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Conservatives, Democrats and the convenience of denouncing free speech

By       Message Glenn Greenwald     Permalink
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Along those lines, the New York Times yesterday expressed bafflement that Afghans would burn an effigy of President Obama given that he "had made an outreach to Muslims a thematic pillar of his first year in office." As FAIR's Jim Naureckas responded: "Maybe WAR made a bigger impression?"

On a different note: over the next six weeks, I will be speaking in numerous American cities (and one event in Canada) on civil liberties, Islamophobia, the war on terror, the surveillance state, and related matters. Those events will be in California, Colorado, Missouri, Arizona, Michigan, Washington, Texas, and New Jersey, as well as in Ottawa, Canada. All events are open to the public, and event information is here.


Numerous people have popped up in the comment section in order, quite unsurprisingly, to create all sorts of exceptions to "free speech" designed to protect their own views while allowing the criminalization of views they dislike. The hallmark of someone who does not really believe in free speech is when they claim they do, followed by a "but," followed by efforts to explain why the views they embrace should be permitted, while the views they despise should not be.

The most common claim in this regard is that speech that advocates violence is not permissible. Leave aside the fact that most of the examples I cited above where the speech of Muslims was criminalized involved no such advocacy. Leave aside the fact that the US supreme court, more than 40 years ago and by a unanimous vote, ruled that "the constitutional guarantees of free speech and free press do not permit a State to forbid or proscribe advocacy of the use of force."

Further leave aside that this free speech "exception" would render illegal all sorts of views which are plainly legitimate. Do people who believe this really think that it should be illegal for a Muslim to say: "The west is continuously bringing violence to our societies by attacking us with bombs, invasions and occupations, and I believe the only way deter this is to take up arms and impose violence back on them"? Should it be similarly illegal for someone to say, as the American founders did: "I believe our government has become so tyrannical and unjust that it is now justified to take up arms against it in revolution"?

And finally leave aside the fact that all sorts of common political advocacy can be construed as "advocating violence". As noted, it is often claimed that those who denounce US wars as unjust aggression or imperialism are "emboldening" attacks on US troops and therefore inciting violence.

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My real question for those who insist that advocacy of violence should be suppressed is this: do you apply this view consistently? Do you want those who advocated the attack on Iraq - i.e., who advocated violence - to be arrested? How about those who cheer for the war in Afghanistan, or drone attacks on Pakistanis and Yemenis? The next time someone in the US or UK stands up and advocates a new war - say, attacking Iran - should they be arrested on the ground that they are advocating violence?

Or is it the case, as it certainly appears, that when people say that "advocating violence" should be suppressed, what they really mean is: it should be prohibited for those people over there to advocate violence against my society, but my society is of course free to advocate violence against them?

As I wrote above, those who apply free speech values inconsistently are not merely being hypocritical; worse, they are attempting to exploit free speech precepts to protect and legitimize the views of themselves and their own side while suppressing those views they dislike and which are advocated by the other side. Indeed, it's often the very people who insist that "advocacy of violence" should not be permitted who, in the next breath, justify the wars and bombings and drone-attacks of their government.

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Glenn Greenwald is one of three co-founding editors of The Intercept. He is a journalist, constitutional lawyer, and author of four New York Times best-selling books on politics and law. His most recent book, No Place (more...)

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