William Saletan writes: The Arab spring has freed hundreds of millions of Muslims from the political retardation of dictatorship. They’re taking responsibility for governing themselves and their relations with other countries. They’re debating one another and challenging us. And they should, because we’re hypocrites.
From Pakistan to Iran to Saudi Arabia to Egypt to Nigeria to the United Kingdom, Muslims scoff at our rhetoric about free speech. They point to European laws against questioning the Holocaust. Monday on CNN, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad needled British interviewer Piers Morgan: “Why in Europe has it been forbidden for anyone to conduct any research about this event? Why are researchers in prison? … Do you believe in the freedom of thought and ideas, or no?” On Tuesday, Pakistan’s U.N. ambassador, speaking for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, told the U.N. Human Rights Council:
We are all aware of the fact that laws exist in Europe and other countries which impose curbs, for instance, on anti-Semitic speech, Holocaust denial, or racial slurs. We need to acknowledge, once and for all, that Islamophobia in particular and discrimination on the basis of religion and belief are contemporary forms of racism and must be dealt with as such. Not to do so would be a clear example of double standards. Islamophobia has to be treated in law and practice equal to the treatment given to anti-Semitism.
Saletan goes on to describe many of the cases of hate speech that have gone before (mostly) European courts.
How can you justify prosecuting cases like these while defending cartoonists and video makers who ridicule Mohammed? You can’t. Either you censor both, or you censor neither. Given the choice, I’ll stand with Obama. “Efforts to restrict speech,” he warned the U. N., “can quickly become a tool to silence critics and oppress minorities.”
That principle, borne out by the wretched record of hate-speech prosecutions, is worth defending. But first, we have to live up to it.