Shouting “Fire!” in the Middle East

Comedians are often pioneers of bad taste, it’s almost a challenge for them to see how much they can offend. But ask Ricky Gervais how that worked out for him when he ran a couple of jokes recently about “mongs”. And have we ever heard from Michael Richards (famous as Kramer on Seinfeld) since he used the “N” word on stage? Or indeed shock-jock Don Imus who referred to a women’s basketball team as “towel-headed hos”. The list of comedians causing offense is long.

Actually, that last one is the most interesting. Imus was sacked from his job with CBS but when he appeared on Al Sharpton’s radio show to discuss his remarks, he said this:

“Our agenda is to be funny and sometimes we go too far. And this time we went way too far. Here’s what I’ve learned: that you can’t make fun of everybody, because some people don’t deserve it.”

Nicely put.

I don’t believe that freedom of speech is an absolute that must be defended regardless of circumstances. The oft-cited limitation is that nobody has the right to shout “fire” in a crowded theatre.

So it must also be true that nobody has the right to make gratuitously offensive remarks about the Prophet Mohammed.

“Some people don’t deserve it,” said Imus.

Given the sensitivity of some Moslems and the apparent ease with which they can be sent out onto the streets to riot, that has to be pretty close to shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre. Some of them are volatile people and these are volatile times, you just know what reaction that is going to provoke. You know people will be killed in consequence. But if you believe it is their own stupidity that makes them so sensitive and their own stupidity that drives them onto the streets and their own stupidity to kill people of their own faith in retaliation for someone else making offensive remarks, maybe you also believe it’s okay to make jokes about “mongs”. I can’t agree with you.

I do not believe the motives behind making the “Innocence of Muslims” have anything to do with free speech, and it does not deserve to be defended on those grounds. Frankly, it does not deserve to be defended.

(For the record, it seems the offensive nature of the film is entirely in the post-production sound dubbing which completely changed the nature of the film the cast were led to believe they were appearing in. The producer has to bear full responsibility.)

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