Κυριακή, 19 Σεπτεμβρίου 2010

To Hate or Not to Speak?

I just read in the New York Times this very thoughtful Op-ed by Nicholas Kristof. He is, in effect, condemning the ease, by which we attribute collective responsibility either to Muslims or to Christians for despicable deeds done in the name of the respective religion. He is also pointing out instances of generous and praiseworthy deeds done in the name of religions.

Although he does make a convincing case against this collective blame-game, he does allow the reader to infer that some forms of islamic culture do, indeed, call for women to be elevated to second-class status, leading them out of elementary education and, in many instances, even subjecting them to circumcision; not to mention fatwās issued against those who are deemed to have blasphemed against the Prophet. One could, indeed, note that some forms of Islam are in direct contravention to the very core of our western values, including some fundamental human rights. This discussion is ever more relevant to our societies, where many people of Muslim faith form their own communities and might, indeed, practice some of their worst breaches of human rights within the borders of our country. If we wish to protect the values that we have elected to codify into law and into human rights, it is obvious that we have to criticize such practices.

However, any such criticism might be out of bounds, if political correctness has its way in Greece. It is already a crime to express ideas that might potentially incite hatred towards a group of people based on their ethnicity, their ancestry, their religion. This law is, actually, in compliance with international conventions, which Greece has signed and ratified, allegedly for combatting discrimination in all its forms. What's more, similar legislation in other European countries has been held, directly or indirectly, to be consistent with the freedom of expression provisions of the European Treaty for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Unfortunately, nothing like the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution can guarantee actual free speech for us Europeans. 

It seems that political correctness is about to stifle it even more, as new legislation is currently being prepared, that will be even more protective of the alleged collective rights of religious or ethnic groups. That the individual rights of members of those groups can best be protected by the flow of free speech seems almost irrelevant; and that free speech, particularly that which might be repugnant or offensive to a majority at first, is what makes the exchange of ideas, necessary for a democracy to function, possible.

Reading Kristof's article once more, I believe that a Greek Prosecutor could make, even under the current statute, a case against him for potentially inciting hatred based on religion (after all, he did mention instances of people following the perceived tenets of their religion and violating the human rights of others). I hope that my linking to it will not be considered a felony as well.

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