Advertisement

City of Brass

City of Brass

Free Speech, Consensus, and Bigotry

This is a guest post by Muslim comics writer and essayist G. Willow Wilson.

One of my literary heroes, Neil Gaiman, is an ardent supporter of free speech. In this entry of his blog, he discusses an issue that has set the comics industry on fire in recent months: the question of whether fictional depictions of child pornography are protected speech. (Child pornography involving live children is not; about that I think we can all vigorously concur.) Gaiman concludes that we must protect all speech, no matter how vile, because the law cannot draw a line between art and smut.

The debate brought me back to the infamous Danish cartoon scandal of 2005. Like many thinking Muslims, I was forced by the controversy to fight a war on two fronts: against religious violence on one hand, and against hate speech on the other. I condemned the threats of death and violence made by my angry coreligionists, but I also condemned the cartoons.

Among my fellow comics creators, my position was considered reactionary. Why couldn’t I recognize that the man behind the Muhammad cartoons was An Artist, excercising the noblest of ideals, Freedom Of Speech? Was not art inherently worthy? Why did I insist on holding An Artist morally responsible for the ideas his art promoted?

The answer was–is–quite simple: because an artist is morally responsible for the ideas his art promotes. Free speech does not mean all speech is just or good. When an artist promotes (or worse, invents) ugly stereotypes, he or she is responsible for helping create cultural consensus about the people, ideas or activities s/he stereotypes. And consensus is dangerous.

I recently looked over a gallery of cartoons that appeared in World War II-era Germany. And I found this. (H/T The German Propaganda Archive) He looked oddly familiar. Hadn’t I seen him somewhere before? Ah yes: here. Man, they could be brothers. I don’t think anyone would dispute that the ‘artist’ of the first cartoon was responsible for perpetuating Nazi consensus against the Jews. He may not have fired a single bullet or locked a single gas chamber, but he helped ease the minds and lend confidence to the hearts of those who did. Yet western leftists lined up in solidarity with the ‘artist’ of the second cartoon, which perpetuates a near-identical consensus against Muslims. Right down to the hooked nose, maniacal gaze, and scruffy facial hair. Someone–probably many someones–looked at that cartoon, looked at an Iraqi civilian with his legs blown off, and didn’t care.

When you defend hate speech, you defend hatred. Whether you like it or not, whether you deal with it or not, whether you admit it or not. I refuse to defend hate speech. I refuse to call it art. There is only one reason I do not call for it to be censored: if we start censoring hate speech, we give the government a precedent to censor anything. Gaiman is right–the law cannot draw fine lines.

So the hate-cartoonists and (fictional!) child-pornographers are free to continue Being Artists. The fashionable are free to worship them, rationalize them, and split hairs for them. And I am free to be a curmudgeon, who continues to insist that art is not merely a right–it is a moral responsibility.

  • Scott

    You need to break it down. If Fred Phelps preaches to his follower “Kill all gays!” and his followers kill a gay person, he is morally and legally responsible. If I draw a picture humiliating Phelps and his followers go crazy I am in no way responsible and am in fact adding something.
    I’m exposing the violent reactionary nature of his followers for all enlightened people to consider.

Previous Posts

Bomb blast in Karachi targets Dawoodi Bohra community
This happens almost every day in Pakistan - fanatic hirabists commit arrogant blasphemy and murder fellow Muslims in cold blood. This time, the target wa

posted 8:22:26am Mar. 20, 2015 | read full post »

Proof denies faith
On Reddit, someone posted the following question: "What convinces you that the Quran is the literal Word of God?" I think this is precisely the wrong question. The book/movie Life of Pi directly

posted 9:33:46am Mar. 13, 2015 | read full post »

Proud to be American, proud to be Muslim
This is a guest post by Safiya Dahodwala. Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin TUS graced the land of America for the first time as the 53rd Dai (spiritual leader) of the Dawoodi Bohra Muslim community. It has been nearly a decade since his predecessor, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin bestowed his bountiful bl

posted 12:58:00pm Mar. 05, 2015 | read full post »

is ISIS Islamic? Wrong question.
There is an excellent longform essay on ISIS published in The Atlantic, "What does ISIS Really Want?" that lays out an excellent case fore ISIS being genuinely different in ideology, motivation and ethos than Al Qaeda. The real question boils down to, is ISIS "Islamic" or not - and makes an excellen

posted 11:34:08pm Feb. 17, 2015 | read full post »

The Price of Extremism
This is a guest post by Durriya Badani. The execution style murder of three young North Carolina students, two of whom were hijab wearing Muslim women, raises questions regarding the rise of Islamaphobia in the United States in the form of hate crimes. Some will argue that the motive for the inc

posted 11:26:53am Feb. 12, 2015 | read full post »

Advertisement


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.