In Defense Of Blasphemy


Andrew Exum has an moving post on Terry Jones and the Middle Eastern response to his Koran burning. How many Muslims understand free speech?

In my many travels through the Islamic world, there is both widespread admiration for the freedom of political speech we enjoy here in the United States as well as incomprehension regarding the freedom of religious speech we enjoy. It’s all well and good to be able to denounce the president, but why on Earth do we Americans allow people to speak ill of Jesus Christ, or the Virgin Mary, or Muhammad?

If “freedom of speech” means watching some artist immerse a crucifix in urine or defecate on the Bible, no thanks. Because in the Islamic world (as well as in the region of the United States where I grew up), God isn’t some abstract idea, and Jesus and Muhammad were real prophets of God who should be venerated. A common refrain I hear, whether in Afghanistan or in the Arabic-speaking world, is that we Americans should have reasonable limits on what we can say and do regarding religious speech. 

Exum goes on to give a full-throated defense of free speech – no matter how disgusting or intolerant. Forbidding open debate on religious matters is, to my mind, the worst kind of censorship. The classical liberal view is that precisely because these matters are of supreme importance, open, unfettered engagement with them – positive or negative – matters. Laws against blasphemy simply violate the core principles of the Founding Fathers. And many blasphemers have eventually turned into prophets.

(Photo by Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)