CAIR's statement ont he matter "reiterate[s] the Muslim community’s strong belief that the controversy is not an issue of free speech, but is instead based on concerns over hate speech and incitement."
"Not an issue of free speech." Newspapers' rights to publish cartoons, some of which simply portray a religious figure (albeit in a way that many adherents of the religion find blasphemous) and others of which link the religious figure to violence as a way of making a political statement about the violence practiced in the religion's name, is "not an issue of free speech." I certainly hope that CAIR's views of what constitutes "free speech" don't make much headway, though I'm sorry to say that others and still more others — who are fortunately not in America — seem to agree with them.
CAIR does "condemn all violent actions by those who are protesting the cartoons." I'm glad that CAIR doesn't belong to the camp that believes in street violence as a means of suppressing political and religious expression it finds offensive. I'm not glad that it belongs to the camp that believes in governmental suppression — fines? prison? — of political and religious expression it finds offensive.
CAIR describes itself as "America's largest Muslim civil liberties group." Too bad that its view of civil liberties is so cramped as to fail to recognize the liberty of speech involved here.
UPDATE: Some commenters asked me to clarify why I see the CAIR statement is a call for legal punishment, and not just for denunciation. Sure; "incitement" is a classic example of speech that's constitutionally unprotected, and thus punishable even in the U.S. It's also a classic example of punishable speech in international discussions of the matter. When someone says that a "controversy" about the publication of certain materials "is not an issue of free speech, but is instead based on concerns over hate speech and incitement," it seems to me that it's saying that the materials aren't protected as free speech, but punishable as incitement. Likewise, many people have urged a creation of a new "hate speech" exception to First Amendment protection (and I've seen plenty of casual statements, though generally not by First Amendment lawyers, that assume that such an exception exists); that is likewise consistent with my interpretation.
If someone had said that a controversy about some statements "is not an issue of free speech, but is instead based on concerns over libel," or "obscenity," or "fighting words," we'd easily recognize, I think, that the person is urging that the speech be punishable (since libel, obscenity, and fighting words are the names of categories of punishable speech). The same applies when people say that a controversy about cartoons "is not an issue of free speech, but is instead based on concerns over . . . incitement." In fact, this speech does not fall within the recognized First Amendment incitement exception, but I take the reference to "incitement" to be a call for treating the speech as constitutionally unprotected.
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