Summary: Just because we are free to do or say something, doesn’t mean we should. And the selection of what speech to admire or admonish is not hypocrisy, but a choice on philosophy.
Many people have taken very hard positions regarding the recent killings at a “Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest,” in Texas. In an effort to portray everything in black-and-white, they miss important distinctions.
- Murdering someone for being insulted is ALWAYS wrong. As discussed on these pages, “I’m Insulted; You’re Dead,” everyone should whole-heartedly condemn the killing of people because sensibilities were offended. Whether the attacks were at the Parisian offices of the magazine Charlie Hebdo, or at an event in Texas where people drew the Islamic prophet, no one should condone murder.
- Freedom of Speech is a CAUSE worthy of Defense. Freedom of speech and press are cornerstones of western democracies. They are basic and important causes to uphold.
- Specific language does NOT need to be defended. Just because someone has the right to say something, doesn’t require everyone to come to the defense of the content of any particular speech. An individual or organization that opts to distance itself from an event does not mean they are against free speech.
Western societies are a mix of people and ideas. Such combinations create both civil and uncivil conversations. One can choose to be part of a completely civil society where nothing unpleasant is ever said, uncivil society in which people attack people all of the time, or more likely, a blend of the two, where different ideas are shared which may upset certain individuals at certain times.
Civil society’s “safe spaces” are one’s home and organizations where people share common values. It is hard to imagine that one can walk in public and never hear or see something disagreeable.
An inherent component of being part of the mixed society is to strike a balance of the use of free speech and society’s sensitivities. Just because someone has the right to say something, doesn’t mean that they should, and that everyone has to support the comment. The other half of that balance is that there is no requirement in society to be polite to everyone.
Not Hypocrisy, But a Preference
When a party or organization chooses to defend some speech and not others, they show their own preferences or priorities. Consider the New York Times approach to several events that upset segments of the American population:
- Mosque at Ground Zero (2010): The United States offers freedom of religion (as well as speech and press) and as such, Muslims are free to build a mosque at any location where they legally have rights to the land. However, many people viewed the proposed building of a mosque overlooking the site where terrorists killed thousands of people in the name of Islam, as wrong and insulting. The New York Times editorial felt differently stating that it saw “the wisdom of going ahead with the project,” in an opinion that sided with Muslims but offended many people.
- Convent at Auschwitz (1989): Similar to the mosque at the base of the destroyed World Trade Center, the location of a Roman Catholic convent on the grounds of a notorious concentration camp where over a million Jews were killed simply because of their religion, was viewed as completely insensitive by many Jews. While the Times covered the news story in several articles, it conspicuously never offered its own opinion as to whether the convent should be moved.
- Giuliani on the Brooklyn Museum art show (1999): The Brooklyn Museum ran a controversial series of “art works” that treated Christianity harshly, including a painting of Mary covered in dung. After New York City NYOR Rudolph Giuliani threatened to withhold funding for the museum, the NYT opted to attack the Mayor stating that “Art is the name of a perpetual human struggle with the limits of perception. The Mayor… is failing dramatically in that role in a fashion that makes him and the city look ridiculous”
- Metropolitan Opera on Klinghoffer (2014): When the streets of New York held civil protests about the Metropolitan Opera’s airing of a play that showed a sympathetic side of terrorists murdering an infirm elderly Jew, the New York Times rushed to the opera’s defense. The editorial page ran a headline that stated “The Death of Klinghoffer Must Go On”. It argued that it stood for art and free speech. Others claimed that it simply stood on the side of Palestinian terrorists.
- Charlie Hebdo (2015): The New York Times printed a series of editorials trying to find its position on the murder of journalists by Muslim terrorists. While it clearly stood by the rights of journalists to free press, it seemed to support such right because it lampooned all religions, and not just Islam.
- Draw Mohammed Exhibit (2015). The New York Times chose to attack the organizer of the event, Pamela Geller and stated that the event was simply “hate speech”. It condemned the contest “cannot justify blatantly Islamophobic provocations like the Garland event.”
What is the summary of the observations of the New York Times?
- It sided with Muslims at Ground Zero and the Draw Mohammed Contest; against them at Charlie Hebdo;
- It sided against Christians at the Brooklyn Museum and offered no opinion at the Auschwitz convent;
- It sided against Jews for the Klinghoffer opera and no opinion at the Auschwitz convent
When it came to religion, the Times record was mixed, while showing a preference for Muslim sensitivities over Christians and Jews.
Overall, the Times will claim its record is for upholding freedoms. It obviously failed in that principle when it came to the Mohammed Exhibit, which it claimed failed the threshold for art and was merely “hate speech”. Perhaps the Times forgot the never-ending nature of its definition of art from 1999: “Art is the name of a perpetual human struggle with the limits of perception.”
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