Saturday, July 24, 2004

Free Speech For Some

The author of Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror was interviewed on Hannity and Colmes recently. I really wish Fox News would put a transcript up on the site, or even mention that they did the damned interview, because there is no mention of it at all. Disappointed am I, especially since I only caught a bit of it. Hannity was entirely unconcerned with the substance of the man's book and instead attacked his agenda, and his continuing anonymity. It was funny seeing Sean Hannity rip into the dark face of a guy keeping his identity a mystery. For once, Alan Colmes was my hero, because he actually asked the man questions about the book and got him to discuss it.

I do have to make a little note here, before I really get started: I use "Muslim" and "Arab" interchangeably because most of the Muslims I am discussing here are also Arab Muslims. I don't mean to equate the two, but for my purposes here, the difference is not important, and my point will remain the same.

I've got to reach into my memory here and roughly paraphrase what the man said. Regarding Jerry Falwell, he said, "Everyday people in Muslim countries confuse what a person like Jerry Falwell says with an official Bush administration statement." This is perfectly plausible, since in those Muslim countries the state controls the media to such an extent that nothing gets broadcast without the approval of the higher-ups in government. Furthermore, Falwell is a religious man, and people in these countries are used to religious and civil authority being completely combined in one entity. When a religious leader from a predominantly Christian country makes a statement that is broadcast in the American media, and reaches the world through that media, the Muslims interpret this as parallel to what happens in their own countries. Their countries are Muslim, and they do not understand that the United States is secular despite its having a majority of Christians, since, for them, church and state are identical. Of course, church and state must be identical and not separate in the United States, right? So saying that the United States is a Christian country means to them that the United States has an establishment of religion, Christianity being that establishment. A religious leader could not speak without government endorsement, since that is the way it works in their countries, so Falwell must be an official spokesman.

Does this really cast a poor light on us, or on the leadership of Muslim countries? They have so kept their citizens in the dark that they believe that no one in any country can speak without the prior approval of his respective government, since that is simply the way it is done in Muslim countries. They have no concept of a truly free press, because their press is never free, and they have no concept of religious plurality and freedom because their countries are virtual theocracies and religious dissent is harshly punished. The author of the book seems to blame us for "allowing" Rev. Falwell to say things when they will be misinterpreted by the Arab world, but is that our fault? How can it be, when it is only the tyranny of their own governments that causes them to interpret us so badly? The government tells them how to worship and what to think of domestic and foreign politics, and it is our fault that they are so conditioned by their governments that they cannot even imagine religious freedom, free speech, and freedom of the press? Obviously this fact is only more proof that Islamic theocracy is a sinister new form of tyranny, not that American imperialism is stirring up violent dissent in the Arab world. Arabs hate the United States because their governments tell them to, partly, at least, to distract them from the oppression handed out by those government. We are a distraction, the focus of justified frustrations that have been carefully diverted away from their true source.

Another thing bothered me about what this man said, an implicit condemnation of, well, free speech. Falwell should not be allowed to say what he is saying, because it might exacerbate hatred of our country. I do not see why Rev. Falwell should have any less right to say what he thinks than Michael Moore, whose blatant lies about George W. Bush may just reinforce Arabs' erroneous opinion of the United States. I think Michael Moore does have the right to speak his mind, as empty as that mind may be, but the flip side has to be that Rev. Falwell has the same right. If we censor the press because of the effect that press may have on our international reputation, our bad reputation would then be quite well earned. And if we censor Falwell for the effects of his speech, then we could easily find a justification for censoring just about anybody, since there is always someone who will be offended by any given opinion.

Free speech for some? Free speech for those with whom you agree?

How can anyone even ask such a question?



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