Clash of Civilizations Free Speech vs. “Muslim Rage”
The explosion of controversy
surrounding the “Innocence of Muslims” film and the supposedly “senseless” violence that ensued in Libya and elsewhere after its reception, point to a significant hole in the American worldview. That is, many Americans still cannot comprehend that their nation’s values are not universal, nor even entirely logically sound.
In an insightful article, literary critic Stanley Fish evokes how many Americans cannot imagine that others have values which conflict with the catechism of Free Speech, “the assumption is that if they (the rest of the world) had heard of it (the first amendment) and read it and gotten its message, they would have understood that you don’t target or attack people because of what they have written; you don’t respond to words, however harsh and wounding you take them to be, as if they were physical blows.” But the issue here is based on a clash of two civilizations, one in which our concept of religion is privatized and compartmentalized (if not secularized), and the other where, as Fish goes on to say, “religion is not an internal, privatized matter safe from the world’s surfaces, but an overriding imperative that the world’s surfaces should reflect”. In the context of this other civilization, “a verbal or pictorial assault on their religion will not be received as an external and ephemeral annoyance, as a ‘mere’ representation; it will be received as a wounding to the heart, as a blow, and as a blow that is properly met by blows in return. No ‘sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me’ for them.”
There appears to be radically different worldviews coming into collision here, but in fact, we are as equally defensive of our First Amendment ideals as those in Libya are of their religious convictions. Fish ends his piece with a provocative comparison between belief in “Free Speech” and belief in “God” or “Truth”. For many of us in the West, Free Speech is a value imbued with religious fervor – it is an abstract and invisibly entity that we cathect with meaning and “believe” in – this is why “secular humanism” is called out by some as a “religion” in itself. Read more…