In 2005, there was a major controversy concerning a Danish newspaper's publication of several cartons that depicted the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Many (both Muslims and non-Muslims) believed the cartoons were racist. Furthermore, many Muslims believe that any visual depiction of Muhammad is blasphemous. There were many protests, and even riots, in defiance of the publication. In response to the uproar, many countries chose to ban the publication of these cartoons (this included banning the sale of foreign newspapers containing the cartoons). John Stuart Mill presents principles describing the value of, and legitimate limits to, freedom, including free speech. This essay will explain these principles and what they suggest about the aforementioned publication bans. From this it will be shown that the ban is not justified, and the cartoons cannot be held accountable for the threat of violence that comes from this exercising of free speech.
[...] Mill is not prepared to place limits on free speech merely because some person experiences harm from the statements of others. There is legitimate and illegitimate harm, and only if some type of speech or expression directly violates rights is it justifiably limited. So for example, a cigarette company should not be able to creating advertising designed to hook children, but it is a far stretch to say that a newspaper should not run cartoons that represent religious dialogue. (Sumner, 2004). [...]
[...] We ought to have this liberty so that we possess “absolute freedom of opinion and sentiment on all subjects, practical or speculative, scientific, moral or theological” (Mill, 1978: 11). This freedom of expression is needed so we are able to reach our own limits in logic. However, Mill concedes that rules and regulations will be needed to govern the use of free speech. According to him, the limits of free speech are determined by the harm principle. only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” (Mill, 1978: 9). [...]
[...] When using the harm principle to decide on whether or not to ban certain types of speech, it becomes clear that very few limits will be placed, as it is quite hard to prove that a direct infringement of rights is the result of free speech and expression. While it is clear that these cartoons created a very real threat of violence, but it can be argued that the cartoons are not the source of this violence. The threat of violence comes from a much deeper institutionalized religious framework in which people are deeply polarized when it comes to their beliefs. [...]
[...] In much the same way, this religious speech that is presented in the cartoons are no different than other forms of religious speech which might call for oppression, discrimination and other unfavorable social occurrences. The reality is that our world is a divided place; it is filled with people who have absolutely opposing views on an endless array of issues. There is sure to be times when these opposing views come at odds with each other and people get upset. [...]
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