The riots across North Africa and the Middle East over an anti-Islam film highlighted the cultural and political differences between the United States and other nations, including European countries, over freedom of speech.
Blasphemy laws prohibiting criticism of a religion, bans on hate speech and restrictions on political expression run contrary to American traditions.
In Muslim nations, where anti-blasphemy laws are common, unfavorable portrayals of Islams founder, Muhammad, can elicit a violent response as with the film The Innocence of Muslims, which set off protests at American and other foreign embassies around the world.
To Muslim nations, tolerance for such free expression, reveals the anti-Islamic sentiments of the West rather than just the filmmaker. Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf said it is equal to the worst kind of anti-Semitism or other kind of bigotry. But Western nations also limit speech.
Russian President Vladimir V. Putin is advocating an anti-blasphemy law against insulting religions and peoples religious sentiments, USA Today reports. He has also pushed through his own repressive measures allowing him to prosecute political opponents such as a female punk rock band sent to jail for singing an anti-Putin song inside a Russian Orthodox church.
France bans images ridiculing Muhammad. And French President Francois Hollande is preparing a law that would make it a crime to deny the deaths of millions of Armenians during World War I was genocide by Turkey. In Austria, denying the Holocaust can draw a prison term. A 27-year-old Greek man was arrested under the blasphemy laws for insulting a monk.
Contrast that with recent events in New York City, where the Metropolitan Transportation Authority initially attempted to block ads it considered demeaning to Muslims but was barred from doing so by a court. The anti-jihad ads implied that Muslims were savages. In response, three groups have posted their own pro-Muslim ads denouncing the bigotry and hate speech.
It exemplifies what President Barack Obama said recently at the United Nations in defense of free speech, that the strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression, it is more speech.