Dear Mehdi Hasan, I Am A Free Speech Fundamentalist and This is Why You Are Wrong…

Dear Mr Hasan,

I read your recent article on ‘Free Speech Hypocrites’ and the Charlie Hebdo attack with great interest. However I found it to be poorly thought out and flawed in many places. Therefore I believe it appropriate and worthwhile to debunk some of your points…

Either you are with free speech… or you are against it

Simply put you are either for freedom of expression or you are not. There is no middle ground. People and Government’s attempts to find a middle ground will fail and will end in disaster. You cannot question one person’s right to free expression without questioning everybody’s. That includes Salafi Fanatics, Holocaust Deniers, Flat Earthers and the many other lunatics we share this beautiful planet with…

There is no “Clash of Civilisations”

You are correct there is no clash of civilisations. Many Muslims are just as liberal as Westerners and the histories of both the ‘West’ and ‘Islam’ are equally pot-holed with acts of liberalism and acts of barbarism. There is however a clash of ideologies. One between those who believe in freedom, its associated rights, and those who don’t. Salafi Jihadis are definitely one of the enemies of freedom and they must be defeated. The same stands for the many and various Western statists who oppose freedom too.

None of us believes in an untrammelled right to free speech

Some of us do because, basically, there is an untrammelled right to free speech. What there is not is a right not to be offended. The reason is simple, offence is entirely subjective. What offends one person may not offend another. You cannot possibly write a law that defines what is offensive and what is not. All that will ever happen is the state will define and outlaw what they find offensive, not what you or I find offensive.

Also self censorship does not stand opposed to free speech. Self censorship is again subjective and based on our personal beliefs on what is stupid or wrong. It does not mean we oppose other people’s right to say those things. For example I am not an athiest so I am not going to call Catholics “mental, sky-fairy worshippers”. I would deem that statement insulting. However if an athiest wishes to say that, they are free to do so as we have different preferences.

The Prophet Muhammad and the Holocaust are comparable

This is simply ridiculous, even for an agnostic like myself. For an athiest it would be utterly insane. You simply cannot compare the Holocaust or 9/11, both evil events that definitely occurred, with the Prophet Muhammad.

Islam and its Prophet are a matter of faith not a matter of fact. For example there is little evidence for the existence of Muhammad or his ‘Word’ until the 9th century, two centuries after his death.

There are magnitudes of difference between lampooning something that is definite and something that may or may not be so. This holds even if I believe neither should be banned.

Parisian mourners would have killed a person holding a cartoon lampooning the dead cartoonists

You are probably quite correct that an angry, distressed mob ‘may’ kill a fool. That though does not mean the fool is not free to do something idiotic and dangerous. So long as the law does not turn a blind eye to the murder of a person expressing themselves in a foolish way freedom of speech has not been undermined. The actions of the mob or the murderer do not taint us all.

Charlie Hebdo was a racist and hypocritical magazine

This may well be the case, I have never read nor researched said publication so I am not entirely aware. This though does not undermine their right to say and act as they please. It also provides no justification for the murder of their employees. Nor does it undermine the fact the attack was an attack against free expression. They were murdered for expressing themselves, regardless of what they expressed.

Westerners are hypocrites and there foreign policy is wrong

I agree on both points. The West’s foreign policy has both been wrong and very, very stupid. And yes many Westerners are hypocrites who are easily offended too. You could even draw comparison between some Western ideologies and Salafism. The latter after all has significant Platonic overtones — an irony seemingly lost on many Jihadis.

Again though, neither of those points undermine the importance or inalienable nature of free expression. Nor should it water down our opposition to those who oppose freedom of speech — such as our ‘friends’ the Salafi Jihadis.

I do hope you will consider my points and look at free speech in a more positive light.

Yours Faithfully,

Robert Waller


  1. If this is the Mr Hasan who has been connected with the New Statesman magazine and Al Jazeera television, then talking to him is a waste of time – as he wants us defeated. He seeks some sort of mixture of Islam and socialism – under the “Social Justice” concept, the central principle of totalitarian movements.

    Still turning to the specific points made….

    Both Mr Hasan and Mr Waller are mistaken – there is (not “is not”) a clash of civilisations. It is not some sect of Islam that can not allow the insulting of Mohammed – it is mainstream Islam that can not allow it. After all when an old blind poet mocked Mohammed the poet was treacherously murdered, and Mohammed approved of the murder. And when a pregnant female poet protested against the murder of the old blind poet, she was murdered as well – and Mohammed approved of this murder also.

    How can there be an Islam that does not follow the ideas and practices of Mohammed himself? That rejects his fundamental principles.

    For example what Westerners call “treachery”, promising peace and then launching a surprise attack, was a tactic that Mohammed (a military as well as political genius) himself used, and with great success. How can there be an Islam that rejects treachery? Deceiving the infidels NOT for personal profit (Islamic teaching does not support that), but for the advantage of Islam (a tactic that the forces of Islam have used, and with great success, so many times in history). This is a difference in philosophical outlook, and, to be fair, had Mohammed not used the tactics he used, he would have lost – and would now be forgotten.

    Mr Waller does not specifically give Mr Hasan’s account of “Western” foreign policy – but I doubt that that Mr Hasan is attacking the habit of the French government of denouncing Israel every five minutes (attacks based on no knowledge whatever), or the refusal of the French government to support overthrowing the vicious dictator Saddam H. (with his AK47 rifles, T72 tanks, Mig 21 aircraft and so on – which lead morons to say that Saddam was “armed by the Americans”). Actually I did not support the war to overthrow S.H. either – largely because I assumed that, due to the nature of the population, any government that replaced him would be no good either.

    As for the holocaust.

    If someone wishes to argue that six million Jews were not killed – of course they should be allowed to do so. Perhaps the six million Jews were really taken to lost Atlantis and will soon be returned (not a day older than when they left) – I rather doubt that this is true, but it would be nice if it was.

    And if someone wishes to argue that all Jews should be killed now (including half Jews called Paul Marks) they should, of course, be allowed to argue that – with their own private property (such as a magazine). As I am a rather ugly man (fat, bald and so on) it would not be difficult to draw an offensive cartoon of me – and to argue the case that the world would be a better place (at least a more attractive place) if I was gassed.

    But, I repeat, I see no point in trying to explain any of the above to Mr Medhi Hassan. There is no point in talking to such person, on any matter whatever, although I full support Mr Hassan’s right of freedom of speech.

    As long as I am not forced to watch or hear Mr Hassan speak, or to buy a magazine or newspaper he writes for.



    1. Paul I used Mehdi Hasan’s article more as means to structure some of my own thoughts on these issue than because I thought I could convince him of something. That bit is tongue in cheek.



      1. I see Rob – I apologise for getting wrong end of the stick.

        Do not get old (at least not as old as me) – it is like having a hangover without drinking the night before.


  2. We all agree there are always going to be lines that, for the purposes of law and order, cannot be crossed; or for the purposes of taste and decency, should not be crossed.

    Hasan is wrong, because I, for one, do not agree that free speech should be curtailed by law or another’s subjective morality.

    Let the holocaust deniers and religious fundamentalists say what they like. Once they have expressed their views we can point them to the evidence that proves they are wrong.

    So if Paul would like to take advantage of the freedom of expression provided by this forum in defence of Western foreign policy in the Middle East I’ll happily explain why it is corrupt and counter productive. Just as Islamic violence is indefensible so is Western state violence in Iraq, Libya and Syria.



    1. So would you have argued for the release of Nazi officers who never personally killed anyone but where simply giving orders? I mean… that was only speech too.

      Would calling people to take up arms and commit crimes against humanity… without actually doing it yourself be considered acceptable under the umbrella of “free speech”? Why not?



      1. ” I mean… that was only speech too.”

        No, speech was the means of conveying orders and committing conspiracy to murder.


  3. “What there is not is a right not to be offended. The reason is simple, offence is entirely subjective.”

    The reason, I suggest, that there is no interest of anyone in protecting themselves from knowing what I say, other than the right not to hear me or read my words within the confines of their own personal space, barring deemed consent by taking an interest in the world. I.e. Being offensive is not tortious, unlike assault or battery.

    The law in England purports to have an objective standard of offensive, by prohibiting things that are ‘offensive’ or ‘grossly offensive’, measured simply by a judge’s thumb, as it were.



  4. It is important to remember that freedom of speech has two aspects: the right to say what you want, and the right (if not indeed the moral duty) to hear what others have to say.

    Many people overlook this second point, and, as they don’t care that much about the rights of certain people or groups to express themselves, they hand over responsibility for judging the rights or wrongs and the truth or falsehood of particular viewpoints or purported facts, which are often of the most controversial of natures.

    Thus, to deny freedom of speech can amount to a moral abdication, as well as an infringement on others’ rights to self-expression.



    1. Alas, the problem is, some people are taught so that any slight, any lack of “respect” shown to their world view, provokes powerful, violent and even murderous reactions.

      Others wish to suppress alternative views to their own, or those not on The List of Allowable Opinion. Such people are just, if not more, dangerous, as their methods slide into the consciousness of the population.

      To me, they are both manifestations of totalitarianism.

      The opposite, an environment of voluntarism, is the basis in which freedom of speech can exist.



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