In a comment on my previous post, Nath declares that the “tough part is choosing where exactly to draw the line between legal and illegal.”
It is tough only if that line is arbitrarily drawn according to the whims and fancies of mobs. In most societies, it is drawn after due consideration and enshrined in some institution often called the constitution.
The line between what is legal and what is not is drawn by the society in question. It is the law of the land and determining whether an act is legal or not is the job of the courts of the land. Each society has a some mechanism in place for deciding what is permissible and what is not. The important point to note is that laws vary from place to place. What is legal and permissible is local; there is no global standard that can (or even should) be applied. Problems arise when one does not appreciate that distinction.
For instance, the Danish society is governed by Danish law, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by Islamic law. The attempt by Danes to impose Danish law in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would be as insane as the attempt by the Saudi Arabians to impose Islamic law in Denmark.
Let me repeat the last bit.
I would be as much out of place if I insist that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia discard the Koran as the constitution of the land as I would be if I insist that Denmark adopt Sharia as the law of the land.
The Saudis don’t allow the religious books of any other religion, including those of other monotheistic faiths, within their borders. That is what their law says, which is reflection of the will of their people. They are absolutely and fundamentally entitled to make their own laws and impose them within their borders. If you don’t like it, you are welcome to not live in Saudi Arabia. But if you live in Saudi Arabia, you have to live in accordance with the laws of that country. But if the Saudi Arabians wish to impose that same law in another society, they are absolutely and fundamentally wrong and should be put in their place with the greatest of haste and the least amount of fuss.
The freedom of expression is granted to the citizens of Denmark by the citizens of Denmark. If you don’t like the Danish exercising that right within the borders of Denmark, if you are offended by their freedom to read and write what they please subject to Danish law, tough luck. You are free to not associate with the Danes and their freedom to express themselves. In a liberal society, freedom of expression is a non-negotiable right. That right is a result of enlightenment and I will be damned if I do not speak up for that remarkable event. My only prayer is that one day — hopefully within my own lifetime — India would have the right to free expression.
One of the most specious arguments trotted out at this juncture is that there are limits to free speech and that shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre is an example of a practical and necessary limitation of free speech. First, shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre is dangerous only if the society consists of panic-striken idiots, as someone remarked. Second, if there is a fire in the theatre, that is precisely what one should shout. Finally in the absense of a fire, if shouting “fire” leads to panic and harm, the correct response is not to outlaw free speech, or to argue for limiting free speech, but to punish according to the laws of the land for false speech. Blurring the distinction between false speech and free speech does not get us too far.
Shouting “fire” any time the mood strikes you in a crowded theatre is no more an expression free speech than defecating in the conference room is an expression of the freedom to use the toilet.
The current spat is about an attempt to impose the narrow viewpoint of a particular people globally. It is an attempt to apply Islamic restrictions on non-Islamic people. Any compromise on resisting such a vile move is a dangerous and slippery slope. Today it is a cartoon, tomorrow it will be what I should read, and the day after what I should wear. For it could be argued in a few years’ time that people eating during a certain time is an offense according to Islam, and so no one should eat during those times.
Just to make it perfectly clear: I am all in favor of Islamic law in Islamic countries. More power to them. But when they attempt to impose their will on my land, I will fight them to the bitter end. The dhimmis may lower their trousers and bend over. Not me.
[Continued in Freedom to be Offended — Part 3.]