Free Speech Must Be Defended

Jack Baker looks at the violent intersection of democratic free speech and the offence taken by some Muslims.

The attack and murder of twelve defenceless women and men in France by three Islamist men wielding assault rifles is as cowardly as it is disgusting. The supposed crime of most of the people murdered was to work at satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which in 2011 published cartoons mocking Islam and its founder Muhammad.

Sadly, this is merely the latest occurrence in a litany of absurd reactions stretching back decades. The commonality is that every time, a number of Muslims have been offended by something said, drawn or recorded about their religion, and chosen to react violently.

Following the publishing of Salman Rushdie’s book ‘The Satanic Verses’ in 1988, scores of people were killed around the world and hundreds injured. 20,000 people protested in Parliament Square in London, burning effigies of Rushdie. Bookstores in the United States and England were firebombed. The publishers or translators of the book in numerous countries were stabbed and shot.

When the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published 12 cartoons of Muhammad in 2005, numerous Danish embassies were set on fire. Over one hundred people were killed in protests, primarily in Muslim countries. Staff members at the newspaper continue to face death threats.

When an obscure American threatened to burn the Qu’ran in 2010 and then did so in 2011, dozens of people were killed around the world. In contrast, when a Muslim cleric in Egypt burned the Bible in front of thousands of people in 2012, it went largely ignored by the media and there were no violent riots. Continue reading