I found the Innocence of Muslims trailer so disgusting that I do not want to repeat what it said of Mohammed, even as a description of it. A Hizb-ut-Tahrir spokesman said that rules on curtailment of free speech were merely cultural: in Germany, Holocaust denial is a crime. Can we say that the rules are rational, rather than cultural? Should we permit even the most extreme insults of Mohammed?
If Muslims show that such insults will lead to violence, by rioting and murdering an ambassador- even a tiny minority of non-representative Muslims- then arguably the speaker of the insults bears some responsibility for the response. But that is to treat the rioters as less than responsible moral agents, as less than adult; and if the rioters succeeded in preventing such grotesque insults now, they might object to reasoned criticism of the Koran later.
Perhaps not only restrictions on free speech, but also resort to physical violence, is a cultural thing. Indeed the koran exhorts a man to beat his wife if she displeases him and “leaving her alone in the sleeping-places” does not correct her. (It does not exhort a woman to beat her husband in any circumstances.) But use of destructive physical violence where other means can help is a sign of lack of civilisation, and inability to cooperate properly. It is backward. Perhaps this is why Muslims are unable to resist when more advanced cultures invade their lands. God is clearly not on their side. I do not think the invasions are a good thing.
Free speech is how we advance in understanding. It is how the learnings of all can be diffused to all, because if speech is controlled and the controller is stupider than the speaker, we all lose. The price we pay for the greater understanding is tolerating lies and vileness, which can be limited in their effect by persuasion and derision.
So, telling someone that his concept of “Allah” is worthless, not useful or truthful or even interesting, should not be forbidden but encouraged. Possibly there are useful understandings of God somewhere in Islamic tradition, but they are not to be found in wahhabism or salafism. Also, if God is a useful concept- I believe it is- then human beings increase in our understanding of what God is, and what right conduct is. The thought that there should be one final, all-sufficient revelation in the seventh century is merely ridiculous, and the thought that studying that alleged revelation is more important than gaining knowledge of God’s good creation is what has made Muslim countries so weak and backward. Most of the victims of Muslim violence are Muslim.
Free speech should be limited where it is an immediate call to violence- “That man is a blasphemer, Kill him!” for example. Not even all calls to violence should be prevented: we refute Tony Blair’s gung-ho calls for invasion by reason, not by the restriction of his speech. Rabble-rousing is immoral, but calling for the death penalty for the murderers of ambassadors is not, though I happen to disapprove of the death penalty.
I have illustrated this post with some particularly pretty pictures of pigs because I find them beautiful animals. If a Muslim finds my post provoking, it is a sign of his weakness. Look at those piglets! Are they not utterly sweet? And while it might have been sensible not to eat pork in the seventh century, refrigeration and modern, humane (as opposed to antiquated and cruel) forms of slaughter deal with all such problems.
And- Holocaust denial is a wicked lie. There is far more evidence for, say, the Wansee conference than that Mohammed had anything to do with the Arab conquest of Jerusalem. No German born after 1925 has any moral responsibility for it, but all of Europe has a duty to remember the Holocaust.