The Weight Of Free Speech

Mohammed Abu Zaid

David Lin hopes to open a restaurant next year and his strategy is bit different. While good food will be on the menu, the exterior of his restaurant features a mural depicting Chinese police officers beating a demonstrator while a Tibetan monk sets himself on fire.  Lin says that it’s a political statement about China’s human rights abuses.

Of course the Chinese government disapproves.

Last week two government officials wanted to have the mural removed.

They ran into a bit of a problem, David Lin doesn’t live in China, he lives in Corvallis, Oregon. The Taiwanese immigrant wants everyone to know that he is opposed to the communist government of China.  The Chinese government sent the officials from their consulate in San Francisco to see if the Mayor of Corvallis would put an end to Mr Lin’s mural.

Corvallis Mayor Julie Manning refused.  She explained to the men that Americans have the right to say what they want to say.  That right is protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.  That Constitution is one of the reasons Mr. Lin moved  to the United States.

What’s interesting is that the Government of China travelled all the way to Oregon to see if our government would take away Mr Lin’s right to express his opinion.  I suppoe this didn’t seem odd to them because they not only oppose free speech, they have also never experienced it… or its side effects.

If it sounds oppressive and fascist that someone would not only monitor what is being said about their country in someone else’s country, and then travel to that other country to try to get them to enforce your laws in their country, you probably also wouldn’t like what happened in Libya this week.

Tuesday the United States mission to Libya was attacked and burned resulting in the death of 4 Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.  It was an attack precipitated and “justified” by the widespread airing of a movie trailer on television news.

The trailer is for a movie that no one has really seen and that no one in America took seriously.  It came and went in less than a day, over a year ago. The movie was titled: “The Innocence of Muslims” and among it’s claims is that the Islamic prophet Muhammad was a pedophile and a homosexual.

The trailer sprung from obscurity as conservative groups began promoting it on the internet.  Eventually a version dubbed into Arabic appeared and became headline news throughout North Africa.

 People there took to the streets in response.

In Cairo the flag at the U.S. Embassy was torn down.  In Libya, a country with a general populace still well-armed from the recent civil war, militia groups took the opportunity to do much worse.

An American had the right to make the film he made.

It was an act protected by our Government.

What happened outside our country as a result of that freedom was something that we rarely take into consideration, even though our media went global long ago.

We truly do have the right to say what we want to say, but we also face the repercussions of what our words reveal in the hearts of other people.

I have the right to say that your spouse is ugly, but in return I expect to incur your wrath.

It would be foolish of me to expect your wrath to be reasonable.

It would also be nearsighted to expect that you are going to play by my rules in your house, even if I rightly believe that your rules are barbaric or intolerant.

American freedom of speech is not granted or guaranteed in the majority of our world. Because of this many people have never been offended in the way that Westerners are capable of offending.  Many times we are shocked that their responses are more hostile that we could never have imagined.

We tend to think that our freedom of speech precludes another persons right to be offended in the same way that those “other people” may  think that their right to be offended excuses their response.

Killing people who offend you is wrong.

Killing people who had nothing to do with offending your religion is cowardice.

Expecting that there will be no repercussions for our words is foolish.

Expecting that others will enforce our laws in their country is illogical.

Do we consider what the consequences of our words will be before using our freedoms?

Will we also consider what the consequences of our words will be for others?

On September 11th, 2012 a gang of murderers hoped to tell America to shut up.

It actually served as a reminder of how great our freedom truly is.

It was also a reminder that our great freedoms come with tremendous responsibilities…

Especially when we have no idea how irresponsible the oppressed and their oppressors can be.

Paint your mural Mr. Lin, just don’t visit China anytime soon.

Freedom always comes with a heavy price tag.

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