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+++THE DAILY STAR (Lebanon) 20 Sept.’06:”Freedom is never having to say
’sorry’ ” ,commentary by Chibli Mallat, candidate for Lebanese presidency
and visiting professor at Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University

QUOTES FROM TEXT: “The threshold for freedom of expression is becoming too
low and needs to be raised again.” “Demanding an apology was unnecessary.”

The Spanish Inquisition, most people would agree, was a dark moment in the
history of the Catholic Church. The Crusades were another moment universally
perceived as being negative because they involved conquest in the form of
wars of religion. Yet Christians do not erupt in anger whenever such
criticism is publicly vented, whether the source of that criticism is
Christian or not. Why should we treat any differently criticism of a
particular phase, or a particular trait, of Islam, Judaism, or for that
matter the behavior of any religion or country in the world?
There is no reason to apply a different standard because Pope Benedict XVI
quoted a medieval Byzantine emperor who made negative comments about Islam;
or after the uproar caused by a Danish newspaper’s publication of
disparaging drawings of the Prophet Muhammad. Or, for that matter, after a
Lebanese satirical program, “Bas Mat Watan,” took aim at Hizbullah leader
Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah a few months ago, provoking demonstrations by party
supporters. The threshold for freedom of expression is becoming too low, and
it needs to be raised again.
Depending on who says what in which context, there will always be a moment
when a statement is considered “unacceptable.” … it is also important at
key moments to take a stance, otherwise the threshold for free speech will
continue to be lowered. Those who request apologies and stronger penalties
for free expression should be defeated in the court of public opinion. This
won’t happen if demands for apologies from those who have said something
deemed controversial are persistently backed up by the public at large. This
reality can only infuse certain topics with a sanctity that permits no
criticism, in a way that would further curtail open debate.
Take the case of “Bas Mat Watan.” I believe that it was the silence of most
Lebanese leaders on the occasion of the angry demonstrations organized that
evening by Hizbullah’s supporters in Beirut that encouraged Nasrallah to
carry on acting as if he were the leader of Lebanon on July 12, when he
approved of the abduction of two Israeli soldiers without consulting anyone.
,,, voicing criticism of Hizbullah, and the party’s accepting this, should
have been a crucial step in helping mend disagreements between the party and
its domestic political partners.
…. Benedict’s speech was well within the bounds of decency, no matter how
much I disagreed with its implications. But even if the quote was
inappropriate, critics should be satisfied with discussing it, and strongly
disagreeing if need be. Demanding an apology was unnecessary. . . .

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