as we still do fortify Saudi leaders with plush military hardware and one all- embracing handshake going farther than the Bush dynasty and Prince Bandar to FDR shaking hands with the all that ‘royal’, king-of-gold empire?

        It leaves us vulnerable and conspiratorial in our relations maybe for so long but all for what…yes sir, there is and has been a lot of handshaking going on…


  12. Submitted by beryl john-knudson on 01/18/2015 - 12:18 pm.

    Where are the voices among our Reps in congress?

    At least a handful of congressmen from both sides of the aisle have demanded Saudi Arabia stop the flogging of blogger Ralf Bawal; only the next flogging (I think some call it ‘compromise?).

    But just a handfulof congressmen dare to speak up in opposition? What are our representatives doing but sitting on such a vital opportunity to stop even ‘small’ torture activities by our ‘allies’. Then again, we got to work on our own doublespeak in that area also; black sites etc?

    Congressman-as-whistleblower is a neat thought, but that’s stretching credibility nowadays I suppose and the American flag serves as a great object to hide behind; although someone please tell them that’s not what flag was intended?

    The real issue is stopping in-your-face Saudi torture… beheading also ( even though we have our own bloody track record in black sites etc. Doing torture overseas is still torture.

    How many military ‘toys’ should we eliminate; take back home… military hardware and who knows what else which we have so overtly consistently supplied for their war games and indirectly do remain almost silent on inhumane treatment of its citizens, hey?

    What do we owe them and why…that is the prime question?

Leave a Reply