No. We should not respect other people’s beliefs

No. No, no, no. This is not about free speech as opposed to beliefs. It better not be. If it is, we’re headed straight for holy wars.

I’m talking about this sort of thing: BBC News – Film protest: Egypt PM urges US to end ‘insults’.

“At the same time we need to reach a balance between freedom of expression and to maintain respect for other peoples’ beliefs.”

There is no way to “respect beliefs” and have freedom of speech. It’s impossible. Think about it, Minister Qandil, for a microsecond. If my belief is that you speak drivel and should shut up, you can say nothing. If your belief is that I speak drivel and should shut up, neither of us can say anything if we’re both going to be “respectful.” Or, if we both talk and infuriate each other, then the only way to get “respect” is to silence the other. And only the dead are silent.

The malicious film is not a problem because it insults a religion. It’s a problem because its whole and only purpose is to inflict hate on people. It is not making a political statement, it is not arguing about anything. It’s trying to spit in the eye of people it hates. That is hate speech. It is incitement to riot. It is already illegal. It is an abuse of free speech. It is not protected under free speech laws.

The only problem is the growing US inability to understand that religion is a belief system, not an excuse. We should not lose all ability to tell right from wrong just because somebody hangs a judeochristian religious label on crap.

(Although when it involves a Muslim, the FBI seems to see “material support” for terrorists where only criticism exists. One example: Glenn Greenwald on the arrest of a person expressing outrage over the Abu Ghraib atrocities.)

We should take a deep breath, take our courage in our hands, and actually be responsible for some judgment calls. Avoiding responsibility with wishy-washy excuses about not having any right to judge anyone means only handing a blank check to the biggest bully to do their worst.

It’s pretty obvious where that leads. Haters incite hate and before you know it, real people with real families and real friends have died.

That’s why there are laws against hate speech. That’s why there are laws against incitement to riot.

By understanding the real reason why that sort of crap has to be squelched, it becomes clear that it is not criticism of religion which is the problem. Nobody can tell anybody to stop expressing their thoughts on a religion. They can insist on not hearing them. It’s the same as the idea behind the brown paper covers on porn mags. I don’t want to know what’s going on in the sewer of your mind, and you don’t have to tell me.

It becomes hate speech when you insist on rubbing my mind in your hated message. Then the intent is to hurt. Not to communicate. Then it’s hate speech.

That revolting film wasn’t noticed by anyone but the revolting people who made it. Pathetic, but not a huge issue. They didn’t like that. So they paid to have it translated into Arabic. That is hate speech, pure and simple.

We don’t have to slavishly avoid offending every bizarre — or even ordinary — belief system on the planet. We have to enforce our own laws against hate speech and incitement to riot. As a matter of fact, the solution is to be more willing to offend beliefs. When somebody’s beliefs result in hatred and harm we have to be ready to stand up to them and say, “NO.”

Crossposted from Acid Test

15 Comments on “No. We should not respect other people’s beliefs”

  1. SophieCT says:

    Wow. This is excellent. I was just having this conversation elsewhere and it is summed up so eloquently here. Thanks.

    • dakinikat says:

      Yup. BB and I were just talking about this too. I have to respect people’s right to hold and practice their “beliefs” but I don’t have to respect the beliefs at all. This is especially true when their beliefs inflict damage on other people. I hate the idea of blasphemy. It automatically sections off a lot of things as untouchable. That’s really bad for democracy and scientific inquiry. It’s bad for minorities and women. It’s just bad.

  2. bostonboomer says:

    Wonderful post, Quixote. Mitt Romney arguing that religious bigotry is an American value is beyond pathetic. And that’s exactly what he did.

    Sorry christians, muslims, mormons, et al. I don’t have to “respect” your beliefs. I won’t interfere with your right to believe wacky stuff. But when you try to force me to behave according to your beliefs, then we have a problem.

  3. HT says:

    Finally – finally someone says what I’ve been thinking. Thank you quixote for phrasing it much more succinctly and much better that I could have.

  4. quixote says:

    Just woke up. (Hey. It’s actually early in foggy SoCal.) Sorry not to have been around for the discussion.

    Some of the free speech issues make me want to jump up and down and scream. Get the wrong frame, go with it, and, wham!, trouble forever. It’s like framing abortion as being about the moment of personhood instead of what it is: about people’s rights to make their own medical decisions.

    If I hear the BS about respecting beliefs one more time … well, I won’t do anything because what can you do? But it’s turning into a “Lizzie smash!” situation.

    • HT says:

      I plead ignorance on the Lizzie smash situation, however I do have experience with carpenter ants. I.E. You can let them go about their business in the walls of your home until you finally wake up and discover they are undermining the basis of your home (true story – they did, my place) Or you can deal with them upfront.

      • quixote says:

        “Lizzie smash!” is just a funny cartoon of a little kid smashing to bits the thing that annoys her. All you see are the shards.

        I’d love to be able to do that!

  5. NW Luna says:

    Great post. Very cogent summary on the dangers of confusing free speech with hate speech.

  6. Fannie says:

    Well, I heard Joe Scarbough and Woodward mouth this morning, how Muslims just hate us, because of their religion, their culture, and peer pressure…………..they were wrong. I couldn’t help but think what if China invaded our country, and how we would feel.
    We’d be hating anyone that were Asians, not just the chinese. Mika just sat there and said 11 years later the Afghans are still killing. Joe woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.

    • quixote says:

      I heard about that. What idiots. Mika is generally a bit of a bright light among anchors, but she was a disappointment here.

      We know how the US reacted to the mere threat of attack. The WWII Japanese internment camps. That was when we were still fairly civilized. These days, when you don’t even have to pretend to respect the Constitution, I hate to think what would happen. The Muslim reaction is rather measured by comparison.

      • dakinikat says:

        You did read about these folks down there in Florida?

        On the flyer asking whether God “cares what I wear,” the writer explains that women need to dress more modestly in church because “men are particularly visual. Immodesty in church can trigger lustful thoughts.” It’s an interesting sentiment among a crowd obsessed with the possibility that Islamic militants could impose Sharia law on America. Woolwine is also distributing a “Resolution for Women,” which asks women to make a number of pledges, including “I will champion God’s model for womanhood in the face of a post-feminist culture.”

        There’s some enlightened republican culture of US liberty and freedom that they must certainly hate us for!

  7. Linda C says:

    There does come a time of personal discipline and accountability. If person A commits “hate speech” or free speech (remember the cartoon) against person B, then that does not excuse person B from committing violence and killing person C. So person “A” maybe guilty of hate speech. However, person “B” is now guilty of murder and rioting. When everything is blaspheme, then there is automatic censorship through threat of violence. I don’t believe Muslims hate us because of their religion or even our religion. However, one person or one religion cannot control the stupid or even constructive utterances of 6+ billion people. One should not disgrace their own beliefs.