to Buckle Under on Free Speech (DE TIJD, Belgium)
is at times quite unsavory and leaves a bitter aftertaste. But the strength of
the West, and preeminently the U.S., demonstrates that free speech leads to a
free society. In this case, the concern of the United States is understandable.
Their troops on the ground are confronted with this violence. But it is
extremely clumsy to respond to it with a request for censorship."
Where does the sowing of hatred and incitement to violence
start and freedom of speech end? A ridiculous movie on YouTube, Innocence of Muslims, caused worldwide
riots from Benghazi to Borgerhout [Belgium], because
of the insulting nature of the film. It is not the first time that there have
been strong reactions to real or alleged attacks on Islam, but it is the White
House that has kick-started a debate on free speech.
The White House’s request to Google, the Internet company that
owns YouTube, to take down the video in question, didn't go down well. The
request didn't obligate the company to act and therefore Google simply ignored it
- although in some countries, access was (temporarily) prohibited and in others
is was blocked completely. Google rightly considers that the U.S. government
should not interfere with the film and that in any case, it is not inconsistent
with the rules of the company. There is no incitement to personal hate or
violence. The criticism in the film is general. The fact that it is tacky and
silly is beside the point here.
Freedom of speech is a difficult concept. It is easy to
defend if you agree with the thrust of the criticism; it is a lot harder when
it runs directly counter to your own convictions.
It is certain that the video in question has been prostituted
by certain groups to stir the masses and incite violence. But that has more to
do with the climate in these countries and the appeals of such groups who want
to riot, and which often put popular ignorance to use to sweep them along.
The U.S. government, which puts a high priority on freedom
of speech when it comes to problems abroad, is often very strict when it comes
to defending their own interests. The death of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya is
a terrible thing, but it is not YouTube or even the film that caused it. It is the
Salafist organizations that executed a calculated
Giving in to groups who want to cause anxiety (and more), is
not a good idea. Moreover, with its request, the U.S. government is giving the
impression that it can control freedom of expression in America. That is
exactly the wrong signal to send groups who would rather leave people in the
Freedom of expression is at times quite unsavory and leaves a
bitter aftertaste. But the strength of the West, and preeminently the U.S.,
demonstrates that free speech leads to a free society. In this case, the
concern of the United States is understandable. Their troops on the ground are confronted
with this violence. But it is extremely clumsy to respond to it with a request
In the Muslim world there is a movement that strongly
opposes the Western world and Western values. They often feel pushed in a
corner and are quick to feel insulted. This in turn has resulted in a similarly
strong anti-Islamic movement in the West. In this arena, it is often the free
and independent opinion on both sides that is victimized.
If free speech is no longer possible, then neither is dialogue.
To give in to the violence only serves to silence justified criticism. While it
may be that this is how dictatorships manage to flourish, it is a path that
open and democratic countries must not follow.