Updated: 21 May 2008, 23:23
Originally written: 16 February 2006
Much of the opposition to the publication of images of Mohammad centres upon insult. It is argued that insults exceed the boundaries of free speech.
If the media must avoid insult, then the media might as well shut down right now. There are probably not enough natural disasters to keep them in business, and much of the news about natural disasters is insulting to someone. Those who do not provide assistance may be insulted by the suggestion that everyone who cares will assist in some way. Those who provide assistance but do it poorly may be insulted by accusations of incompetence. Victims who hoard food or medical supplies, or who steal from food stores and warehouses may be insulted by allegations that they are surviving by heartlessly denying other victims. Those who suggest a plan of action may be insulted by others who say the plan is doomed to failure.
Gratuitous insults, simply to insult or demean, should be avoided. But to prevent publication would be insulting to those who believe the “insults” have overriding social significance. It would also mean that someone is set up as a god to determine whether an insult is gratuitous, or if it expresses an honestly held, even if false, belief.
If you have any ideas, do you believe that you should be silenced by someone who disagrees with you, and is insulted by your ideas? If silenced would you not be insulted? Is insulting by denying access to ideas, or expression of ideas, better than insulting by bringing ideas out into the open where they can be questioned and proven right or wrong? Is the line between insult and disagreement so well defined that disagreement, masquerading as insult, will not silence ideas?
If you support capitalism, should the government be allowed to silence your support because it is hurtful to others? If you support socialism, should the government be allowed to silence your ideas because others allege they are hurt by those ideas?
Is it not insulting to say that every other religion is flawed or contrary to the teachings, or instructions, or demands, or righteousness of the real god or gods? Should christians be allowed to censor the media currently controlled by muslims, or hindus? Should hindus and muslims be allowed to censor christian media and secular media?
Who judges you?
“Free speech” under capitalism is already a sad joke. To further limit the current state of “free speech” would be a crime against humanity. And it appears likely.
The “right” to insult is a necessary element of the “right” to free speech. That does not mean that the media should attempt to insult (although in reality it does today). It means that without the ability to make unpopular statements, there is no possibility of free speech.
If you have seen the images, do you have the “right” to deny that knowledge to others? If you have not seen the images, how can you judge whether or not they are fair comment or a vicious attack on muslims? Or is the fact that muslims who have not seen them are insulted, good enough for you?
If fear of insulting or retribution is sufficient to stifle ideas, then anyone who can generate fear can censor what you can learn.
The media industry has no obligation or ability to provide impartial coverage of anything. It exists to enrich its owners. The major media has no real concern about anything published, except for its relationship to the bottom line: profit. The media is not a shining beacon for freedom. It is a shining beacon for profit at any cost.
But today it is almost all we have.