Free Speech and Censorship

We’ve been viewing and discussing many images about the Arab Spring and political cartoons, but what does it all mean? What exactly is free speech and what is the difference between the cartoons drawn by Ali Farzat and Danish JP cartoons (not that these can be put under the same category). But how much free speech is too free. When does having the liberty to draw and share these cartoons (or anything for that matter) become offensive or revolutionary? Where is the line and how do exactly do we determine where the line should be drawn? Does censorship give power to the pictures or does controversy?

In my opinion, the JP cartoons were offensive. Not only were they promoting negative stereotypes, but they also ignored the perspective and objections of the Muslim population, not just in Denmark, but all over the world. The question is, what exactly justified these cartoons enough for them to publish them in their newspaper? The claim that these cartoons were not meant to be offensive and that their release was to contribute to debates about Islam. Although, I believe JP was wrong in publishing these cartoons, I also believe censoring them compromises free speech and creates a different problem. Do we really believe in free speech?  Of course, free speech should not be used to offend anybody, but what happens when free speech that was not meant to offend offends? (Not that this is necessarily the case).

Ali Farzat draws political cartoons, concentrating more recently on the Syrian uprising. His cartoons clearly criticize the regime. Farzat’s criticisms are celebrated throughout Facebook and the Arab world. The government has beaten him and tried to censor him, however their actions only strengthen the messages of his cartoons.

Although these two examples differ greatly in content and in context, I’m curious as to what free speech really means and why censorship creates what it creates. Thoughts?

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2 Responses to Free Speech and Censorship

  1. I think the important distinction here is when speech becomes hate speech. Prohibitions on hate speech vary by nation, but for the most part, newspapers and other media outlets are expected not to engage in hate speech. Ali Farzat’s cartoons are political in nature and are critical of a regime and the people within it. Meanwhile, several of the cartoons in JP were offensive and Islamophobic. Several appeared to characterize Islam as a religion of terrorists, and when one begins to generalize an entire religious group based on the actions of a few and call them terrorists, you cross a line.

  2. I would agree with the above comment. With the empowerment of free speech comes the responsibility to use it in a productive manner. From a more western viewpoint, not satirizing religion and other long standing institutions seems odd. For example, in Christianity, it is not uncommon to see images making fun of Christ on the cross, such as on these two sites: and However, Christianity does not have the rules against images of God and Jesus that Islam has for Allah or Muhammad. I think a more productive use of free speech would have been the starting of a dialogue between non Muslims and Muslims as to why such images would be offensive, instead of just going right out with the intent to offend.

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