Thursday, October 05, 2006

Free Speech in a World with Fanatics

Last week a Mozart opera was cancelled. The reason given was fear that it would offend Muslim extremists. Many people, both conservative and liberal are upset by this action. I count this as a win for free speech. Here's why.

First, the opera as staged ends with a denunciation of religion. The heads of various religious figures including Mohamed are displayed. The opera company felt that this was likely to offend Muslim sensibilities. They checked with the German government which could not guarantee their safety so they cancelled the opera.

There are several ways that this could have played out. The possibly offending scene in not in the opera so opera company could have removed it or kept it in but removed references to Mohamed or they could have kept it in and hoping that no one noticed and reacted if someone did complain.

The first option is exactly what the various world-wide protests are about. They are staged in order to make the secular west grant special treatment to Islam. Choices like this are probably made weekly, maybe even daily. No one wants to be the next person to offend Muslims world-wide.

If the opera company had left the scene alone and someone had complained then they would be in the same position as the newspapers that ran the Mohamed cartoons. Critics across the world would be condemning them for not being sensitive to Muslims.

The strange thing is that the same critics took the opera company's side against possible Muslim sensitivity in this case. Without world-wide riots, people realized that this is a very basic free-speech issue.

So, by seeming to acquiesce to Muslim demands but by doing it pro-actively and publicly, they changed the argument. South park did the same thing by running a caption saying that they were not allowed to show Mohamed.

Others need to follow suit. We need to raise a little righteous indignation of our own.

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