What is the obligation of a Western, democratic government to protect individual freedoms in light of a realistic terrorist threat? Are the producers of South Park right to forfeit their freedom of expression in the interests of protecting their employees? Are the governments of Europe right to ban burqas in the interest of fostering a more open society?
Sally Quinn and Jon Meacham on May 3, 2010 10:42 AM
For a society to continue to thrive, no particular identity can be allowed to threaten the common good. Nobody gets to say that my religious, ethnic, racial, or gender identity requires me to dominate you. If that happens, the state needs to step in - balancing its power with our cherished civil rights - to protect the broader society.
Those who restrict the freedom of expression are not supporting democracy, they are diminishing it. A nanny state is not a free one. Violence and intolerance are pathologies that cannot be cured by fear any more than AIDS or cancer can be cured by fear.
How possibly can the dogmatically assertive force of extremist Islamist justice possibly square with the overt expressionism and ebullient spirit of an irreverent America? One is synonymous with irrational terror and the other with an irrational optimism.
Western democratic governments suffer from a double handicap when they encounter extreme behavior from other cultures. In a contemporary context, these behaviors are often connected with some expressions of Islam.
Posted by Adin Steinsaltz, on May 5, 2010 10:00 AM
Can we be upset in these times of heightened national security that the Belgians and French want to know who is walking around on their streets? And in these times when sensitivity about religion and respect are at a boil, cannot the arbiters of Western media show a little restraint?
Posted by Feisal Abdul Rauf, on May 5, 2010 9:48 AM
Free societies ought to have the social and cultural space for diverse religious expressions or no religious expressions at all. They ought to go beyond tolerance to hospitality to the Other. However, violence and the threat of violence have no place in a free society, and we all ought to say so.
Posted by Valerie Elverton Dixon, on May 4, 2010 4:19 PM
I would hope that the appropriate authorities are taking all necessary steps to investigate the bastards that are threatening violence against the creators and producers of South Park. We can only be free to exercise good judgment if we're also free to exercise bad judgment.
The point is, the clothing one wears is often an outward and visible expression of an inward and invisible commitment. Governments begin meddling in such expression at extreme risk to the very "open society" they hope to promulgate.
Europe needs to separate the issues of dress and security, since connecting them invites the worst kind of profiling. If the burqa goes simply for being a burqa, so might the yarmulka. Perhaps even then, the Papal Zucchetto?
Violent interpretations of Islam can't gain any traction unless they provoke extreme responses that in turn are used to justify violence. Enemies create enemies, and soon the "descending spiral" of which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke so eloquently, is well on its way down into the darkness.
Posted by Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, on May 3, 2010 7:18 PM
Freedom of expression means that I can object to your characterization of my religion; I can dispute it; I can be furious over it. But I may not threaten you because of it. Religious conviction exempts no one from human kindness. Properly understood, it should reinforce it.