Muslims for free speech

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Over the past couple of weeks, leaders of several Muslim countries have come before the United Nations to call for restrictions on freedom of expression. They've pointed to "The Innocence of Muslims," a video that insulted the Prophet Muhammad and sparked riots across the world. They've lectured the West on Muslim sensibilities and the limits of tolerance for blasphemy.

The riots and U.N. lectures paint a picture of Islam as a culture allergic to unfettered free speech. That picture is misleading. There are Muslim liberals. They don't show up on your TV screen because they don't riot. But they're making a case for greater tolerance. Here are just a few samples of what they've said about the latest affronts to Islam, including the video and anti-Muslim ads in New York:

The best way to counter hatred is to defy it through convincing arguments, good actions and free debate. Much can be done to fight hatred without restricting speech, and governments should condemn hatred and set the example. Any legislation that restricts free speech, including religious symbols, can be used to quell social and political dissent.

-- Muslim Public Affairs Council

The First Amendment means that everyone is free to be a bigot or even an idiot like [anti-Muslim blogger/advertiser] Pamela Geller. We wish she wasn't provoking and inciting hatred, but in America that's her right. We encourage Muslims to exercise the same right to publicly denounce such adverts.

-- Ibrahim Hooper, Council on American-Islamic Relations

As amateurish as the movie production is, it still falls in the category of freedom of speech. If you say that to people here [in Kuwait], they will read your response as: "You accept this. You are a blasphemer." They still don't understand that they don't have to accept it. They can oppose it, but in a civil manner ...

-- Ebtehal Al-Khateeb, Kuwait University

A lot of foreign leaders don't understand ... this country. [Hassan Nasrallah of Hezbollah] doesn't understand that as a law-abiding person he'd be able to practice Islam more freely in America than anywhere else in the world. If you are a Shia Muslim in Saudi Arabia, life is going to be hard. A Sunni in Iran, life is going to be hard. If you want to wear a religious [emblem] in Turkey, tough times. France, they want to ban you from wearing religious symbols. ... Freedom of speech, it's a good and bad thing. It applies to everybody. Once you start making exceptions, you start the erosion of the principle.

-- Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn.


William Saletan writes for Slate.


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