[Staffan de Mistura, the top U.N. envoy in Afghanistan,] spoke in a somber tone as he described how three U.N. staff members and four Nepalese guards were killed Friday when the protesters stormed their compound in the normally peaceful city of Mazar-i-Sharif. He placed direct blame on those who burned a copy of the Muslim holy book in Gainesville, Florida, last month, stoking anti-foreign sentiment that already was on the rise after nearly a decade of war in Afghanistan.
President Hamid Karzai publicly condemned the March 20 Quran burning, leading some to blame him for triggering the protests. De Mistura, however, blamed the person who torched the holy book.
“Freedom of speech does not mean freedom of offending culture, religion or traditions,” de Mistura said. “Those who entered our building were actually furiously angry about the issue about the Quran. There was nothing political there.”
I beg to differ Mr. de Mistura, that’s exactly what freedom of speech is. It is the right to piss people off by opening my mouth. It is the right to gore sacred cows. It is legal sanction to disagree about anything. Every day I run across speech that pisses me off. Every day I run into speech that offends me. Some of it is religious. Listening to Oral Roberts, or Jimmy Swaggart, or any number of other preachers, dead and alive, offends me. People proclaiming that I must have a personal relationship with a great sky-father offends me greatly. Seeing people write screeds about hippy-dippy Chinese herbs curing cancer offends me. Some of it is political. I get pissed off every day listening to the lies that the Republican/Tea Party spews. It’s not just that I disagree. Listening to Glen Beck offends me. Seeing someone write about their admiration for Glen Beck makes me want to lock people up for our own good.
And I suck it up because that’s the price I pay for being able to say the opposite. If I get to say that science is true, then someone else gets to be an idiot. If I get to say that Glen Beck is an idiot, then he gets the right to deny reality and say he’s not an idiot. Even if I’m offended. Even if it pains me to know something is misfiring between people’s ears and there’s no known medical cure. I have to live with it. That’s exactly what freedom of speech is.
The cure for bad speech (however one defines it) is not closing it down, but speaking. Tell people the truth. Convince them. Get grand rallies of people who agree. Be angry! Stomp your feet! Burn people in effigy. Be offensive with your own speech if you want. I fully support the right of abortion protesters to hoist posters of bloody fetuses and for people to march with signs that say
God Hates Fags!. Go for it! If someone else’s speech convinces people and mine doesn’t then either I have an incorrect position, or I am not a convincing speaker.
What isn’t a moral response to speech is to torch a building and kill people. Period.
The people who should be blamed for the killings are the people who torched and killed.
The pastor, the Rev. Terry Jones, had threatened to destroy a copy of Islam’s holy book last year but initially backed down. On Friday he said Islam and its followers, not his church’s burning of the Quran, were responsible for the killings.
And you sir, are an idiot. Just because you have the right to burn something that someone else considers sacred, doesn’t mean it’s not offensive. Common human decency means that I do not walk up to every Christian I meet and tell them they are an idiot for believing in fairy tales. I don’t wander the streets with signs proclaiming that blacks are drug users, because it’s wrong and offensive.
I still have a moral obligation to speak correctly. The law cannot and should not judge speech. Your god, or your sense of morality, should. If your god tells you that burning other god’s books will elevate your god, then perhaps you have an over-controlling thin-skinned god who’s about as worthless as your average Republican. Seriously, if I can take being contradicted in public, then your supposedly all-powerful god will survive it.
I still have a social obligation to speak civilly though sometimes civility can or should be abrogated in order to speak effectively. When a speaker crosses the line to disrespect, speakers ought not disclaim responsibility for the effects of that speech, when those effects were what the speaker was specifically trying to create. Deliberately offending people, then saying
it’s their fault they were offended is douchebaggery. You have a part in this. Own up to it. You broke your social obligation, and perhaps it was necessary. Nevertheless, you are not an innocent bystander.
Responsibility is not an either/or proposition. Neither is responsibility a pie that gets cut into pieces and apportioned out. Both killers and speakers were links in the chain that resulted in a number of dead people. Mr. Jones is responsible for a piece in the chain from bad speech, and should be punished in the way that bad speech is punished, with more speech. Denouncements. Protests. Being attributed an idiot. The people who conducted the executions should be punished with prison because they killed. But all of them are responsible.