The political uses of free speech

Mahmood Mamdani in The Daily Times:

Mamdani_1 One is struck about how quickly the issue of free speech has folded into that of civilisation versus darkness. The shift has enormous significance for the European debate. If the issue is one of free speech, there is no necessary reason why Christian Europe should be seen to be a principled defender of free speech, and Muslim Europe in disagreement in principle. But if the issue is recast as one of enlightenment versus barbarism by Europeans, then surely there is hardly a Muslim who would be in doubt as to which side of the contest he or she is supposed to represent. For those looking for an apt analogy to understand the significance of the cartoon controversy, it would not be an insensitive satirising of Jesus that devout Christians would find blasphemous, a religious transgression, but an anti-Semitic hate cartoon that would alarm all decent people, secular or religious.

Every morning, as I read the paper or surf the Internet, I anxiously look for significant European voices — not from government but from the world of the intellect and the arts — that would distance themselves from this particular attempt to promote Islamophobia as an exercise in free speech. I eagerly await signs of a lively debate within European civil society, one that will break the current impasse with testimony that the intellectual and political children of those who fought fascism in Europe have not lost the ability to recognise and the courage to fight hate speech in a different form. I eagerly wait for them to exercise their freedom of speech.

More here.