February 20, 2006

Religion and free speech.

UW polisci profs Donald Downs and Kenneth Mayer have an editorial in the Badger Herald, which has come under criticism for publishing that cartoon of Muhammad wearing a turban-bomb:
Allowing offense to be the basis of reprisal or censorship ... simply gives groups or individuals the power to suppress the speech of anyone with whom they happen to disagree. In our liberal democracy, no group — however virtuous or religious — may claim an exemption from criticism or scrutiny, nor may any religion demand that secular society adhere to its own definitions of heresy or blasphemy. When such policies are attempted, they lead to bullying, favoritism based on power and the end of meaningful freedom of speech and thought. The inevitable result is that certain issues and ideas become off limits to any discussion at all based on a subjective and always-moving standard of who might take offense.
I've noticed that a lot of the criticism of the Herald has accused it of racism. But mocking a religion is very different from mocking a race. A religion is a set of ideas. The belief in religion may be deep and sensitive, and it may be arrived at through a path that is not reason and is therefore not amenable to ordinary argument and debate, but it is nevertheless a matter of ideas. You cannot immunize ideas from criticism and still have free speech. In fact, it is most important to be able to criticize the ideas people take most seriously and cling to most intransigently.

15 comments:

Uncle Jimbo said...

It is refreshing to see some folks fromthe UW on the correct side of this issue, although I assume they are not alone. I was very pleasantly surprised when the Capital Times printed my Op-Ed

We must resist Islamist demand for submission

It was a very contrary view for their pages, but unfortunately events seem to be continuing down the path of intolerance.

Cordially,

Uncle J

Military Matters

JohnF said...

One trouble with "racist" is that it is very often, perhaps most of the time, applied to people who criticize ideas. If you oppose affirmative action, for example, you are a racist in many people's minds.

So it is not very surprising that this particular criticism of ideas (religious ideas) should be subject to the same sort of knee-jerky "racist" reaction.

elliot said...

You're preaching to the converted, sister!

vbspurs said...

I've noticed that a lot of the criticism of the Herald has accused it of racism. But mocking a religion is very different from mocking a race. A religion is a set of ideas. The belief in religion may be deep and sensitive, and it may be arrived at through a path that is not reason and is therefore not amenable to ordinary argument and debate, but it is nevertheless a matter of ideas.

We've, of course, already touched on this in a previous thread of yours. The discussion was fruitful, as usual.

Some mentioned that since Muslims comprise of all different kinds of "races", that it is fallacious to use racism as a criticism about the republication of the cartoons.

One reader noted that most Arabs are of the Caucasian "race", so in more pointed terms, he believes this argument is not racist, because it's just white folk making fun of white folk.

My take on it, was a little different.

I noted that each nation, refers to contentious matters using the cultural construct they are most acquainted with in their own societies.

And in America, sadly, that is "race".

Therefore, to many people, these cartoons are racist, rather than bigotted in the religious sense of the word, because that is what they see, first and foremost.

They see Danish people, and by extension, white Wisconsonites, making fun of darker hued Arabs, of which the Prophet Mohammed was certainly one, even though not all Muslims are Arabs (as another reader well pointed out).

The only thing which can be said in the favour of those who consider these cartoons racist, is that when you have anything visual, rather than say, aural, you are by force, looking at a depiction of something.

And cartoons are almost always exaggerated caricatures, the better to make them funny.

These visual cues then act to inflame those people, who not only are not in on the joke, but see themselves as part of that joke.

And certain people have made it their life cause, to always be on the lookout for anything which might relate to racism, when Caucasians are the ones doing to "others".

Needless-to-say, I find this criticism forced, and in fact, ridiculous.

You can complain about many things regarding these cartoons, but racist, or rather, race-conscious, is not one of them.

Cheers,
Victoria

Brad V said...

Thanks for clarifying - far too many detractors of our decision have been conflating the two concepts in their responses.

Best,

Brad V

vbspurs said...

Wait! What! Whoa!

Hold on a goddurn minute there, Missy. Timeout on the thread.

(makes a T sign with palms of hand)

When did you change piccies on your Profile??

I can't tell you if I like, or dislike it yet, but my first reaction is:

That's where my black turtle-neck ended up!

Cheers,
Victoria

e said...

When I look back at the years I wasted at the U.W., imbibing hand over hand leftist cant, and other brain numbing beverages, Professor Downs' class on con. law is a memory of another kind. A good memory that my few remaining brain cells latch onto.

Glad to learn Downs is still on his game.

FXKLM said...

I agree with the authors' broader point, but I wish they hadn't used the word "reprisal." It's far too vague. Whether reprisal is inappropriate depends on the nature of the reprisal. Violent mobs are bad reprisal. Retaliatory speech and boycotts, however, are perfectly acceptable modes of reprisal.

Korten said...

Although I haven't followed developments at the Herald for some years now, it's nice to know that the paper for which I was the first editor-in-chief remains willing to face off against bullies masquerading as intellectuals.

Brad V said...

Thanks for chiming in, Mr. Korten!

Hope all is well in Connecticut.

PatCA said...

I admire the profs for speaking up. It is probably not a popular stance in their departments.

Judith said...

Also this is about politics more than religion. When any religious group participates in the political sphere - which Islam certainly does - it's political activity is fair game for political cartoons.

Gaius Arbo said...

Too bad they can't reach the MSM with this message.

AlaskaJack said...

Ann, I don't follow the distinction you make between mocking religion and mocking race. For the believer, it is their religious beliefs that are the most important things in their lives; they help them make sense of birth,love, suffering and death. It is their religious beliefs that allow them to survive personal tragedies.

If their beliefs are mocked, I don't see why their reaction is any less authentic than someone whose race is mocked. And isn't the concept of race itself an idea?

Mac VerStandig said...

Thank you for the post, and thank you for lending light to Dr. Downs and Dr. Mayer's column. Freedom of speech, religion and the press are rolled together for a reason, and should the press elect to disregard this powerful context, the First Amendment runs the risk of atrophying.

Mac VerStandig
Editor in Chief
The Badger Herald