We have no problem with sometimes limiting hateful speech — except, it seems, when Islam is the target
BY SANDY TOLAN
Three hurtful words, scrawled in black circles under the eyes of a ballplayer named Yunel Escobar: Tu ere[s] maricón. The message, conveyed in the eyeblack of the Toronto Blue Jays shortstop during a recent game, means, You’re a faggot. That’s hate language, and reaction was swift and stern. Major league baseball launched an investigation, the Blue Jays suspended Escobar for three games and enrolled him in “sensitivity training,” and he gave the obligatory apology in front of the microphones. Few if anyone publicly complained that, hurtful or not, homophobic or not, Escobar’s free speech rights trumped the concerns of others wounded by his words. No one said Escobar should be able to continue displaying the slur.
“Given the reaction of the offended community, Escobar’s punishment was absolutely justifiable and necessary to maintain order in society,” wrote Stacie Brown on policymic. In other words, the community came together and shut Escobar up, due to a collective sense of mutual respect for the rights of others not to be hurt by hateful speech. Society has forged standards of respect and unacceptability about racial, ethnic, anti-Semitic and homophobic slurs. Rightly or wrongly, the message is: use certain hateful words in public, and you’ll pay the price. So why is there a different set of values at work when it comes to the hurt caused Muslims by hateful, Islamophobic characterizations of the Prophet Mohammed, or denigrations of Islam?
“The Innocence of Muslims” is only the latest attack on the prophet designed to provoke and therefore reinforce the image of Muslims as the Other, unworthy of the support and empathy of civilized peoples. “The obvious, outward motive of such attempts is…to show Muslims as irrational, violent, intolerant and barbaric, all of which are attributes profoundly inscribed into the racist anti-Muslim discourse in the West,” writes the Egyptian journalist Hani Shukrallah, editor of Al Ahram Online.