At the UN this week, we have had a fairly dramatic clash of fundamental ideas.
On Tuesday, President Obama defended the western ideal of freedom of speech, "In 2012, at a time when anyone with a cell phone can spread offensive views around the world with the click of a button, the notion that we can control the flow of information is obsolete."
But the very next day, a parade of Muslim leaders said that the West must put limits on freedom of speech. Egypt's Morsi: "Insults against the prophet of Islam, Muhammad, are not acceptable. We will not allow anyone to do this by word or by deed." Yemen's Abed Rabbu Mansour Hadi: "There should be limits for the freedom of expression, especially if such freedom blasphemes the beliefs of nations and defames their figures."
Should there be limits? I use my own freedom of expression to defame Mormons in general and Mitt Romney in particular quite a lot here on the Vine. In another article (Libya, Radicals, and the Streisand Effect) I predicted that the reaction of the Muslim world would only serve to encourage more "insults against the prophet of Islam". I was right. Within a week, a French magazine published another one. (Somehow, the Muslim world failed to explode, however, even though it was even more insulting. I wonder why?)
The Muslim world does have a double standard. Jon Stewart has observed that Friday has become "Death to America" day in many Muslim countries and you can generally count on a nice flag burning in the city square. Christian symbols are outlawed in many Muslim countries.
We shouldn't be quite so smug in the West, however. We have our own irrational prohibitions. Who can forget George Carlin's "Seven dirty Words You Can Never Say on Television". I'm not sure if you can include them in an article on the Vine or not. But Wikipedia has them. Quoting Wikipedia, they are: "shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits." In France, it's against the law for Muslim women to cover their faces with the veil. What real difference is there between that and a nun's habit? And - except in relatively rare instances like New York (currently - we'll see what the future brings), a woman can be arrested in the US for exposing her breasts. Both sexes can be arrested for exposing their genitals just about anywhere in the US. Is this a fundamental difference or just a matter of degree?
In Europe, they get even more oppressive. Denying the holocaust is a crime in Germany and other European nations. So are Nazi emblems. Various European countries prosecute people all the time for trashing other cultures (usually Muslims). The experience of Geert Wilders, a member of the House of Representatives of the Netherlands, is typical. He was charged with "incitement to hatred and discrimination" for things he said about Muslims. It took over two years of trials to finally find him not guilty quite recently.
The US, with our insistance on the right to say whatever we want (as long as it doesn't involve sex or bodily waste eliminiation), is an exception in the world today. In most of the rest of the world, you can get in big trouble saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.
So ... the question is ... what limits should there be on free speech. Take the poll. (I wanted to make it multiple choice, but the Vine doesn't appear to support that.)