Much controversy was recently sparked due to the first ever annual “Draw Muhammad Day”, taking place earlier this week on the 20th. The organisers of the day set out their intentions in a Facebook group which rapidly gained popularity, stating; “We simply want to show the extremists that threaten to harm people because of their Muhammad depictions that we’re not afraid of them.” Readers will remember the 2005 Muhammad cartoon controversy, which enraged Muslims all over the world, resulting in multiple Danish embassies being torched, and at least 100 people being killed in the chaos that ensued. Similar protests emerged more recently when the television cartoon South Park broadcast an episode with another depiction of the prophet.
Draw Muhammad Day has been different, however, because the Pakistani high court has now ruled that Facebook, Wikipedia, Youtube, and a total of 450 other websites be banned due of their “blasphemous content” stemming from thousands of depictions of their prophet uploaded by both popular internet content producers and anonymous ones alike. Old debates about censorship and freedom of expression have resurfaced once again in response to this, and there are very interesting observations to be made of every side of the argument.
The BBC article reporting the story displays outstanding bias even when their existing liberal bias is taken into account. A “selection” of reader comments are published at the end of the article, with a total of 6 of the comments are in support of the censorship and 3 who are against it. All of the first 4 comments supportive of Pakistan’s decision, and they include platitudes such as “When my religion is insulted, it is me who is insulted. I can live without Facebook but I definitely cannot live in humiliation.” And “For Muslims, directly insulting the sacred is beyond petty ‘freedom of speech’[my emphasis] privileges we mortals have. In the West, people think arrogantly that they are free to say anything without limits whatsoever, no matter how ridiculous or insulting.” The 3 comments in support of free speech contain similarly facile arguments, focussing on their how they personally are affected by the website bans, lamenting a life without the joys of facebook, rather than giving the many penetrating arguments in favour of free speech on a larger scale.
I find the situation of a media outlet like the BBC praising censorship to be genuinely funny however, for the obvious reason. Only a liberal could side with his natural enemy, the enemy who, given the chance, would have no qualms about shutting down the BBC altogether and replacing it with a far more “holy” alternative. The BBC’s bias is nothing new though, and it should come as a shock to no one. People will read and believe the dangerous message it gives out, but how would that be different from any other day in the life of the liberal media? Instead, let us focus on the real debate which is occurring here, namely, the one between freedom of speech and expression versus censorship. Due to the distinct lack of any arguments of substance being given by mainstream sources, I feel personally obligated to give freedom of speech the defence it rightly deserves, which I will proceed to do now.
The 19th century philosopher J S Mill has, in my opinion, put across by far the best defences of freedom of speech in his influential work On Liberty. The book is a true masterpiece of modern western political thought, written by a genius who is remembered today as one of the major philosophical giants. In On Liberty he gives four discreet arguments, but for our purposes here we can combine the latter two. The first point is the “infallibility argument”, and it states that if anyone makes the decision to stop another person from saying or otherwise expressing an opinion because they deem it to be better left unsaid, the censor assumes a position of infallibility. What is meant by this is that the censor might as well have said “my opinion on this matter is certainly correct, and thus I am able to make the decision about which opinion is correct on your behalf.” If there was any doubt in the censors mind of whether he is right, he would be being willingly ignorant to silence all dissenting opinions, clearly a bad decision. The idea that he is infallible is absurd too, because no human is infallible – it’s conceivable that even an extremely well respected theory could be wrong, and for this reason we should never prevent the opposition from expressing their views.
Mill’s second argument points out that categorising statements as “true” and “false” is far too simplistic. Almost all arguments will have some parts which are true and some parts which are false, and it makes sense that, as people in the pursuit of truth, we should listen to all of the partly true and partly false statements that people want to make, and then use our own judgement to extract the truths and discard the falsehoods, in order to synthesise a larger understanding of the world. Even the most objectionable opinions are likely to contain some iota of useful truth which can be recognised, and for Mill it’s worth having to put up with the expense of listening to lots of false beliefs, because the consequence is that we never miss any true ones.
The final point made is known as the “dead dogma” argument. Without the freedom to criticise and examine our beliefs, they become a kind of dead dogma; a perfect illustration of this can be seen in the Christian faith. It’s written explicitly in the Bible that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Yet history shows us that most rich Christians seem to ignore this point, which Mill believes is because without doctrines like it being contantly challenged by sceptics, its true implications are lost and it simply becomes a mindless sentence, prone to repetition yet having lost its persuasive thrust. Even truly beneficial dogmas can become “dead” too, provided no one challenges their validity. For Mill, just professing to believe the truth isn’t enough, one has to really see why it is true and the implications its truth has, the only way to ensure this being to give critics the freedom of speech to get a proper debate going, so all parties involved have an understanding of why what they believe is right or wrong.
There have been responses to these arguments, none of which are particularly compelling, and although it would be nice to go into them in detail here, for the sake length I will omit them. I’ll perhaps address these at a later time, but for now those that are interested in pursuing this topic further they can find them elsewhere online without too much trouble.
The Pakistani high court’s decision to ban these large areas of the internet gives ample evidence of their ignorance. It’s the philosophical equivalent of putting your fingers in your ears and singing “La la la la la” at the slightest criticism. But of course, it wasn’t just the high court which agreed with the banning of this “blasphemous content”, because at each occasion over the last decade where depictions of Muhammad have reached popularity, Muslims the world over have taken to the streets in protest in their tens of thousands. These are the same extremist Muslims that we are told by liberals are “only a minority” of worldwide Muslim population, yet I can guarantee you now that the majority of worldwide Muslims do support the ridiculous censorship of other people’s harmless opinions, even when these people have nothing to do with them or their religion. The flag burning which the Muhammad pictures provoked was perhaps the most hypocritical of all their actions, for it was an act done with the sole purpose of causing offence, the same kind of offence they are rabidly claiming should be banned.
Indeed, how must the majority of Muslims see the western world? We know that they feel perfectly justified in reacting with outrage when one of two of our non-Muslim citizens want to draw a picture of their prophet, we know they feel that they’re perfectly justified in dictating how the whole world should act, so I’d imagine not only are they unable to see the flaws in their reasoning, but they also take us for limp-wristed fools who will cave in under the slightest pressure. In the past this has undoubtedly been true, the Danish cartoons were pulled from a number of news sources, the South Park episode was heavily censored after the TV stations got cold feet, but the difference between those past occasions and Draw Muhammad Day is written in the very nature of the internet it was celebrated on. You can’t burn the internet like you can burn a book – no matter how much outrage you stir up, when you put the plug back in, the pictures will still be there. This is the victory for free speech which has been won by the people who were ready to say enough is enough, and I hope that they will keep on pushing in the future, in other such mediums which are both inescapable and impossible to censor effectively.
But don’t be fooled into thinking this is all going on in a far away country. In Europe in particular, Muslims are a demographic which are rapidly replacing the native whites; the Arabs have extremely high birth-rates (anywhere between 3 and 8 children in the average family), compared to whites, who are themselves declining in numbers. As the Muslim population increases, decisions like the one made by Pakistan will be more and more likely to be enacted in Europe also, with the rioting and terrorist attacks we’ve seen in the Middle East happening much closer to home if there is any white resistance. The west’s success has peaked, and its gradual decline brought about by multiracialism and multiculturalism can be clearly seen to anyone who will open their eyes to the facts.
Of course, there will also be people who say that drawing pictures of Muhammad will never make Muslims any less anti-western than they already are. And I agree. But this isn’t about trying to have a reasonable discussion with them, that avenue has already been exhausted. It’s about freedom of speech – that “petty” pillar of western society which I will never forsake in the name of some ridiculous notion of ‘not causing offence’ to the very people who despise us.