The danger of free speech

Everyone has heard of the horrible terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo. It was basically in retaliation to drawings of Muhammadblasphemy! What a crime, huh? Naturally, I've seen some people blame the cartoonists for being so evil that they don't follow the rules of a religion that isn't their own. Their deaths were justified, right? This is the danger of free speech.

I doubt many people, barring fundamentalist Muslims, think the cartoonists actually deserved to die, but there are plenty of so-called "liberals" who go against liberal values just to be apologetic of Islam. They are still liberals, but contradict their own values by saying, "You can't be offensive to a whole religion." Of course you can! It's when you make exceptions that you hurt free speech, and for pretty much no real reason. Censorship is a slippery slope, and that liberals are for censorship of criticisms against conservative religions and ideologies (of non-whites) is something I will never grasp.

You can criticize Christianity. You can criticize ideologies like communism and capitalism. Liberals always criticize conservatism, without a second thought that many people subscribe to conservative values and are offended by the criticisms. And yet, Islam is off limits. We can't draw Muhammad... because adult human beings will be upset and protest in scores. Plenty of people will even send death threats. And some will enforce these threats.

There. Now complain about how offensive this is.

There are true Islamophobic people who think a person is automatically a menace to society just for being Muslim, or even just for being from the Middle East, even if they're an atheist. Of course, atheists are also a menace to society, right? Plenty of Christians and Muslims seem to think so, and apostates are the worst. To paint all Muslims as evil, bigoted terrorists is wrong, but to paint all of them as innocent victims is wrong, as well.

Free speech and the right to criticize religions and ideologies are important. But bigotry toward all Muslims (not criticism of Islam) is also wrong. I stand with satirists, intellectuals, and freethinkers who criticize Islam and other religions and ideologies, but I do NOT stand with true Islamophobes who target innocent Muslims for no reason other than a shared label.

Liberals who criticize Islam, like Bill Maher or Sam Harris, don't mean that a Muslim is automatically an evil person. Nor are Maher and Harris racists, as Islam is not a race and they are not criticizing "dark-skinned Muslims", but rather an ideology. They're not saying ALL Muslims are bad people just for being Muslims. What they are saying is that Islam is a bad ideology that needs to be reformed, just like Christianity was and in large part still is being reformed. Note that I don't necessarily agree with everything Maher and Harris have said.

Many religions are conservative in nature; liberals do NOT give them a free pass just because they're a sensitive topic. At least liberals shouldn't do that, and yet many do. Countless theists are conservative with their beliefs as either the cause or at least the justification. It's not uncommon to hear Christians and Muslims alike spew ignorant propaganda about LGBT and atheists, for example. Of course theists don't have monopoly on conservatism and bigotry and atheists don't have monopoly on liberalism and tolerance, but religion is often one of the causes of conservative and bigoted values.

So what is it I want? As an atheist, I want all religions to one day be gone, forever. But I don't want to force this; I want to achieve this through education, argumentation, and science. I want every person to be able to practice whatever religion or non-religion they want, as long as it has no negative effects on someone else. I don't want all Muslims to "leave my country", as I believe my country is as much theirs as it is mine; I am strictly opposed to nationalism.

I do not want an apology from Muslims; I don't hold Muslims responsible for the actions of other Muslims. But I do see the connection between Islamic terrorism and the Islamic faith, even though most Muslims are not terrorists. I do see the connection between conservatism and Islam, which is much more prevalent than terrorism, just like with Christianity. I want Muslims to stop using the no-true-Scotsman argument and recognize that there is a problem with Islam (perhaps in large part because of socioeconomic factors, but also because of Islam's source material and the culture on which Islam has had a huge impact); I want Muslims to work toward an Islam that aligns more with progressive values.

As a liberal, one should NOT be irrationally afraid of Islam or Muslims; one should NOT make snap decisions about people from the Middle East or people who subscribe to the Islamic faith; one should, however, criticize Islam and drive it into reform, so it can progress into the modern world and keep up with liberal values. I believe Islam is making its way there, albeit slowly; progressive voices are still not loud enough. If we are to make it there, we need a free society which sets a clear example of progressive values, in contrast to the conservative values present in the Islamic world.

In fact, the Muslims I have met in secular Sweden where I live have been nice and seem to have values not too different from mine, in some regards, at least. This means that Islam can be secularized; it can be construed in a liberal way. A secular environment will breed a progressive Islam, which means Islam like Christianity isn't inflexibly incompatible with western society. It means Muslims are normal people who are affected by many factors, like any other person, and they have the same right to live in the west as non-Muslims.

If we submit to the demands of terrorists and stop criticizing bad ideologies, then progress will not be made. If we submit every time someone feels insulted and even uses terror tactics, free speech will soon be but a memory. We must stand up for our progressive values and help bring Islam into the twenty-first century. The danger of free speech is the ease with which it can be abolishedif we let it.

I am for free speech; I am a liberal; I am Charlie Hebdo. Je suis Charlie!