Western liberalism and free speech


Putting the idea of “free speech” in historical perspective. Here are excerpt from the article:

“Even as they were establishing the very foundations of modern liberal societies, from the tenets of freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion to the basis for democratic forms of governance, Enlightenment thinkers were nearly universal in their expression of support for a world built on racial hierarchies and the expansion of new European empires that depended largely on the use of violence to control colonial subjects….

“Western countries have had no qualms about setting aside their liberal values to offer full-fledged support to authoritarian regimes in the Middle East that, incidentally, create the repressive climate that has been proven to give rise to militant extremism….

“The abhorrent violence by some Muslims is a recent phenomenon, and one that must be confronted by addressing the failure of western liberalism to live up to its stated ideals, not by reflexively continuing to sing its praises….”

Article by Abdullah Al-Arian, assistant professor of history at Georgetown University:

Published by

Jonathan Erdman

Writer. In the summers, I live and work in the incredible state of Alaska, in the bush community of McCarthy, as the Executive Director of the Wrangell Mountain Center. When not in McCarthy, you'll typically find me in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, writing and working with local activists. My primary writing project right now is a novel set in remote bush Alaska, of the magical realism genre wherein an earnest and independent young woman finds a mysterious radio belonging to her grandmother, a device that has paranormal bandwidth and a disturbing ability to mess with one's mental stability.

8 thoughts on “Western liberalism and free speech”

  1. “The whole point of Charlie’s satire was to be tasteless and obscene, to respect no proprieties, to make its point by being untameable and incorrigible and therefore unpublishable anywhere else. The speech it exemplified was not free to express itself anywhere but in its pages. Its spirit was insurrectionist and anti-idealist, and its creators would be dumbfounded to find themselves memorialized as exemplars of a freedom that they always insisted was perpetually in danger and in need of a defense that only offensiveness could provide. To transform the shock of Charlie’s obscenities into veneration of its martyrdom is to turn the magazine into the kind of icon against which its irrepressible iconoclasm was directed.”

    – from this commentary, also printed in Al-Jazeera. I’ve never seen an issue of Charlie Hebdo, so I can’t say whether it’s more anti-Islamic than it is anti-Christian and anti-Jewish. Have you engaged in any interesting discussions about Charlie, Erdman?


    1. No major discussions, no. However, our friend Jason Hesiak posted (on Facebook) a very provocative picture from Charlie Hebdo, which sparked many comments — it showed the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in a very graphic three-some. So, yes, it appears that they defame all religions equally. Hesiak denounced CH, and I tend to agree with him, not that I mind people publishing dirty cartoons, but when it comes to Islam, it does not seem like they are making a serious point but simply being provocative for the sake of it, to piss off radical Muslims. Now why the fuck would anyone do that in today’s world? Should they have the “right” to do that? Sure. I suppose. I just think that they assholes for doing it.


  2. I don’t have a firm opinion about this. A few considerations: Charlie Hebdo has been around for a long time, so it’s not like a new provocation. They’re not particularly interested in religious tolerance; they’re explicitly anti-theist. As I understand it, they’re supportive of a multicultural but secularist France, which is pretty close to the French government’s official position. Charlie Hebdo is also avowedly leftist — we’ll recall that the Soviets and the Red Chinese banned religious expression as a counter-revolutionary force. So I assume that Charlie Hebdo isn’t just a bunch of cranky assholes — they’re political. And now we learn that Al-Qaeda has taken credit for planning and implementing the attack. Again, this isn’t just an emotional response of a couple of guys who got rubbed the wrong way by some cartoons. It’s a direct political action. So now I wonder what strategic ends are envisioned in this attack. The US and its allies seem intent on destabilizing the Middle East in a divide-and-conquer approach. Presumably Al-Qaeda is pursuing a similar strategy.


    1. And are you saying that this battle between secular fundamentalism and religious fundamentalism has some connection with U.S. policy of destabilizing the Middle East?


  3. Like I said, I don’t have a firm opinion. Why now for Al Qaeda to arrange this hit on Charlie Hebdo, when presumably they could have done it anytime? What do they hope to achieve? Surely Charlie Hebdo has symbolic value both for radical Islam and for the West. Are Al Qaeda counting on amped-up anti-Islamic sentiment in France to radicalize the European Islamic minority still farther? Does increased antagonism from the West enhance the public perception of Al Qaeda and Islamic State in those sectors of the Middle East destabilized by Western military incursions and financial wheeling-dealing?

    I’m certainly not suggesting that the West arranged this hit. Still, it’s clear that the political-military actions of a decentralized radical Islam do give the US and its allies carte blanche to launch military strikes on the soil of sovereign nations. And being chased around the Middle East probably does give IS and Al Qaeda a bigger perceived presence than might otherwise be the case. So you could say that both sides are able to use each other, even if they’re not in cahoots.


Consider this post an invitation, an invitation to comment and collaborate ~ In Solidarity, JE

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