In defense of South Park — and burqas

Q: What is the obligation of a Western, democratic government to protect individual freedoms in light of a realistic terrorist … Continued

Q: What is the obligation of a Western, democratic government to protect individual freedoms in light of a realistic terrorist threat? Are the producers of South Park right to forfeit their freedom of expression in the interests of protecting their employees? Are the governments of Europe right to ban burqas in the interest of fostering a more open society?

When did the home of the brave become the land of the easily intimidated? First Yale University caves, then Random House and the Metropolitan Museum of Art and now even the intrepid Comedy Central. Is there an American institution left – venerable or otherwise – willing to stand up for freedom of expression?

South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker didn’t ask for “protection.” In fact, they think the censorship “sucked,” to use one of their more printable expressions.

Of course, South Park offends. Nobody is spared from Jesus to Joseph Smith. But freedom of expression doesn’t mean very much if it doesn’t include the right to offend. In a free society, blasphemy, however outrageous, is protected speech – and no violation of religious freedom.

And of course, the producers of South Park have the right to bleep every mention of “Mohammed” – they are not the government. But self-censorship out of fear is an assault on free speech that undermines our democratic values and threatens our liberty. As a people committed to robust freedom of speech, Americans must resist every attempt to silence speech through fear and intimidation.

Government bans on burqas, on the other hand, are violations of religious freedom. For the Muslim woman who chooses to cover herself in this way, the burqa is an expression of faith – a matter of conscience that is a fundamental human right. In France and Belgian this and other claims of conscience are often trumped by the government’s determination to prevent “Islamization” of French and Belgian culture. The French, after all, ban even headscarves from being worn by Muslim girls to state schools.

Far from fostering openness, anti-burqa laws close European societies to those who refuse to conform to the dress and customs of the dominant culture.

Public safety, however, is a legitimate state interest. If government authorities can make a compelling case for some, limited restrictions on wearing the burqa – for example, the need for an identifiable photograph on a driver’s license for law enforcement and other purposes – then and only then should the state have the power to interfere with the free exercise of religion.

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  • cassie123

    I agree with this article. All speech is free but not all is responsible. As a Christian, I do not like how South Park depicts Jesus. I think it is rude just as rude as depicting Mohammed or any other religious figure. However, they have every right to do this. I wish that Comedy Central would have stood up for their right to free speech but recognize that as a private company they can censor all they want. But, as I mentioned before, I do not like how they portray religious figures. But, I don’t have to like it and in fact, I can post on here that I do not like it…that is the beauty of free speech. They can say how they feel – I can say how I feel.As to burqas, I also agree with this article. I understand the “safety” issues, but I think they should tread very carefully here. By restricting burqas they are restricting religious freedom. This is a slippery slope that I am not comfortable with. A lot of bad things start out well-intentioned. And safety most certainly is a good thing…but eliminating a woman’s freedom to express her religion? That doesn’t sound right to me and leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

  • Arif2

    “Government bans on burqas, on the other hand, are violations of religious freedom.For the Muslim woman who chooses to cover herself in this way, the burqa is an expression of faith – a matter of conscience that is a fundamental human right. “NONESENSE!

  • futuralogic

    In Allah’s NameBisimillahi Rahmanu Rahim!!- October 2009, Mogadishu. Somalia’s Al-Shabaab Islamists ban push-up bras because they are “deceptive”. UK’s Daily Mail reports that women who appeared to have firm busts were rounded up and “inspected” to see if the firmness was natural.

  • cecilg

    Hayes said: But freedom of expression doesn’t mean very much if it doesn’t include the right to offend. In a free society, blasphemy, however outrageous, is protected speech – and no violation of religious freedom.In the United States we have freedom of speech, and that is a very good thing. However, having the right to say anything we wish to say does not make all things we say right. We have the right to make fun of and disparage any one, and perhaps some people including some Muslems and some Christians deserve such treatment, but it is wrong to offend and degrade people just because they are different – in looks or gender or intelligence, or or or.We may have the right to offend, but having a right does not necessarily make certain speech right.Hayes also said: When did the home of the brave become the land of the easily intimidated? It is easy to criticize until you walk in the other person’s shoes. Just because we have the right to offend others does not free us from their potentially destructive wrath. There are nuts out there that think they have the right to kill those who offend, and until this great free country has enough police to insure that no one can behave violently there will always be some nut willing to do unto the others as he/she thinks they have been done unto.Say what you want to, but know that there are consequences, sometimes very unpleasant. So, some like South Park feel free to offend and then they prudently but cowardly run and hide.

  • futuralogic

    The shamelessness has reached it’s nadir!

  • clearthinking1

    EXPERIMENTS IN POLITICAL SCIENCE ARE DIFFICULT, BUT PAKISTAN & INDIA ARE A RARE EXAMPLE. People of the same DNA and genes that share common languages, rituals, and cultures (e.g. Punjabi, Sindhi, etc..) are separated by religion. In just 60 years, there have been clear results. India (based on Hinduism and Vedanta) is a tolerant, pluralistic, vibrant, nonaggressive democracy. Progress is seen in politics, economics, education, etc… India has had Presidents who are Muslim, Hindu, Dalit, female; Prime ministers who are Sikh, Hindu, female; Defense ministers who are Christian, Hindu, Sikh; powerful politicians are even Italian Catholics like Sonia Gandhi. More progress needs to made in many places in Indian society, but even in America Blacks had very limited rights till the 1960’s and now Obama is president. Tolerant peaceful societies make progress.Pakistanis have no common identity – except hatred of India. The members of this society do not feel a common bond, which is necessary to make progress. All that is left is a false sense of unity and statehood, which has promoted Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism. And this is a recipe for disaster

  • TheNathan

    In crazy country like Belgian, burqua wears you!

  • rajeetishi

    I guess the author has caved in to Muslim threats and double-standards already. He never examined or talked about the right of women to dress or not to dress in a burqa. Do they have that choice? Most Islamic societies- No. And lesser said about the rights of Western women to dress in a short and shirt.

  • Davidd1

    No mention of the burqa in the Koran. How, then, is this a religious issue?

  • asoders22

    A burqa is nothing but a transportable jail cell, imposed on women by crazed, possessive, paranoid men. Also, it is not seldom used for transporting weapons in Afghanistan, and can easily be used for that purpose elsewhere. Though i respect private feelings of connection to a God, Islam as things stand now is a primitive, brutal religion, hostile to women and alien to democracy.

  • asoders22

    The Quran says that men and women should dress modestly. Of course Islamic selfish men think they are modest as long as they have pants and a tee-shirt on, while for some reason women should be packaged like furniture for transport. I despise those men. Modesty means not going into a shop in a bikini – that’s about it.

  • legitbrownie

    “Government bans on burqas, on the other hand, are violations of religious freedom. For the Muslim woman who chooses to cover herself in this way, the burqa is an expression of faith – a matter of conscience that is a fundamental human right.” There are very few Muslim women who FREELY choose to cover themselves. There is NOTHING in the Quran that says a woman should be completely covered up. I’m sure you’ve heard of the Taliban. There were NO burqas before the Taliban. Muslim-majority countries like Indonesia and Malaysia actually have a BAN on facial coverage for security reasons so why should Western nations bow to religious fanatics?

  • bob2davis

    Why would I think that some woman (or man) completely covered in black cloth is not a terrorist? Religion deserves no respect at all. It is based on fallacies and myths not reason, evidence or analysis. Religionists must lose all their rights if society is ever to progress.

  • readerny

    In NY state, it is against the law to wear a mask in public. My son was stopped by a police officer on his college campus for wearing a silly outfit, which included a “mask.” He and his friends had to give their names to campus police. In contrast, I was at Target the other day, and a woman (I’m assuming) wore a complete burqa, and her face was not at all visible, not even her eyes. The eyes were hidden behind a sort of black screen made of fabric. I think one’s face should be uncovered in public, as required by law. If a 19 year old American-born boy must show his face,then a 40 something woman must show hers. The rest of the outfit, who cares, but in the interest of civilized society yes, let’s show our faces.

  • BattleOffSamar

    Face it; burqas wouldn’t be so creepy if the people that wore them weren’t associated with suicide bombings. I mean really, if the Amish people wore burqas while selling quail eggs at the Redding Terminal Market in downtown Philadelphia, who would care? Nobody.

  • fairfaxvoter

    I am absolutely stunned at the overreaching by the French and Belgian governments. Certainly it is better than demanding that members of another religion wear a Star of David, but in either case it is meddling in a citizen’s own private choice of what to wear. What next, a dress code requiring (or banning) panty hose, high heel shoes, Easter hats, certain hair styles? If a woman wants to dress a certain way and it doesn’t violate the indecency laws, that should be the end of discussion, with very limited exceptions on veils and face coverings for the purpose of photo ids, security checks, etc. It’s her business. Every time I think I understand European culture, or come to believe it is somehow progressive or egalitarian, I stumble across something appalling like this clothing ban. For shame.

  • clary916

    Would you defend a women’s right to walk down the street naked? Can we make any laws about people’s appearance in public? I don’t think a bank has to allow someone wearing a ski mask to enter due to security concerns. What’s wrong with banning the burqa for the same reason?

  • abbyandmollycats

    It could be argued that the burqua is immodest because it calls attention to the wearer. In Western societies one is expected to have the face visible when out in public. In a society where women do not leave home unaccompanied the visible face is not necessary as she can be identified by her companion. A social expectation that all can be identified when out in public is perfectly reasonable. I find it difficult to believe that anyone would move to a Western society without first checking the societal norms and, if those norms were unacceptable, would move anyway, expecting the society to adapt to their preferences.

  • nstein1

    This is not the time for Islamism’s apologists. Just like some of the Christian faiths they have been run by the more extreme branches and the moderates need to take back their faith!As far as South Park, they don’t run and hide, they are just over the pass from here! Come visit and see the truth.

  • Catken1

    Those of you protesting that the burqa is oppressive and that we should not pander to oppression ought to think about practical consequences of government bans. I don’t say I don’t agree with you – but putting a government ban on something that a person has been taught from childhood is Very Important does not tend to make that thing less important to them, or to get them to willingly give it up. Banning the burqa does not fight sexism in Islam effectively. What it does is to pit government against a woman’s religious beliefs – and in such a case, people generally choose to stand defensively by their religious beliefs. A government ban would lead to women being imprisoned in their homes- often self-imprisoned! (childhood conditioning is tough to overcome) – rather than giving up the burqa and betraying, as they see it, their faith under government pressure. It would lead to women teaching their sisters and daughters that wearing the burqa or staying home is a necessary protest against a government perceived to be anti-Islam. When people are pressured by government to choose between being a member of their religion and being a citizen of their country, they will almost always choose to cling to the religion and to do all they can not to be assimilated by the people they perceive as persecutors.By allowing women to wear the burqa, government very properly does not pit itself against religion, allowing burqa-clad women to be American without giving up what they see as an essential part of their identity. And we thereby leave it up to peer pressure and the cultural influence of the majority to push women away from the burqa and towards more independent, freer lives. This is MUCH more effective. A Saudi-born woman might not feel free to discard her burqa- but her American-born-and-raised daughters generally will as soon as they possibly can, because they feel welcome in this country, they feel a part of this country, they want to assimilate and be “normal Americans.” Ask any Orthodox Jew where Orthodox customs and rituals were stronger – in the old country, where it was a continuous fight to support one’s Jewish identity against an oppressive government, or here in the US, where the government lets you do as you please, but peer pressure and cultural norms push Jewish kids towards assimilation.

  • Itzajob

    What have burqas got to do with women?It is very rare to see a burqa here in New York, but whenever I do, it is always a man wearing one, in the subway. (At the risk of sounding Seinfeldian, you can tell from their large, hairy hands, not to mention their humongous sneakers.) In the Balkans, very few women wear burqas, but men certainly do — when they’re robbing banks.Personally, I think French women and men both should be free to blaspheme against God and his gifts by wearing burqas as much as they like — but in the privacy of their homes, not in sensitive public spaces like subways and airports, and similarly not while testifying in court or posing for driver’s license photos.Burqa restrictions should be a simple matter of time, manner and place. Shouting “Fire” in the wilderness is one thing; doing it in a crowded movie theater is quite another.

  • msjn1

    I personally think Burkas are a stupid way to dress. How can you differ from a man or woman in that costume especially if they are hiding a bomb? Woulsd we or the police allow people to walk into stores, banks, etc. wearing a mask that hides their identity? I don’t think so. If they, Muslims, want to live in the west they should dress accordingly. And western women should not be subjected to hiding their identity in the middle east. If they don’t want to be part of the modern world, let them stay in their tribal villages and be subigated as chattle as the Koran dictates.

  • kchses1

    I have come across women in NYC wearing burqas. I’m often tempted to ask them if they’re aware they live in the United States? However because they live in the USA they are free to wear whatever they choose. That is the difference from living in other countries and it makes all the difference in the world.