The Ranting Kraut

19.3.2006 – 27.9.2010

A Little Freedom is a Dangerous Thing

Posted by rantingkraut on March 28, 2006

Freedom of speech is again receiving attention. One reason for this are government measures against it. Another reason is a Danish journalist’s decision to use it. Yes, this statement refers to the famous cartoons. Let’s take a look at the most controversial one, shown on this page.

This drawing suggests a link between Islam and terrorism. The bomb is placed on the head, so maybe it suggests a spiritual link. Against a background of Jihadist terrorism this would hardly seem inappropriate. As a description of the typical Muslim’s convictions it is almost certainly unfair. So this drawing takes a valid point and exaggerates it –it creates a caricature. Well, that’s what political cartoons are meant to do.

One reaction to this would be for all who care to simply say what they think. That was done in Denmark: when faced with Islamist outrage, the Danish government effectively accepted that Freedom of Speech is a right, not a concession: it limits what the government can do.

Another reaction would be for offended Muslims to campaign for censorship. This is being done in the UK and has been done well before the Jyllands Posten cartoons were published. The Labour government is committed to introducing ‘hate speech’ legislation. Your government no longer merely tells you not to harm others, it increasingly tells you what to think.

The threat of censorship has had a damaging effect on Britain’s tradition of free speech. The debate surrounding Islamism is largely confined to how far censorship should go. Meanwhile, the real question of whether religious beliefs should ever be allowed to impose obligations on those who do not share them is rarely addressed.

In Denmark too the debate is heated, even bitter. However, a truly moderate position is at least part of it. Moderate Danish Muslims like Naser Khader clearly demand that Muslims should operate within the existing liberal democratic order and that they should respect other’s freedom of speech. It is too early to know how things will eventually develop, but the benefit of a free and open discussion should be clear for all to see.

In Denmark, freedom of speech has been respected and a free discussion has at least given rise to one way of reconciling Islamic beliefs with liberal democracy. In Britain, the discussion has been dominated by different currents of Islamist theocracy. If there is a secular, liberal democratic Muslim community in the UK they urgently need to make their voice heard.

A little freedom is a dangerous thing: regulated debate which is confined to how state intervention should be structured rather than how far it should go is likely to perpetuate latent conflicts instead of resolving them. The role of freedom of speech as a constraint on the state needs to be re-affirmed –not only in the UK. It is the confidence that individual liberty will be respected, that allows people of different beliefs and opinions to live side by side in peace, if not always in harmony.

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