"It is clear that not in one thing alone, but in many ways equality and freedom of speech are a good thing."
"People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use."
- Soren Kierkegaard
Let me preface this little rant with the following statement: I rate all acts of unprovoked and unjustified violence, whether against individuals or the masses, as despicable and inexcusable. There is in my opinion no valid reason to harm or kill people who haven't attempted to harm or kill you first.
I also support freedom of speech. You should have the right to voice your opinion whenever you like without fear of violent retaliation. You should also have the right to ignore other people's opinions or to engage those who hold opinions you disagree with in open discourse.
That being said, I believe that freedom of speech, when placed in the hands of the ignorant, short-sighted, and ego-driven, is a double-edged sword that can cut both ways. The shootings in Paris last week are a painful example of free speech backfiring on those most eager to exercise it.
Before you accuse me of victim-blaming, allow me to elaborate.
Let's pretend for a moment that you hate Mike Tyson with a passion. If you ran into him at the airport, would you exercise your free speech? Would you tell him he's scum or call him a wife-beater, rapist, and ear-biter?
It's not that Tyson would be justified in beating you senseless for insulting him, only that you should know better than to poke an angry bear.
Al Queda, ISIS (or ISIL, or whatever the fuck they're calling themselves now), and other extremists are crazed, wounded bears. Free speech your ass off bro, but if you toss insults at those bears, you should expect to be mauled.
Is this to say that radical Islam should be left untouched? That we should reprimand people who criticize religion or sensor magazines, blogs, and news articles to avoid offending certain people?
Of course not.
Radicalism, be it theological, ideological, or political, is a mind-virus that spreads like wild fire under the right conditions. These conditions are ignorance, poverty, oppression, and disillusionment. Anyone who tells you that all the answers to your problems can be found in a 1,500 year old book is a bold-faced liar, and the only way you'll believe that lie is if you're poor, ignorant, and angry enough.
The answer is never found at the polar extremes but somewhere between the two, in the nebulous grey zone. Radical ideologies are oversimplifications; they create the illusion that only two valid answers exist to a certain question. They force a "this or that" scenario onto people even when no such scenario exists.
When you buy into one of these answers, you trade freedom of thought for freedom of speech.
A lot of these "new" (see: radical) atheists pretend to be modern-day crusaders liberating believers from the shackles of religion. They claim that, behind the sarcasm and venom lurks a concern for the wellbeing of their fellow humans.
They would have us believe they champion truth and education, but one need only look at their methods to see that words and deeds don't align.
If radical ideologies perpetuate themselves best when certain conditions abound, and we know what those conditions are, shouldn't we try to alleviate them? Isn't that the best way to fight the good fight?
I'm no teacher but I'm pretty sure scorn, mockery, and insults are horrible ways to teach anyone anything. You want to convince a group of people that their ways are wrong? Try not profaning their holiest symbols first. That sorta kills the dialogue.
These anti-theists and radical atheists aren't solving any problems: they're making them worse.
Charlie Hebdo, the magazine targeted by the radicals in Paris, made a point of taunting some of the most unstable and dangerous people on the planet. These terrorists are so disillusioned with the world they live in and so hateful of Westerners that they would gladly die just to take a few of infidels down with them.
Those twelve people certainly didn't deserve to die, but is it surprising that they did? Not really, especially considering Charlie Hebdo was bombed only three years ago. The people who worked and died for that magazine are the sorriest martyrs I've ever heard of, but they're martyrs nonetheless: they died for their cause.
Do you own a magazine and want to wage war against radical Islam? Here's what you do: superimpose pictures of atrocities committed in Allah's name with passages from the Qu'ran that prohibit said atrocities.
|"What actions are most excellent? To gladden the heart of human beings, to feed the hungry, to help the afflicted, to lighten the sorrow of the sorrowful, and to remove the sufferings of the injured."|
"How is that a solution? Terrorists are beyond educating. They don't want to talk or 'be saved;' they just want to kill infidels."
True, education and respectful dialogue won't stop terrorists, but neither will drawing pictures of Muhammad blowing the pope. Truth is, the most extreme cases are beyond repair.
The goal isn't to save the guys wearing bomb-vests--once you resolve to give your life in Allah's name, it's probably too late for you--it's to prevent Muslims from putting on the vest in the first place.
If you want to help, do anything but troll.
Unless of course you never wanted to help in the first place. In that case, be a troll. Say what you want, poke fun, satirize, whatever: it's your right and I'll defend it with you if anyone tries to take it away.
Just don't pretend you're on a noble crusade to spread truth and save those who have been deceived by evil organized religion.
(P.S. Terrorist attacks always spark off a bunch of this "Islam is a religion of hate" nonsense. People love to demonize the youngest of the Abrahamic religions, quoting brutal passages as evidence that it is far worse than both Judaism and Christianity. I'll tackle this topic in my next post so stay tuned.)