The finest hour of free speech. Or the darkest.

As you propably heard, Denmark is facing some protests over the pictures of Prophet Mohammed that were published in the biggest newspaper in Denmark. Everyone seems to have an opinion over the matter, and so do I.

Disclaimer: I'm 100% non-religious western non-believer.

I think the Danes (and Norwegians and others who published the pictures) were well within their rights to publish the pictures. I have seen the pictures, and they weren't that bad. They were mostly funny, that's all. Ironically, the rioting in the mid-east make the pictures seem more realistic and relevant. Some of the pictures showed the cartoonists fearing for their lives and others showed sword-wielding fanatics on their way to kill infidels. After few months, those images seem eerily true.

Yes, I'm well aware that such images were propably against Islamic laws. But last time I checked, Denmark does not have Islamic laws. Essentially, a Danish newspaper published some pictures in Denmark, and Mid-East got angry because it offended their beliefs and religious laws. There are plenty of things in the Mid-East that I would find offensive. Yet I don't start torching embassies and issuing death-threats because they do things that go against my personal beliefs and values.

In short: should rest of the world follow Islamic laws? No. If I drive 250km/h on a motorway in Finland, the police would take a dim view on my arguments that "this is perfectly legal in Germany!". And I would say that Denmark would take a dim view on arguments that say "publishing these pictures is wrong because they are illegal under Islamic laws!". Denmark is not a Islamic state, so I fail to see the relevancy.

Free speech revisited

I have read comments by some Muslims regarding this issue. And one recurring comment is that "We do not want to remove or limit free-speech. We just want to make sure that pictures like these are not published in the future". In other words: "you are free to talk about anything you wish. Unless it's something we find offensive" (note: I'm not trying to make this in to a "us vs. them"-issue. Although at some level, it is exactly that). Now, is that free speech?

The idea of free speech is not that you are only allowed to talk about nice things. The true measure of free speech is that you are allowed to talk about things that others might not agree with. I know that it is very tempting for many to impose limits on free speech, because that would be a convenient way to make ones opponents shut up. But those people fail to realize that if we start to limit free speech, those who support such limitations shouldn't be surprised if they (the government, religious leaders etc.) decide to limit things the supporters can say as well.

An example: every now and then I read of cases where some religious organisations in USA demands that some books should be banned from schools and libraries. And it might be easy for them to support such removal of books, if the books in questions oppose their ideology and viewpoint. But if we start banning books, what's there to prevent the government to ban the Bible while they are at it? Would those religious groups support banning the Bible? I doubt it. yet, by demanding that some books should be banned, they shouldn't be surprised if some of the books THEY want to read are banned as well in the future.

The test of free speech

Like I said before, the test of free speech is not that will we allow other to say nice things, but that will we allow others to say things that we disagree with. If we start to limit things what people can say based on what others might find offensive, we couldn't really say anything. Some people migt find this blog-entry offensive, should I therefore censor myself?

Does the Prophet need protecting?

So, Islamic laws forbids anyone of drawing a picture of Muhammad. And now that someone did just that, all hell breaks loose. But does Muhammad need protection? One could guess that the Muslims in Mid-East would take a look at the pictures, and laugh at us in the west, because we are just bunch of infidels and we are going straight to hell. Why do religious people (Muslims, Christians and others) need to get offended if someone insults their god? I mean, since the god is apparently omnipotent, surely he will deal out judgement to those who have offended him? Why do mere mortals think that they need to protect their god from other mere mortals? It seems to me that they are raising themselves on some kind of pedestal.

Suppose that Mohammad has been insulted by those pictures, and Allah is pissed off because his Prophet has been insulted by a bunch of infidels. I would guess that Allah is more than capable to handling this situation, I fail to see why mere mortals need to involve themselves in to this.

If the shoe fits....

I Don't really understand why the Muslims feel the need to get upset by this issue. Of course, being a western non-religious person, this kind of religious frenzy seems completely alien to me. But in the end, do the countries in Mid-East have a ground to stand when it comes to this "houlier than thou"-attitude? I have seen cartoons in local newspapers in Mid-East where they make fun of Holocaust and where they compare Israelis to Nazis (note: actions of Israel leave a lot to be desired, but that's not the point of this blog-entry). I would guess that many Israelites find those images deeply offensive and hurtful. And now that some Danish newspaper publishes some rather mild pictures, we have flag-burning, embassy-burning, consulate-burning, boycotts and death-threats. Pot, meet kettle. Kettle, this is pot.

I can't help but feel that Muslims take their religion way too seriously. IMO, the border between "a believer" and "a fanatic" is that does the religion serve life, or does life serve the religion. A fanatic is someone who's life serves religion. And it seems to me that such behavior is a lot more common in Islam than it is in Christianity (for example). Maybe Islam doesn't have as much room for mere "believers"?

I had a discussion about this with one muslim on the web. I said that in christianity, the ratio between "believers" and fanatics seem to be about 1%/99%, whereas in Islam it's closer to 50/50. He disputed my guesstimate, but he then proceeded to tell me how the religion is "a very serious matter to Muslims" and how they "are supposed to be very passionate about it". Well, that kinda gives some credibility to my observation. Of course, my guesstimate is propably ways off, but even Muslims themselves seem to agree that Islam has more problems with extremeism that Christanity does. Now, is that due to the religion itself, or due to the societies where it was born, I have no idea. But there was a time when Western Christians were savage barbarians, while Muslims in mid-east were sophisticated and civilized. I don't understand what went wrong here. it could be that when religion has just been born, it keeps rather low profile. When it gains more power, it becomes more extreme (same thing happened in Christianity as well). And as time progresses, the fanatism becomes milder (as has happened with christianity). It could just be that since Christianity is older and more widespread, it has already reached that "moderate" era, whereas Islam will reach it in about 100-200 years. Who knows.

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