Innocence of Muslims is one of the hardest cases for liberals I’ve come across.
Depends what sort of liberal you are talking about I suppose. But to this classical liberal it’s all really very simple indeed.
We have decided that freedom and liberty trump the giving of offence. Freedom of speech is one of the founding principles of our society, along with freedom of association and equality before the law. These have all been hard fought for over the past millennium and while it’s a very partial view of our history it is indeed possible to follow the thread through it. Indeed Whig, liberal, history pretty much does this.
There are societies built on alternative propositions: certainly there are some where freedom of speech does not include the ability to call the King a poopyhead nor a prophet a paedophile. Or a figment of the collective imagination, a series of folk tales cobbled together or gay (note, these are indeed all things that have been said, in our society, about a prophet central to one of the religions practiced in it) or whatever it is that one might want to say.
No one has to agree with these things, no one has to accept them, but all have to tolerate their being said. That’s just what we mean by being liberal, being a liberal society. So why this case should be problematic for a liberal I’m just not sure. Either you’re in favour of the freedom of speech, yes even for those who mightily piss off tens of thousands to hundreds of millions of people, or you’re not a liberal.
Rather case closed at that point.
Agreed, we do permit of two exceptions: libel and the incitement to imminent violence. Other than that, as the Onion has revived the old Salman Rushdie joke:
WASHINGTON—Following the publication of the image above, in which the most cherished figures from multiple religious faiths were depicted engaging in a lascivious sex act of considerable depravity, no one was murdered, beaten, or had their lives threatened, sources reported Thursday. The image of the Hebrew prophet Moses high-fiving Jesus Christ as both are having their erect penises vigorously masturbated by Ganesha, all while the Hindu deity anally penetrates Buddha with his fist, reportedly went online at 6:45 p.m. EDT, after which not a single bomb threat was made against the organization responsible, nor did the person who created the cartoon go home fearing for his life in any way. Though some members of the Jewish, Christian, Hindu, and Buddhist faiths were reportedly offended by the image, sources confirmed that upon seeing it, they simply shook their heads, rolled their eyes, and continued on with their day.
Myself I think there’s actually something rather deeper at issue here. We say we’ve freedom of speech and in the US the Constitution decrees it. Yet there are large parts of the world which don’t have it: OK, so far, so obvious. What is the real problem perhaps is that those who do not have it really, properly, do not understand what it is. Fair enough given that all too many in our own society don’t understand it: you can say what you like as long as it’s not hurtful for example, or racist, or fascist, as various groups try to variously insist at times.
But many really just don’t get it: the US Government has no power over what some shithead in California decides to say about Islam or Mohammed. It’s not that they ignore it, or desire it to be said, or encourage it or anything like that at all.
To make an analogy: early 1990s, Moscow officials come to London to try and work out this free market thing. One asks “Well, who is in charge of bread supplies for London?”. He simply does not believe the answer “No one”. It is so far out of his knowledge of the world that he cannot even conceive that the answer could be correct. If something happens it is because some individual or system plans and makes it happen. Voluntary cooperation through markets on a large scale just cannot be shoehorned into his worldview.
And thus I think it is with many in that wide world about free speech. Given that their own societies do not allow it (and yes, this does apply to those ruling the societies as well as those in them) they simply cannot conceive of a world or a place where this freedom exists. That’s why they get so confused about it when it happens.