Standing up for free speech
by: John Tyrrell
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In light of last week's events, the furor about The Interview and the Sony hack almost seems like ancient news. I would suggest that the widespread condemnation of Sony and major movie theatre chains for cancelling the planned release of the film in response to a possible North Korean terror threat primed the pump for the past week's overwhelming expression of support for free speech.
While there might be some doubts about whether North Korea was indeed responsible for the actual Sony hack, there is no doubt the leadership of the country was vehemently opposed to the release of The Interview because of the depiction of the so-called "Supreme Leader", Kim Jong-un.
Widespread public pressure based on support for free speech pushed Sony into finding alternate means to release the film. We saw almost no-one outside of North Korea arguing that Kim Jong-un should be immune to criticism or mockery due to his near divine status in his country. And it is a near divine status for all three Kims, the dead Great Leader, the dead Dear Leader, and the current Supreme Leader - all three of whom have been elected to eternal positions in government. Criticism of the Kims is essentially blasphemous and totally forbidden as far as the North Koreans are concerned.
And the world stood up for free speech to get The Interview released.
Whether or not anyone noticed, the incident ensured the issue of free speech was in the active memory of the public when radical Muslims callously murdered staff members of Charlie Hebdo. And that act of terrorism has been framed as a free speech issue.*
If we look back to 1989 and the Satanic Verses controversy, and what were trumped up accusations of blasphemy, numerous liberals of the bleeding-heart variety lined up with many Western religious leaders, effectively in support of the Ayatollah, to condemn the author and agree that we in the West should respect the feelings of Muslims about their religion. We saw a similar reaction to a lesser degree when Charlie Hebdo was firebombed in 2011 - some Western liberals dutifully parroted the line that the newspaper deserved it for insulting Islam.
No more. When real blood was on the floor last week, liberals** (and I must mention, European religious leaders, including those from all three Abrahamic faiths) stood up - as too many of them had failed to do in previous years - stood up for the basic liberal freedom of free speech.
Remarkably I would thank Kim Jong-un for that - he set the stage through excessive concern for his own pathetic dignity.
Free speech is always worth standing up for. Whether you agree with what is being said is irrelevant.
* I may at some future time put forward an extended argument that the cartoons in Charlie Hebdo were only an excuse. (Alternatively, I'd invite one of you to take it on.) Certainly the cartoons had nothing to do with the two recent incidents in Canada, nothing to do with the Australian coffee shop, and nothing to do with Boston. If someone wants to kill for their particular religion, there's always a way to find an excuse.
** I wish I could say the same for conservatives. Too many - particularly American conservatives - took the opportunity to blame Obama (seriously!) or to let their feelings about Charlie Hebdo's attacks on Christianity and Judaism influence them to side with those who would blame the victims. Last week American conservatives gave up all right to accuse anyone else of being wishy-washy on Islamic terrorism.
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