Freedom of Speech vs Freedom to Spam: Muhammad Cartoon Controversy

I’m a staunch supporter of freedom of speech, as anyone who isn’t an idiot or utterly evil should be. However the cartoons mocking the prophet Muhammad isn’t the first time freedom of speech has been used as an excuse for promoting morally questionable messages.

I make a distinction between what is acceptable expression of oneself and what is not: freedom of speech vs freedom to spam. I’m against the latter; spamming your message. Freedom of speech is as it sounds, the freedom to express yourself. Spamming, however, is excessively and obnoxiously expressing one’s opinions.

Although it’s not always clear when putting your message forth is “excessive”, I’ll give a few examples. The first is of course from e-mail. I get spam every day. Fortunately there are spam filters to help deal with otherwise, it might render e-mail useless. Jehova’s witnesses tend to spam their message. If they knock on your door, they’ll just try ram their message down your throat, although they must know no-one likes it. When I lived in Japan, during election time the assistants of politicians-to-be were driving around in cars using loudspeakers to broadcast their political propaganda. It was really loud and annoying. And I wasn’t safe from the noise pollution even in my dorm room.

Propaganda itself is a form of spam, although it’s sometimes masquerading as genuine news. The same applies to many forms of advertisements.

If the way a message is given is annoying and constant, it’s spam. If the method of messaging annoys you regardless of the content, it’s spam. For example, I find the sentence “Obama is a great president” annoying, since I disagree with the message very strongly and find it smugly ignorant, yet the message itself is not spam. If you write an article discussing the greatness of Obama, and you believe it, I support your right to do so. (However, if you write such an article as a propaganda piece, then it becomes more spammy.) Were you to put loudspeakers outside my window, and send fliers through my mail-slot every week, professing the greatness of Obama, that’s fucking annoying, i.e. spam.

The spam would annoy me no matter what the message is. Even if it was “9/11 was an inside job” or “kittens are cute”. Both messages are something I believe in wholeheartedly, and wish to see them promoted. However, if you have loudspeakers outside my window constantly shouting “9/11 was an inside job” or “kittens are cute”, it’s just gonna piss me off. It’s sort like 10 years ago when there used to be people on TV waving signs and shouting “9/11 was an inside job”. Back then I was still on the fence on the issue, but leaned positively toward the message, however the people just parroting the same phrase was annoying to me, and doubtlessly to many others. (Maybe people are still doing that on TV. I wouldn’t know since I don’t watch it.)

Regarding the cartoons that make fun of Muhammad, I think it probably started off genuine, but went awry later. The man who started the thing is Lars Vilks. I think he meant the cartoons as an artistic way of criticizing Islam, which is commendable. Some Muslim-extemists overreacted to this with violence proving Vilks’ point. However, now in 2015 with the Charlie Hebdo shootings and all, promoting the cartoons has become spammy. They’re not a controversial way of criticizing Islam anymore, they’re just a way to piss people off. I cannot say the exact process of how this happened or when.

I certainly do not advocate banning or censoring the cartoons, yet it’s not right saying they’re freedom of speech either. Freedom of speech requires some degree of tact, respect and decency. Making cartoons that mock Muhammad has become the equivalent of saying “I fucked you mom”. It’s not very classy, nor intelligent. Since Islam has been forced into Europe, we should criticize the things that are wrong with it, but do it in a civil and intelligent manner. The response that some extremists have given is killing people, which even less classy and intelligent than making the cartoons, but is that something to be proud of? Does that make Europeans morally superior? “We’re assholes, but at least we are not violent murderers.”

Moreover, deliberately pissing off decent Muslims isn’t very constructive either. They may not try to kill you, but I don’t think they like the cartoons. I’m not saying this out fear. We shouldn’t be suckered into some catch 22-situation where we must choose to cower in fear of retaliation and ban the cartoons, or publish them only piss off a lot of people.

This is basically how I see it, when the media is promoting the cartoons; they’re just trying to insult people. I don’t like or respect Islam. I dislike organized religion, the Abrahamic religions in particular, but pretty much every Muslim I’ve met has been a decent human being. They may not have been the best example of the average Muslim, since all of them have been students in a foreign country. Some of them even drank alcohol. So they may not be the most stereotypical ones, but I have to draw my conclusions based on my experiences more than on what the media is trying to tell me. If these decent people follow Islam, then so be it. The cartoons mocking Muhammad, in my eyes they’re mocking the people. I don’t know if Muhammad ever existed or anything, so I don’t care if you mock Muhammad, but since the character is important to Muslims mocking Muhammad equals mocking Muslims. This is not decent.

However, I’m sure certain Muslims would find even the notion, that I say I don’t know Muhammad existed or not, offensive. And if he did, he may have been a pedophile since he supposedly had sex with a 9-year-old. This too might be a grave offense to some. So I’m not saying we should censor ourselves from saying things that Muslims find offensive, if they are correct, or simply part of a process to pursue the truth. I’m saying we should assess Islam and express our opinions of it based on facts, whether they are good or bad , instead of simply finding excuses to offend people. Especially since this conflict between the West and Islam has been manufactured from the get go. We shouldn’t offer them any ammo.

It’s really late and I’m tired so this post is bound to be full of typos and errors. I’ll fix ’em later.

EDIT: fixed them.


Lars Vilks:

Criticism of Muhammad:



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