“A Very Unstable State Of Affairs”

Insulting the prophet may lead to assault
But who is at fault?

To find such insulting “prohibited speech”
Is a bit of a reach

To claim that both parties are equally blameful
Is utterly shameful.

Insults and offenses may have their uses
As convenient excuses.

I’m busy putting together tests and cabinets today, so not as much time to put together verse or prose. The above was prompted by this story on NPR’s All Things Considered. It does a nice job beginning to untangle the gordian knot that is Middle East unrest. One particular passage stood out to me as I listened in the car:

RAZ: Rami Khouri, in reality now, any person in the world – anyone – with access with the Internet can easily set off a conflagration in parts of the Islamic world by simply insulting the Prophet Muhammad. That seems to me to be a very unstable state of affairs.

KHOURI: Well, it’s a criminal act if you do that in the eyes of most Muslims. It’s very insulting. You know, there’s laws in the United States and in France and other places against, for instance, anti-Semitism or denying the Holocaust, which there should be.

RAZ: Well, in the United States, there are no such laws at all. You’re free to do that…

KHOURI: Well, there – no, but there are limits to what people can do in terms of attacking other people. The law limits what you can…

RAZ: There are no limits to speech. Speech is protected in the United States. I mean, you can insult any religion or faith as vile as it may be, and that is protected.

One culture’s protected speech is another’s act of aggression.

Most of the Islamic world seems willing to accept that, whether a particular act of speech is insulting, there is a difference between “taking offense” and “being justified in violent retaliation’. Their reaction is not a conflagration, but a spark, which in most cases would fade harmlessly But when economic and political conditions scatter jet fuel and gunpowder all around, sparks are dangerous.

And it appears there are those who are more than willing to add more explosives to the pile.


  1. says

    I was listening to that as well, and what struck me was that as the reporter kept insisting that there were no limits on free speech, and Khouri didn’t seem to grasp that idea. He tried to bring up Holocaust denying and Raz said ‘No, that’s Germany’.

    My take away is that these people blame the US Government for this because in their world, they have no concept of the idea that people can say whatever they want and the government not only has to allow it, but will protect their right to say it.

    Not that it still isn’t disgusting that the go to response of criticism is violence, but this at least explains why they would blame the US Government for this horrible video clip.


  2. Trebuchet says

    I mean, you can insult any religion or faith as vile as it may be, and that is protected.

    Bring up sexual harassment on an atheist blog, on the other hand, and all hell breaks loose. Don’t insult my masculine rights, you slut!

  3. Trebuchet says

    Well no, of course it’s not the same as being jailed and I knew I was stepping a bit across the line when I posted. Still, you have a level of hate speech which has driven people out of the public arena. Not a good thing.

  4. Cuttlefish says

    Treb, my apologies, I read your comment #2 precisely the opposite way from your intention–as if you were speaking seriously, not ironically.

  5. Trebuchet says

    Thanks. I was actually a little afraid of that but thought it would be understood. I’ve Poe’d myself, sort of!

  6. Die Anyway says

    Unstable indeed. One cartoonist in Denmark, one movie maker in the U.S., and dozens of people die (maybe more) and millions of dollars in damage. And who knows if we are even done yet? One more person saying the wrong thing at the wrong time and we could be looking at WW-III. Hyperbole? I don’t know. I’d like to think so but the experience of the last couple of years, and especially last week, leaves me wondering. More to say but better stop now so I don’t set somebody off.

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