TEHRAN - Charles Taliaferro, a professor of philosophy at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, believes that the anti-Muslim advertisements placed on Washington DC Metro buses are meant to incite “wrongful conduct”.
The advertisements say two-thirds of U.S. aid goes to “Islamic countries” along with a call to “end all aid to Islamic countries.”
“Arguably, the ads are a form of what some call hate-speech, communication that is aimed at inciting violence and wrongful conduct,” Taliaferro says.
Following is the text of the interview:
Q: What is the purpose behind such anti-Muslim advertisements?
A: This ad is the work of an extremist, ultra-right wing group known as the American Defense Initiative, an organization that is not just anti-Muslim or Islamophobic but it is also deeply opposed to President Obama’s vision of internationalism as opposed to a policy of isolationism and narrow, uncritical nationalism. Arguably, the ads are a form of what some call hate-speech, communication that is aimed at inciting violence and wrongful conduct. The leaders of ADI, sometimes referred to as Stop Islamization of America, Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller, are deeply opposed to what they see as the pro-Muslim policies of our government and the increasing role that Muslims have in the United States and Europe. In a sense, the ads may be evidence that there is only a very small group of people who are anti-Muslim. After all, Geller and Spencer would not be scared of Islam if Muslim citizens and Islamic nations were not treated favorably by our government and culture. You will not see ads on buses today warning against the dangerous rise of polytheism.
Q: Will democracy legitimize such an advertisement?
A: The democratic political culture in the USA will not legitimize the ad, but toleration is another matter. In the USA there is a foundational, constitutional freedom of expression, including toleration of those who use their right to free speech to oppose the Constitution itself. Anywhere in the United States, an American flag may be burned and destroyed in protest against the government, and, so long as the protest is nonviolent, the protesters’ right to burn the flag will be protected by the American government. This is clearly a case of tolerance in the sense of enduring and protecting something most Americans find profoundly ugly and repugnant rather than any kind of legitimization. After all, when Americans pledge their allegiance to the United States they begin by saying “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands.”
One of the prices of being faithful to our Republic is that we have to allow and protect those who peacefully say things many of us find outrageous, abominable, profane, and even anti-democratic. Rather than ‘hate speech’ in which we treat each other derisively, I support what I would love to call ‘love speech,’ communication that enhanced the shared respect and sympathy with each other.
Unfortunately, the term ‘love speech’ will never catch on because it will sound too sentimental or unserious or worse, and we will need to use a less tantalizing term like speech that reflects civic respect.
Even so, why should it be easier to talk about hate rather than love? I suggest that if Geller and Spencer truly loved our Republic they would seek to improve the cohesion, respect, and tolerance of our citizenry, Muslim and non-Muslim alike.