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Nov 26 2013

Yes, We Have a Right to Offend Muslims. And Everyone Else.

The Muslim Times has a ridiculous article entitled “Do atheists have the right to offend Muslims?” That may be the easiest question in the world, next to “Would you like some more pork?” And that question may offend Muslims too, but I couldn’t care any less.

Recently some atheists at the LSE Freshers day were asked by university authorities to remove T-shirts depicting the Prophets Jesus and Muhammad (peace be upon them both) sharing a beer together. Well, to be more exact, they were asked to remove “Jesus and Mo” cartoon t-shirts, where “Jesus” is depicted as a cartoon caricature of the real Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him) and “Mo” is ostensibly a ‘body double’ of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Such conflicts are proliferating, and present an interesting challenge to our democratic society in the UK: do atheists have the right to offend Muslims?

On the face of it, this may seem a simple question, and most people probably will start reading this article with a fixed opinion on the issue. But it’s actually a rather complicated question!

No it isn’t. It’s a very, very simple question. And the answer is yes.

The European Convention of Human Rights guarantees freedom of expression in Article 10 of that Convention. However, like all fundamental rights, it recognises exceptions. Particularly relevant exceptions in this instance are for the purpose of preventing social disorder, of protecting morals, and protecting the reputation or the rights of others.

None of which are even remotely relevant to the question. If offending Muslims (or anyone else) leads to social disorder, that is the fault of those who respond violently to being offended. The commenters are equally clueless.

The answer is simple. No human being has the right to offend another person.

Really? Because I find what you just said incredibly offensive. There are few things that offend me more than someone who blathers this kind of totalitarian bullshit. By your own reasoning, you have just committed a crime.

One person’s freedom ends where another’s begins. Therefore offensive ‘anything’, should NOT be allowed under the guise of freedom of expression.

In fact, it is more hate mongering than so-called freedom of expression and therefore should be made illegal and a crime for it costs many lives.

There is no other freedom being impinged. You do not have any right to go through life with no one ever saying anything that offends you. And the only thing that costs lives are barbaric authoritarians who think they have a right to kill someone who offends them.

Hell yes, we have the right to offend you. And you have the right to offend me, as you do every day with your authoritarian demands.

38 comments

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  1. 1
    jenny6833a

    Hell yes, we have the right to offend you. And you have the right to offend me, as you do every day with your authoritarian demands.

    It follows that there can be no law against mere nudity.

  2. 2
    eric

    Fortunately, most of the comments are quick to point out the obvious flaws and problems.

  3. 3
    Larry

    Mohammed, your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries. Now, go away, or I shall taunt you some more.

  4. 4
    Sastra

    The answer is simple. No human being has the right to offend another person.

    That’s only a simple answer if you’re talking about teasing going on at a children’s birthday party and you’re the Mommy or Daddy in charge. Real life is more complicated.

  5. 5
    cgm3

    Your right to free expression ends where my nose begins.

    Can’t remember where I first ran across that, but it strikes me as good rule of thumb.

  6. 6
    D. C. Sessions

    Personally, I’m offended by the sight of lumps at the crotch of anyone’s clothing. Not to mention facial hair.

    Please act on your own stated principles.

  7. 7
    tmscott

    Larry@3

    Too perfect.

  8. 8
    Modusoperandi

    jenny6833a “It follows that there can be no law against mere nudity.”
    When you get right down to it, there’s no
    What about “intoxicated nudity”? “First degree nudity”? “Conspiracy to commit nudity”?

    Sastra “That’s only a simple answer if you’re talking about teasing going on at a children’s birthday party and you’re the Mommy or Daddy in charge. Real life is more complicated.”
    To be fair, while it was teasing, Jimmie was still correct. Julie is a big poopie.

  9. 9
    mastmaker

    I have a simple solution for this ‘offensive’ business.

    In normal (non-religion-related) set of events, it is ‘offensive’ to make fun of one’s weakness. It is not offensive to make fun of one’s strength or one’s neutral quality. For example, I can make fun of one’s hairstyle, but it is offensive to make fun of one losing their hair because of cancer.

    So,……here’s the deal: Agree that your beliefs and your belief system is your weakness and the millstone around your neck and we will stop making fun of it.

  10. 10
    eric

    That’s only a simple answer if you’re talking about teasing going on at a children’s birthday party and you’re the Mommy or Daddy in charge. Real life is more complicated.

    Its your house, not a public forum; you can restrict people’s free speech in it (or, more practically, restrict access to your house based on people’s behavior). That particular example is in fact pretty simple to square with strong free speech rights.

    A tougher example might be you walking down the street with your youngster, and some stranger comes up and starts cursing them out, teaching them how mommies and daddys make babies, or telling them santa claus is fake. The sidewalk is public, but nobody wants some stranger agressively seeking out little kids just to say things to them that most of us consider inappropriate.

    IMO in such cases, harassment laws deal fairly well with the most egregious cases, and we just have to live with the remaining “unintentioned slop-over.” Its not your right as a parent to insist someone else having a conversation on the sidewalk use PG13 language (though you can of course ask). That’s the unintentioned slop you have to live with. OTOH, if someone is targeting kids specifically, repeatedly engaging them when they or the parents tell them to stop, that is harassment – even on the sidewalk. They have a right to speak, but not a right to force you to listen. If they are acting in a way to force you to listen, they’ve crossed the line.

  11. 11
    Raging Bee

    Correct argument, piss-poor framing. Instead of saying we have a right to offend people, you should have said we have a right to FREEDOM OF SPEECH. Your framing plays directly into the hands of the religious bigots and totalitarians, by reinforcing their argument that all atheists have to offer is needless offense. And instead of appealing to less-thin-skinned Muslims — who might be supportive of honest criticism of their religion’s worst practices — you only contributed to their continued alienation. Did you really intend to indiscriminately shout in the faces of millions of people “We have the god-given right to offend you!”? Because that’s what your headline, and your article, did.

    You’re an experienced and educated journalist. You should know better than to poison a good story with a stupid headline and misleading emphasis.

  12. 12
    Bronze Dog

    If offending Muslims (or anyone else) leads to social disorder, that is the fault of those who respond violently to being offended.

    This idea needs to be repeated quite often. Blaming the speaker for a violent backlash is an ego-friendly rationalization and an abdication of responsibility on the part of the violent.

  13. 13
    drr1

    Here’s Ed’s next headline, Raging Bee:

    “Raging Bee Finds Ed’s Headline About Being Offended Offensive”

    And the subhead will read:

    “And nobody cares.”

    Raging Bee, as usual, manages to duck into the punch.

  14. 14
    NitricAcid

    It’s not the free speech that leads to violence, it’s the tantrums of vicious crybaby fundamentalists that lead to violence.

  15. 15
    Pen

    I read the beginning of the Koran and found it so offensive I couldn’t continue.

  16. 16
    Mobius

    @5 cgm3

    “Your right to free expression ends where my nose begins.”

    Can’t remember where I first ran across that, but it strikes me as good rule of thumb.

    Yes, but what you are saying is bending Mr. Muslim Times nose out of shape. But then, I don’t recall any right not to have your nose metaphorically bent out of shape…just not physically.

  17. 17
    freehand

    What does it even mean to have freedom of speech for speech which doesn’t offend anybody? It is a mindless platitude to claim to champion freedom of speech, but only for speech one is comfortable with. It apparently has to be explained to some people that only the expression of unpopular ideas need to be protected by law.

  18. 18
    eric

    What does it even mean to have freedom of speech for speech which doesn’t offend anybody?

    It means that, by “anybody,” the speaker really means “me and people who agree with me.”

  19. 19
    Pierce R. Butler

    cgm3 @ # 5: “”Your right to free expression ends where my nose begins.”

    That’s often attributed to Roger Baldwin, a former leader and (I think) co-founder of the ACLU.

    As a matter of legal technicality, taking a swing at somebody even without connecting qualifies the swinger for a charge of assault, and justifies almost any response by the swingee as self-defense.

  20. 20
    Raging Bee

    If offending Muslims (or anyone else) leads to social disorder, that is the fault of those who respond violently to being offended.

    Sorry, but it’s not that simple. First, if people are living under insecure and repressive conditions, and blow a gasket in response to words they find offensive, that’s not entirely their fault — especially when they’re being lied to and urged to violence by religious “leaders” whom they’re not really free to disobey.

    Second, if you’re sure someone will react violently to an insult, and insult him anyway by saying something that has no other value, then yes, you do share a bit of the blame if violence ensues. Even if you’re not LEGALLY liable, you still have an adult responsibility not to say stupid shit just to cause trouble.

    And third, saying needlessly stupid things just to cause trouble does NO ONE any good, regardless of who is to blame for violence. And loudly saying you have a “right to offend Muslims” is needlessly stupid, just like loudly saying you have a right to call black people “n*gg*rs.”

  21. 21
    brucegee1962

    @20 RB, As has been explained numerous times, there is all the difference in the world between criticizing ideas and criticizing people. Criticizing people is unnecessary and wrong, but ideas don’t get the same protection.

    If Ed was saying “Muslims are stupid to believe in a pile of manure like the Koran,” that would be crossing the line. But he isn’t doing that, and calling the Koran a pile of manure is not crossing the line.

  22. 22
    Raging Bee

    brucegee: where did I say ideas get protection?

  23. 23
    Birric Forcella

    @ Raging Bee:

    How is that not victim shaming? How about just saying “Don’t be that violent guy”?

  24. 24
    coffeehound

    @ 8,

    What about “intoxicated nudity”?

    Not only not a law, actively encouraged at only the finest of establishments, thank you.

  25. 25
    naturalcynic

    This idea needs to be repeated quite often. Blaming the speaker for a violent backlash is an ego-friendly rationalization and an abdication of responsibility on the part of the violent.

    This is also shown in the abdication of responsibility of males to control themselves when “provoked” by women uncovering their hair, wearing tight jeans etc. – things that can get women be assaulted in Muslim countries. Or, for that matter, get women assaulted in any rape culture.
    Islam is for the irresponsible.

  26. 26
    freehand

    RagingBee – I do not routinely use racial epithets (except in discussions of linguistics or history) because
    1. It is rude and offensive, and
    2. It’s dangerous.

    But I do not want the government telling me that I can’t. Nor do I want to surrender the option. Sometimes we want to say offensive or dangerous things; sometimes it is our duty.

    Yes, I understand that some folks have powerful emotional responses to language for diverse reasons. Language is a powerful tool, and dangerous to use unthinkingly. It is well known that more people are injured by a dull wit than sharp.

    I know that folks who live in dire circumstances have social pressure, habits, and their own fears, and may not even be able to see themselves from “outside”. I do not poke dogs – nor lions – in cages with a stick for the fun of it. But if I see a man beating a child, or a woman, if I see great pain that I may be able to stop, am I to remain silent rather than give offense?

  27. 27
    EnlightenmentLiberal

    @Sastra
    No, it’s really quite simple. The laws and common law of harassment and defamation cover nearly all of the exceptions really well. Got a counter-example we can discuss?

  28. 28
    EnlightenmentLiberal

    You’re an experienced and educated journalist. You should know better than to poison a good story with a stupid headline and misleading emphasis.

    What good is it to surrender right off the bat? There is no controversy about the nice speech. The controversy is about the offensive speech, and that’s why we need to cut to the chase and talk about offensive speech. “I might disagree with what you have to say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it.”

  29. 29
    eric

    Bee:

    Second, if you’re sure someone will react violently to an insult, and insult him anyway by saying something that has no other value, then yes, you do share a bit of the blame if violence ensues. Even if you’re not LEGALLY liable, you still have an adult responsibility not to say stupid shit just to cause trouble.

    You’re defending a heckler’s veto. I reject that as both an improper interpretation of the first amendment and a really bad idea entirely aside from the legal question. If someone is completely serious and sincere about attacking you for your speech, that is more reason for the state to defend that speech, see any such violent act punished, and communicate to its citizens that reacting violently to an insult is not acceptable and will not be tolerated. It is not less reason to protect the speech.

    Otherwise…congratulations, you’ve just defended the right of violent extremists to attack cartoonists who offend them,and blamed the cartoonists for random acts of violence on spectators perpetrated in response to the cartoonists’ speech.

  30. 30
    Birric Forcella

    Thanks, Eric. That explains very well what I meant when I accused Raging Bee of victim shaming.

  31. 31
    eoraptor

    Once, long ago, there was a place on Sunset Blvd. called The Pandora’s Box (no, not THAT kind of place, it was a bar). On the wall was a big sign that read, “Do not offend others. If you are others, do not allow yourself to be offended too easily.” Given that it was a bar, where unsavory things sometimes happened (Los Angeles County realigned an intersection there to get rid of the bar), I always thought the advice was fairly reasonable. Recognize, however, that it was advice and it was on private property — common carrier though it might be deemed.

    Ah, those were the days!

  32. 32
    Raging Bee

    I do not routinely use racial epithets (except in discussions of linguistics or history) because 1. It is rude and offensive, and 2. It’s dangerous. But I do not want the government telling me that I can’t. Nor do I want to surrender the option. Sometimes we want to say offensive or dangerous things; sometimes it is our duty.

    Excuse me for being rude, but HAW HAW HAW HAW HAW HAW HAW! I can’t believe anyone would be stupid and self-important enough to say somethihg like that in public. You can’t let the government stop you from saying stupid insulting shit ’cause you might have a duty to do so sometime in the kinda-sorta-foreseeable future? What, you’re imagining a “Red Dawn” scenario where you might have to scare the North Koreans away by calling them “gooks” after you run out of bullets? Jesus fucking Christ you’re a stupid twit. (And no, you ignorant fuck, no one here is advocating a government ban on insulting words anyway, so that makes your #bravehero freedom-fighter act even more ridiculous.)

    You’re defending a heckler’s veto.

    No, you stupid wanker, I’m defending sensible discourse and responsible adult behavior. Your apparent inability to tell the difference pretty much flushes your credibility down the toilet.

  33. 33
    Raging Bee

    What good is it to surrender right off the bat?

    How is better framing of a story “surrender?” If you think that taking a little care to speak more tactfully or precisely is “surrender,” then maybe you should just shut up and let more mature people do the talking. If an atheist spoke to a Muslim in a non-insulting way to encourage him to renounce religious thinking, would you accuse the atheist of “surrender?”

  34. 34
    Dan J

    You’re defending a heckler’s veto.

    No, you stupid wanker, I’m defending sensible discourse and responsible adult behavior. Your apparent inability to tell the difference pretty much flushes your credibility down the toilet.

    And, of course, you can certainly point out to us in an objective fashion exactly what “sensible” and “responsible” mean.

  35. 35
    dingojack

    Birric Forcella – What about this scenario:
    Bob contacts Alice online. He viciously ridicules her and denigrates her and others gleefully join in this abuse. This finally leads to Alice committing suicide.
    How responsible are Bob et al. for Alice’s violent actions?*
    Don’t they have a right to free speech? If not, would this be a “Heckler’s Veto”, who would enforce it and to what standard? Does Alice have the right to be offended by comments made by Bob et al., or should she “just get over it” and “grow a thicker skin”?
    Could a ‘reasonable person’ consider this outcome ‘reasonably foreseeable’? Could the well-established legal standards constituting ‘reckless endangerment’, or ‘culpable homicide’ apply here?

    Not really as black and white as you seem to think.

    Dingo
    ——-
    * and if you did blame them would this be ‘perpetrator blaming’?

  36. 36
    EnlightenmentLiberal

    One more time. Sorry I’m late.

    @Raging Bee

    Correct argument, piss-poor framing. Instead of saying we have a right to offend people, you should have said we have a right to FREEDOM OF SPEECH. Your framing plays directly into the hands of the religious bigots and totalitarians, by reinforcing their argument that all atheists have to offer is needless offense. And instead of appealing to less-thin-skinned Muslims — who might be supportive of honest criticism of their religion’s worst practices — you only contributed to their continued alienation. Did you really intend to indiscriminately shout in the faces of millions of people “We have the god-given right to offend you!”? Because that’s what your headline, and your article, did.

    You’re an experienced and educated journalist. You should know better than to poison a good story with a stupid headline and misleading emphasis.

    Let me try this. I want you to read the following text written by me. I did a fair effort of avoiding needless offense and antagonism, except as required for my message and content. I want you to honestly ask yourself the following questions about it. Is it a “honest criticism” of their religion (to use your own words)? Can it be rephrased to avoid antagonism and offense while still preserving the strength and severity of the criticism? Would it be offensive to more or less every Muslim?

    Dear Muslim: Your religion is false. Your prophet never saw an archangel. Your book, your religion, and your culture (for it is hard to disentangle all of that in practice) is responsible for untold horror, destruction, savagery, and needless human misery. It is one of the primary causes of needless human suffering in this world. Perhaps you are personally against those aspects via a contorted exegesis, but even then, by calling yourself a Muslim, you are tacitly giving moral and intellectual support to all those who act in Islam’s name. You have no justification for calling yourself a Muslim when Islam is a flagrant fiction and when your tacit support allows so much harm to happen. You should feel ashamed of your misdeeds. You should repent. You should no longer call yourself a Muslim.

    What do you say? Do you want that speech to be classified as “hate speech” and banned? More weakly, would you think that it would be better if I didn’t say that? Does your answers depend on your coming to the conclusion that you think my speech contains factual errors? Are you saying my speech should be banned – or frowned upon – based on the truthfulness of its content despite my good faith efforts w.r.t. the truth? So, you’re saying that you already know the truth of this matter? If so, you are now trapped in that opinion with no chance to change your mind because you banned – or frowned upon – the possibility of you ever hearing to the contrary.

    PS:
    Hitchens saying it far better than me.

  37. 37
    EnlightenmentLiberal

    I thought of a better way to get to my point just now – sorry.

    @Raging Bee

    Sorry for jumping to extremes, but work with me.

    Imagine the most horrible culture you could. As bad as any dystopic horror story. Rape of little children is allowed and common. Torture is common. Slavery is everywhere. Life sucks. Now, pretend that this culture actually exists somewhere on our planet Earth at the current time. Surely we should be acting towards ending that culture, or at least the aspects of that culture which are horrid. Right? Isn’t this us acting with intolerance towards that culture? Isn’t this us acting to alienate practicing members of that culture? Hell, I would go more for the imprisonment of all practicing members of that culture.

    Can you imagine trying to call for the destruction of that culture – or the negative elements of that culture – without in some way raising alienation of members of that culture, of calling for intolerance of that culture, and even causing hatred of that culture? This is where I’m lost, because I don’t know how you’ll answer. I think that inciting hatred of that culture is the proper thing to do. You should have hatred of wicked acts, of wicked people, and of wicked cultures. If you don’t have hate for murderous slave-owning child-rapers and a culture which promotes such activity, then I think you have a problem. If you don’t act to promote intolerance – hatred even – of such things, then I think you have a problem.

    Now, let’s compare that with Islam. Obviously it’s nowhere near as harmful as my mythical “worst society ever”. However, I think it’s fairly easy to point out that there are many things in the religion+culture which quite clearly demonstrably are against human well-being. I think you have to be a dedicated cultural relativist and moral relativist to not acknowledge that all of the Muslim majority countries have some quite serious problem with human rights and human well-being, and that any western country is far better in terms of human well-being.

    Thus, I would think that acting to promote intolerance – and even hatred – of such an unjust and inhumane system should be obvious.

    I’m curious where and how you disagree.

  38. 38
    EnlightenmentLiberal

    @dingojack
    As for your scenario – this is one I cite all the time.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_of_Megan_Meier
    Lori Drew did not act illegally. There should be no law which makes her basic actions illegal. The fact that she was prosecuted under some unrelated bullshit is a moral outrage. The fact that she was prosecuted under some specific hacking laws is outrageous because it is the slippery slope which makes most of us criminally guilty of hacking with sentences measured in years. The entire handling of the case is a gross violation of every justice value we have, including no ex post facto “laws” and no bills of attainder. (It’s not a literal ex post facto law, and it’s not a literal bill of attainder, but the case violates the spirit of both.)

    The only, and I do mean only, wiggle room I am willing to give is because it involved a minor, and we treat minors as not fully responsible and capable people and instead more like automatons under the law. If this was between two (sane) adults, there was no crime. Case closed.

    Even if it was with a child – as it was with Megan – I think I am unwilling to grant so much incompetence to children and so much liability to adults to consider otherwise.

    I must be the only person I know to take this position, and this is why I use this case to clearly enunciate exactly what I call for, and what freedom of speech is supposed to encompass.

  1. 39
    I Find This Post Very Offensive

    […] Ed Brayton, here’s a post from the blog Muslim Times with the provocative title, Do Atheists have the […]

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