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Friday, February 10, 2006

except when it's MY holy symbol

Volokh brings up an interesting point (quoting someone else):
Republication of the cartoons boils down to this: Depicting Mohammed in violation of Muslim tenets strikes a blow at the very heart of Islamic beliefs, and and such sacrilegious desecration of their beliefs is so offensive and hurtful that it simply should not be allowed, even under the guise of "free speech."

Personally, I don't buy into that, but here's a question for discussion: Isn't this the same argument advanced in the United States by those who want a constitutional amendment (and implementing federal and state statutes) to ban the burning or other desecration of the flag of the United States? Can one support the right to publish the cartoons and also support a flag-burning amendment? If so, how does one distinguish between the two?
The take home message for me is this: Hillary or no Hillary, the flag-burning issue should now be fundamentally dead in American politics.


At 7:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that many more conservatives are willing to rise to the occasion to defend freedom of speech in newspapers in light of the protests about Muhammad's image than are willing to go so far as to say we should pass an amendment banning flag burning.

Even for those who support such an amendment, it's not a total contradiction. They would argue that the flag is a special case because the U.S. government and military guarantees freedom of speech against other countries that would not protect it (even Europe doesn't consider free speech a human right, as Volokh would probably point out). So desecrating the flag is tantamount to undermining the institution that protects your freedom of speech.

I'm not in favor of such a flag burning amendment myself, but as with the whole "pro-life pro-death-penalty" thing, it's not as clear a contradiction as some people would make it out to be.

At 11:50 PM, Blogger andrew golis said...

so, in other words, you make an exception for when it's the holy symbol you like?

At 2:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too don't understand Anonymous's statement "The U.S. government...guarantees freedom of speech....Desecrating the flag is tantamount to undermining the institution that protects your freedom of speech." Throwing a bomb into a government building might be tantamount to undermining the institution that protects your freedom of speech, but I honestly don't see how burning a flag does anything concrete to undermine anything. That just sounds like a rationalization for an ideology in which flag-waving is simplistically equated with patriotism.

At 3:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Golis you didn't even attempt to understand anonymous #1 above. I don't even honestly understand how you could read that comment and come to the conclusion that you came to.

Also, you sound pretty idiotic calling the US flag a "holy symbol." Apples and oranges, dude.

At 3:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Golis, what is your point in posting this? Is it just to rail against conservative hypocrisy or do you have a more substantive point? I'm assuming you'd say that you have a point of view of your own that you're trying to drive home, in which case I would like to hear it.

Because the thing is, Volokh is pointing this out because he is libertarian and thinks that people should be allowed to publish what they want and burn the flag. I know you think people should be able to burn the flag... but what about these cartoons? Should they have been prevented or is their publication merely "unfortunate"? If the former, then you're basically endorsing an anti-Western double standard. If the latter then your point of view isn't really all that different from most other peoples, and I'd have to conclude that you don't have much to say here.

At 5:04 AM, Blogger andrew golis said...

I didn't intend to ignore the first poster, I was simply noting that his logic didn't step out of the structure of the point already made. As the third responder noted, the first argues that flag-burning can be separated out because it represents American values to powerfully that "desecrating the flag is tantamount to undermining the institution." I use the term "holy" to point out this heightened treatment as more than the sum of its parts, as something with an abstract power as a part of our civil religion.

Again, as the third commenter points out, unless flag-burning can be directly equated to tangible attacks on the right of free speech, the idea of treating it any differently than a depiction of the Prophet Mohammed simply doesn't make sense. Both are protected within the concept of "free speech" because "speech" is a realm in which we attempt to create a sphere for open discourse that transcends cultural assumptions, dogmas, biases and taboos with the belief that doing so creates a healthy society and allows us to continually move beyond that which we find to be barriers toward progress.

Of course, many may not like something said by others within this "free" realm. Usually, this is because that thing is in opposition to one's own beliefs. However, the basic concept is that in the interaction between those two things we have an opportunity to reassess and either change course or reaffirm the one we're on. This is why I have no problem simultaneously being personally offended by both flag burning and the disrespectful use of another's religion, but reaffirm the fundamental right for people to do both. Free speech is also my right to disagree, so I don't personally feel threatened by the opinions of others.

Of course, the most awful aspect of all of this is its turn to violence. Here, we have a violation of this idea of peaceful discourse freed from direct life and death consequences. The massive protests, boycotts of Danish goods, all of these are peaceful forms of protest and speech. Physical violence is not.

The line between these two-speech and action- seems to be the primary source of conflict. I'm not willing to say that I am sure where/if that line can be easily drawn. I hope, however, that it can be drawn in such a way that the information available to a society in its public discourse is maximized by agreeing as society to try to draw a bright line between the two and eliminate these forms of escalation.

The point of posting this was to point out that I find holding these beliefs-a strong affirmation of the Danish Press's right to free speech and a belief that flag burning should be banned- to be fundamentally contradictory. If someone wants to argue that both should be banned, and that societies should be allowed to constrict their free speech according to majority values, that would be internally consistent. I would, however, strongly disagree.


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