There are limits to free speech

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There are limits to free speech

Saudi Gazette, Sunday, September 23, 2012
 By Ray Hanania

The debate continues to rage over the question of limits on the expression of free speech. Last week, a Coptic Christian in the United States was identified as the producer of a hate video that targets Islam and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
This week, a French magazine, Charlie Hebdo, published vulgar images of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) apparently not only to test the boundaries of free speech but to also intentionally insult and disparage Muslims.

From every corner of the Western world, public officials from US presidential candidate Mitt Romney to Israeli leaders are saying that free speech must be tolerated even when that free speech offends a specific religion.

But is that really true? Is it really true that there are no limits on free speech? Despite the protests from the West, there are limits to “free speech.”

For example, in some Western countries like Germany, it is illegal to express the opinion that “the Holocaust is a fraud.” If someone declares that opinion, free speech or not, they will be arrested, jailed and tried for violating the hate crimes law.

In fact, there are similar free speech restrictions in Belgium, the Czech Republic, Israel, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, and even, ironically and hypocritically, in France (the Gayssot Act), where the French magazine’s vicious and intentional assault on Islam and the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) has been defended as an expression of free speech.
Since 1998, there have been more than two dozen cases of successful prosecutions of individuals whose “free speech” violates specific laws involving Holocaust denial. In the United States, where it seems that racism and hatred of Islam and Muslims exists in substantive force, there are laws that prohibit overt acts of “anti-Semitism.”

Why is it that the “free speech” defamation of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is acceptable and excused in the West, but not the defamation of the “Holocaust” or the use of “anti-Semitism?”
It isn’t just expressions of anti-Semitism in major public ways that are prosecuted. Last year, France brought hate charges against a famous British fashion designer associated with Christian Dior, John Galliano, who made an anti-Semitic comment while he was drinking at a bar. Not only was Galliano charged, but he was publicly humiliated and forced out of his working relationship with Christian Dior. He was basically forced out of the fashion industry.

Oh, the Western media which is now defending the makers of the anti-Muslim video, led the charge against Galliano demanding that he be prosecuted, arguing that he be fired and banned from public appearances.

What is it exactly that is different about hating a Muslim or hating a Jew? Is it all about who you hate? Shouldn’t it be the fact that someone hates and then expresses that hatred in a public form that justifies a people, a government or police taking action or not taking action?

Clearly, the West has an inherent hatred of Arabs and Muslims. Most Americans and people in the West can’t tell the difference between Arabs and Muslims and they use the words interchangeably and incorrectly.

But accuracy and truth are not the goals, apparently, when it comes to Arabs and Muslims. The real issue is racism, a fundamental racism that exists against mainly Muslims and anyone or any person who “looks” Muslim and comes from the Middle East or the Arab world.

After Sept. 11, 2001, some 14 people were attacked, injured and killed because they “looked” Muslim. How exactly does someone “look” Muslim? Or Christian or Jewish for that matter?That’s why many of the post-Sept. 11 backlash killings in America – the land of the “free” – were not Muslim at all but Sikhs and Pakistanis and Indians. Even Christian Arabs like myself are often attacked and criticized in America because the people attacking us believe we are Muslim.

Frankly, I am proud to be mistaken for a Muslim. As a Christian Arab whose mother is from Bethlehem, Palestine, I consider myself Muslim by culture. I often use the incidents of stereotype as opportunities to “educate” ignorant Americans.

Are there fanatics and extremists and terrorists in the Arab and Muslim community? Yes, there are. But so too are there extremists and terrorists in the Christian community and in the Jewish community. We’ve seen war crimes committed by American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan and by Israel in Gaza and the West Bank many times.

The difference though is how people respond. Do they respond with principle and denounce the act of hate? Or, do they act with politics in mind, driven by racism, and instead only denounce perpetrators of hate when those perpetrators are of a different religion or race?

Racism is a sickness that is commonplace in the West. It needs to be treated. But until the people who suffer from the disease of racism and hatred recognize their ailment, don’t expect anything to change any time soon.

— Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist. Reach him at

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Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and Columnist who began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He covered Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992 (Mayor Daley to Mayor Daley) and has expanded to writing for newspapers around the world focussed on Middle East and American politics.

Hanania loves to write about American Arabs in politics, and focuses on Arab life in America.

Currently, he writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at He writes on American politics for the Des Plaines Valley News, Southwest News-Herald, The Regional News newspaper and the Reporter Newspapers. He also writes for the online websites and (Illinois News Network at

Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Hanania began in journalism as an activist publishing Chicago’s first English-language American Arab Newspaper “The Middle Eastern Voice” from 1975 through 1977. In 1976, he was hired by the Chicago community newspaper The Southtown Economist (Daily Southtown) and in 1985 was hired by the Chicago Sun-Times and covered Chicago City Hall for both. In 1993, he launched the “The Villager” Newspapers which covered 12 Southwest Chicagoland suburban regions. In 2004, he published “The National Arab American Times” monthly newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East ethnic food stores in 48 American States.

Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media;In 2009, he received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. Hanania has also received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.

Hanania’s writings have been published in newspapers around the world. Formerly syndicated by Creators Syndicate, Hanania also has written news, features and Opinion Columns for Al Jazeera English, the Jerusalem Post,, Arab News, Saudi Gazette, Newsday in New York, the Orlando Sentinel, the Houston Chronicle, The Daily Star, the News of the World, the Daily Yomimuri in Tokyo, Chicago Magazine, the Arlington Heights Daily Herald, and Aramco Magazine. His political columns are published in the Southwest News-Herald and Des Plaines Valley News, Regional News and Palos Reporter newspapers in Chicagoland. Hanania is the President/CEO of Urban Strategies Group media and public affairs consulting which has clients in Illinois, Florida, Michigan and Washington D.C.

Hanania is Palestinian Christian from prominent Bethlehem and Jerusalem families. His wife and son are Jewish and he performs standup comedy lampooning Arab-Jewish relations, advocating for peace based on non-violence, mutual recognition and Two-States.

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