Freedom of speech: should there be limits?

I’ve just returned from Ian Burama’s ‘Freedom of speech: should there be limits?’ at the Melbourne Town Hall.

The debate on multiculturalism and offensive speech is a burning topic in Europe right now, affecting everything from politics to literature. In this keynote address Ian Buruma will touch upon the Danish cartoons that depicted the Islamic prophet Muhammad, the persecution of Geert Wilders and the debate that could tear Europe apart. (www.mwf.com.au/2009/content/mwf_2009_events.asp?name=Keynote_2)

What I found most interesting about Buruma’s speech was his description of the generally perceived relationship between Weimar era policy, its consequence (WWII), and current debate. There are those who believe that migrant cultures undermine Western values such as gender equality, and tolerance towards sexual minorities, that tolerance towards migrant cultures is an act of appeasement similar to 1938.

Buruma, however, was urging tolerance. Western society should be open-minded towards migrant customs (such as the head scarf or the turban), since such concessions would cost little unless they condoned violence. In his speech, he explained the difference between criticising Christianity and criticising Islam: the former attacks a major institution while the latter stigmatises a minority. 

Though I found myself nodding to most of Buruma’s rhetoric, I knew too little about the issue to hold an opinion. Everything sounds hunky dory when one doesn’t speak the language.

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2 thoughts on “Freedom of speech: should there be limits?

  1. hunky dory? mm…If one denies one group the right to speak their mind then who decides who talks and expresses their thoughts and who should not?
    If you allow one group to speek freely than must you not allow other groups to also speak freely?
    What would give one group the right to be the ONLY one’s speaking?
    Serious darn questions/issues–minorities or not. In America the problem is the screamers and screechers who are stir up a storm-while others just shake their heads and ignore the ruckus instead of doing their own free speaking–and hence the quiet allow the the screamers to seem as if they’re the representatives of all.
    I think we’ve got to at the very least give everyone a voice–even if we don’t like what they say. We don’t have to agree–but we must allow or the right is hollow.
    –my ten cents today–
    waves to you~~~

  2. According to Buruma, freedom of speech is important, but complete freedom of speech is impossible. When does freedom of speech become accessory to racism and violence? The writer then cited the right-wing politician Geert Wilders and the Danish cartoons of the prophet Muhammad as examples. In both instances, freedom of speech was invoked. Why can’t we express derogatory opinions towards Islam? I concur that it’s a valid point. Without freedom of speech, there is no dialogue. However, freedom of speech is a privilege that should not be abused, nor should it be used to alienate, stigmatise, or incite violence against minorities such as the Muslims in Europe.

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