Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Islam Trashes Freedom of Speech ?

There was a lot of fuss recently about Comedy Central censoring an episode of South Park for disrespecting the messenger of Allah, Muhammad, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him.

People whose hearts are filled with the hatred of Islam immediately jumped on this as an example of Islam's supposed killing of free speech. This is despite the fact there is almost nothing useful to be gained by blashpemy; indeed it is outlawed in many countries, including Denmark, where the courts quite hypocritically said that making offensive drawings of the sayyid al-kawnayn is not blasphemy, even though mocking the messenger of Allah is a crime more offensive than demolishing the ka`bah.

At any rate, hypocrisy is usually quite thinly veiled. It seems that one of the lines regarding freedom of speech is drawn quite defiantly at criticizing Israel. Please read the following news article and tell us who is a bigger enemy of free speech, Muslims in America, or the Israeli lobby...

Helen Thomas went over the top, but why is she gagged in the land of the free?

Helen Thomas Helen Thomas. Photograph: Hyungwon Kang/Reuters

Whatever one thinks of the views propounded by the (former) doyenne of the White House press corps, Helen Thomas, one of the series of punishments administered to her seems disproportionate.

Soon after the 89-year-old journalist was filmed saying that Jews should "get the hell out of Palestine" and go "home" to Germany and Poland, she lost her job. (See the video here).

As Michael Tomasky points out, it was her reference to Germany and Poland that did for her. It was, quite simply, a disgraceful, thoughtless and indefensible statement. She went way over the top.

So, despite her having issued an apology on her website, it was probably no real surprise that Hearst newspapers announced her immediate "retirement". She has had a long run, after all.

But it's the next bit of the story that concerns me. She was also dumped by her speaking agency, which issued a statement: "In light of recent events, Nine Speakers is no longer able to represent Ms Thomas, nor can we condone her comments on the Middle East."

The agency's president, Diane Nine, later emailed HuffPost to say: "We no longer represent Helen for books or lectures or anything else."

So, in the land of the free, where freedom of speech is guaranteed under the constitution, a person who expresses what are deemed to be controversial views is effectively gagged. Has Ms Nine never heard of Voltaire?

I note that Thomas was also required to step down from delivering a high school graduation speech.

I imagine it's just the beginning of a process of public, and media, exclusion for Thomas. That may be a personal problem for her (though, at her age, she may not care). But, as she would be the first to grasp, it has wider implications.

It is one of those rare occasions in which one can see clearly how people in America who are willing to express anti-establishment opinions are demonised, marginalised and finally excluded from public debate.

Did I say "people"? I mean, of course, those who are identified as liberals. Right-wing TV and radio hosts can say what they like, however outrageous. Some iconoclasts are obviously freer than others.

Posted by Roy Greenslade Tuesday 8 June 2010 09.18 BST