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My response to America's fanatical libertarians
Just as American libertarians insist that no other value should be more paramount than freedom of speech, Americans should understand that other peoples have equally paramount values
Khalid Amayreh , Saturday 1 Dec 2012
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In some recent internet articles, a number of American writers criticised and ridiculed me for arguing that Muslims have a legitimate right not to be offended by Islamophobes and other provocateurs just as Americans have a constitutional right to free speech, including the right to offend and despise others.

One writer argued that there was no such right not to be offended. Claiming "no one has the right to a world in which he is never despised," the writer went as far as arguing that attacking free speech was even a greater blasphemy than a slur on the divine.

Furthermore, the writer went on, saying that "Amayreh doesn't truly comprehend American core values when he says that 'in the final analysis, a Muslim's right not to be offended and insulted overrides a scoundrel's right to malign Muslims' religious symbols.' "

A second writer urged President Obama to refute my defence of Muslims' rights not to be offended.

Well, Americans seem to have a world of their own just as we have a world of our own. Moreover, many Americans seem to harbour a certain subconscious conviction that non-Americans should unreservedly adopt, or subject themselves to, American values. That was the tacit message communicated ad nauseam by numerous Hollywood movies for many decades.

This condescending perception, often encapsulated in the Yankee slogan, "The American way," is a natural symptom of American cultural imperialism and megalomania. 

Americans constitute a mere five per cent of humanity, and as such have no right to impose their values on the rest of humanity, however logical and rational these values may sound. There are other peoples in this world, including some 1.6 billion Muslims who adore and love their religion and Prophet.

I know freedom of speech is a sacred value in the United States and many other countries. However, just as American libertarians insist that no other value should be more paramount than this value, we expect the same Americans to understand that other peoples in other parts of the world have equally paramount values, including religious values.

In Matthew 5:29, it is said that "and if thy right eye offends thee, pluck it out, and cast it away from you."

This biblical quotation should demonstrate that my argument about the right not to be offended is not far fetched and inherently incompatible with Western thinking.

Jesus never really maligned the religious symbols of other people. And the Quran urges Muslims not to "insult those whom they (disbelievers) worship, idols besides God, lest they insult God wrongfully without knowledge" (Al-Anaam,108).

Interestingly, blasphemy laws appeared in Western societies long before they appeared in the lands of Islam.

But all this talk may be virtually inconsequential to self-absorbed libertarians who think they are correct and everyone else is wrong.

According to America's fanatical libertarians, Americans have an inherent and absolute right to free speech, which conceivably includes hate speech, incitement to murder, defamation and besmirching people's images and reputation. 

Yet, we see American culture and media have a zero tolerance for critics of Israel and Zionism, particularly in the American arena, which really draws a huge question mark over Americans' commitment to true freedom of speech.

I am not an advocate of hate speech even under the rubric of free speech. Hate speech could easily lead to mass murder and genocide. We should all remember that before there were Auschwitz, Bergen Belsen and Treblinka, there was Mein Kampf as well venomous anti-Jewish Nazi propaganda.

Needless to say, it was this virulent propaganda that desensitised Europe and much of the Western world to the systematic extermination of European Jewry and others.

In my humble opinion, free speech that is likely to lead to the loss of life is not worth protecting and defending. In the final analysis, a human being's right to life is more important than a human being's right to absolute, vulgar hate speech.

Yes, the two rights need not always be in a state of conflict. However, when a purported right has the potential of decimating the other more natural right, the right to life, there should be no question as to where our attention should be focused.

And as we all know, the matter is not merely academic, as recent events in parts of the Middle East have demonstrated.

There are, of course, those who claim that hate speech wouldn't have to lead to bloodshed. Well, this might be true if the rest of the world adopted the American value system and believed in the First Amendment as God-incarnate. But to the chagrin of our American friends, the world is too diverse to adopt the American way and adhere to the American Constitution as the ultimate religion of mankind.

This shouldn't mean though that the world is doomed to everlasting cultural confrontations. Conflicting cultural values need not evolve into wars of cultures or even worse, religious wars. A certain compromise solution ought to be found whereby a delicate balance is struck between the world's various value systems, including the right to free speech versus the right not to be offended by hate speech.

In the final analysis, we have to give due consideration to the magical word: Respect. I realise how difficult it would be to legislate "respect" among heterogeneous communities let alone among diverse cultures.

Nonetheless, the present situation between Islam and the West where one group of people must be offended and insulted on the grounds that another group of people has an allegedly absolute right to free speech cannot be maintained. The global village has become too small to allow fanatical and unbridled American libertarianism to demean and insult other cultures.

In a nutshell, free speech, though not an absolute value in itself, is a positive value and ought to be protected and defended; but hate, malicious and vulgar speech is a negative value that ultimately leads to bloodshed and war.





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Jason
11-03-2013 09:02pm
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Speech caused Violence
How does what happened to Malala Yousafzai fit into this? She was speaking her mind and violently attacked because of it. In this case, the right not to be offended was placed higher than the right to life. Are you saying this is ok? I agree that their needs to be more respect and this extends to both parties: the person speaking and the person hearing.
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Matt
11-12-2012 10:18pm
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A Libertarian Perspective
As a Libertarian, I believe the author has made a very big assumption about America which is untrue. As sad as this is, American culture no longer represents the culture that created the First Amendment. There is a split in how American's react to oppression of free speech and how they use their speech internationally, as with Israel, specifically because we aren't a Libertarian society, really as a world power we are quite conservative - something Libertarians wish to drastically change. I would also like to mention to the author that the right to hateful speech is the best defense against hateful action. If a man wrote or said he planned to kill me, he has done me a favor.
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Jamel
04-12-2012 11:28am
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I agree with a lot...
...of what the author says, particularly with the items that the West tends to have a blind eye for. But...he also ironically has a blind eye himself. The East seems to always bring up how hate speech leads to bloodshed, but always seem to forget that it's ACTIONS that lead to bloodshed. Sure, I agree, we need a balance. I agree that there are many things that the West does that is disrespectful. However, the reaction to those words take actions...but seemingly the East gets a pass for those. Why is that? Disrespect does not equal violence, nor does it excuse it. If the East wants all of the benefits of a Global exchange with the West (remember where you refrigerators, TV, medicine, etc. come from) then it's time for them to step up to the table and take responsibility for their own shortcomings. Granted, America is an easy target, but without all of the problems such as violence, corruption, human rights, education and other issues the East would be further along than it is.
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Chu Lie
01-12-2012 10:31pm
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good article
The author makes many good points. Generally speaking, he is being fair and open-minded. After all, the American First Amendment is not a Quraan revealed from Heaven.
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Eugene Kent
01-12-2012 08:08pm
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Hate Speech
First speech is not a Constitutional Right but a human right. Endowed on all humans by Nature's God. Constitutional Right of Speech mainly means prohibitation of prior restraint. Hate speech comes under Slander and Libel Laws. I am a American.
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Derek Rich
09-12-2012 03:54am
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Wrong...
I doubt you're an American, and in case you are indeed one of my countrymen, you're grossly misinformed: "hate" speech doesn't "...comes under Slander and Libel Laws", because there is no such thing as "hate" speech in American law! Slander is slander and libel is libel, but i defy you to find "hate" in any case law or statute dealing with either. We have NO "hate" speech laws- speech is either protected by the First Amendmet or it isn't, and some arbitrary definition of what constitutes "hate" has nothing to do with it.
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mumby
01-12-2012 05:43pm
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right
Ye you are right.yes free speech,free insult but not to insult Israel,not to insult Jews,not to insult Holocaust. Yes,free press but control press in Iraq and Afghanistan war.Bush plan to bomb alJazeera headquarter because air news against US interest. Yes no genocide but blind eyes to Israel genocide and had been dropped Atomic bomb on Japan cities which cause millions life of civilian.
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Farid
01-12-2012 04:09pm
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Bad example
The author clearly does not understand the meaning of Matthew 5:29, "and if thy right eye offends thee, pluck it out, and cast it away from you. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell." The Biblical verse is clearly referring to temptation or sin, and has absolutely nothing to do with the "right" not to be offended by others' speech. The author does highlight the blurry grey line between freedom of speech and hate speech, with some good points as well as some faulty conclusions. What should the punishment be for those who offend people by labeling them as "fanatical libertarians." ;)
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