For anyone that has been following the news the past two weeks, these phrases may sound familiar, “muslim outrage,” “wake of violence,” “religion and free speech,” etc. Since the terrible deaths of a U.S. ambassador and three Americans amid protests against a film that denigrates Islam, we at the Club de Madrid have been trying to find the perfect article to post on our blog. First we thought about publishing something about the stereotypes of Islam, then maybe something about the religious component of the Arab-spring, but from the perspective of the Shared Societies Project, nothing fit the core of the problem. We were looking for an article that discussed the coexistence of contrasting ideas in our changing and interconnected world.
To frame the debate, we must first draw a starting point: the refusal of violence. We firmly believe that the construction of functional and inclusive societies needs to be based in a consensus of a framework of coexistence. We as political and religious leaders, media, and civil societies, need to respect and value the differences among us through dialogue. We must adopt a worldview that includes a charge to prevent and resolve conflicts and strengthen our democratic values and democratic institutions. However, when this dialogue is broken, violence is not an option. This is why we deeply regret the deaths of the fallen persons that paid the price of this broken dialogue.
A second point upon which we all agree is freedom of speech. In a democratic society, citizens must always have the right to speak freely and claim their given rights. We have already established that this claim doesn’t justify the use of violence. Where is the line between free speech and hate speech?
The Shared Societies Project identifies four key conditions that individuals and groups are to feel if they have an equal place in their respective societies:
- Democratic Participation
- Respect for Diversity and the Dignity of the Individual
- Equal Opportunity
- Protection from Discrimination
What happens when freedom of speech goes against the respect for diversity and the dignity of the individual?
“Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy,” the statement continued, ”We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.”
What do you think? When building stable and safe cohesive societies, what is the fine line that separates freedom of speech from hate speech?