Free speech threatened

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Not long ago, U.S. pastor Terry Jones was turned away from the Canadian border. Jones gained worldwide infamy in 2010 for publicly burning the Qur’an and his actions fuelled worldwide protests, counter-protests and imitators.

Jones’ actions are comparable to the anti-Islam film The Innocence of Muslims, which similarly provoked global anti-American sentiment.

Both were shocking pieces condemned by the American government as they sparked deadly protests. Yet, despite their ignorance, both should be allowed.

It could be argued these incidents were part of a larger agenda, either purposeful attention-seeking or a conspiracy-style plot by Americans, Zionists or both.

The Qur’an burning and The Innocence of Muslims, are actually political and religious expression, which makes the issue even more serious.

Canada rejecting Jones sends a clear message: approved opinions only, for he is not an immediate danger to anyone’s safety.

He’s got, at best, a simplistic opinion of Islam paired with cruel and pointless means of expression and a sense of controversy.

While freedom of expression is a guaranteed right in most modern liberal democracies, the current era has seen that right eroded.

Jones ought to have a right to burn and scream; that’s the essential nature of human rights.

Limiting free speech for the sake of immediate safety is a doomed proposition. The government can’t even keep drugs out of prisons, let alone stop stupid people from saying stupid things.

Even if there were moral ground in limiting the speech of Jones and others like him, it would be impossible to monitor.

In the age of YouTube, national governments can do almost nothing to limit expression. The Innocence of Muslims received essentially no media attention prior to the protests it sparked.

From the Klu Klux Klan to Neo-Nazis to anti-Muslims and Muslim extremists: it’s clear that no measure of government control can ever keep hateful opinions confined.

However, this argument from practicality is not where we should focus.

Jones is a speaker, and no matter how offensive or downright dumb his ideas are, he has a basic right to expression; it’s in our constitution and our consciousness.

There’s a relevant counter-argument in the fact that protests like these do seem to engender violence.

However, we can’t hold the right to expression hostage to the reaction of people who might be violent because of it.

Though there have been some truly savage protests against the United States like lynching, Bush effigies and burning flags and Constitutions, there are no major counter-protests that led to the kind of destruction and even death, that the world experience after Jones’ actions.

Generally speaking, when North America is criticized, people don’t die. When Islam is blasphemed, protests ensure.

A limit on free speech would likely restrict anti-Islamic speech, but not anti-American.

Despite this, there are those who would still support the restriction of free speech for the safety of troops or civilians.

But when you advocate for restrictions on armed speech, you are advocating for the use of force and coercion.

If Jones insisted on continuing his protest in spite of any new laws, armed police would physically restrain and stop him.

Physical violence is only a solution for those who limit the right to speech.

There should be no apologies for human rights.

The best thing we can do is set an example for regimes that respect human dignity, essential rights and personal property.

If that means we need to let the foolish speak, so be it.

 

By Brad Kleinstuber

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