At Reason, Jacob Sullum highlights the good and not-so-good about President Obama’s defence of free speech:
Addressing the U.N. General Assembly last week, President Obama tried to explain this strange attachment that Americans have to freedom of speech. He was handicapped by his attraction to a moral principle whose dangers the journalist Jonathan Rauch presciently highlighted in his 1993 book Kindly Inquisitors: “Thou shalt not hurt others with words.”
During the last few weeks, the widespread, often violent, and sometimes deadly protests against The Innocence of Muslims, a laughably amateurish trailer for a seemingly nonexistent film mocking the prophet Muhammad, have demonstrated the alarming extent to which citizens of Muslim countries, including peaceful moderates as well as violent extremists, embrace this injunction against offending people. “We don’t think that depictions of the prophets are freedom of expression,” a Muslim scholar explained to The New York Times. “We think it is an offense against our rights.”
This notion of rights cannot be reconciled with the classical liberal tradition of free inquiry and free expression. But instead of saying that plainly, Obama delivered a muddled message, mixing a defense of free speech with an implicit endorsement of expectations that threaten to destroy it.
Update: The UN thinks free speech is something that was created by the UN in 1948:
Free speech is a “gift given to us by the [Universal] Declaration of Human Rights,” said Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations Jan Eliasson during a press conference on October 2nd at UN headquarters in New York. It is “a privilege,” Eliasson said, “that we have, which in my view involves also the need for respect, the need to avoid provocations.”