Don’t Ban Burqas—Or Censor “South Park”

Question: Is the headscarf ban partly a reaction to perceived \r\nMuslim threats to free speech?

\r\nJoan Wallach Scott: The groups who protest the Danish cartoons… \r\nwho protested the Danish cartoons, the threats…  I think those are sort \r\nof terrible things, but I don’t think the vast majority of the \r\npopulations we’re talking about and those who are affected by things \r\nlike headscarf laws are involved in that.  If they are they’re pulled in\r\n by the sense of discrimination and objection they feel in the host \r\ncountries in which they live, but more than that I don’t see how banning\r\n headscarves makes any difference in the reaction of politicized Islamic\r\n groups to something like the Danish cartoons.  It seems to me that the \r\ncure being offered doesn’t fit the problem that is being defined and the\r\n cure is a kind of general Islam phobia that attaches to all Muslims and\r\n that affects the practices of all Muslims, so I think girls and \r\nheadscarves are benign.  I really don’t think that that is the flag of \r\nIslamic terrorism or the cover for deeply felt terrorist inclinations.  I\r\n do think for…  There are issues of religious belief.  There are issues \r\nof identification with a world movement that removes you from the kind \r\nof more objected ethnic racial inferiority you feel in the country that \r\nyou are, so that you can identify with something that is bigger than you\r\n and that feels more comfortable or gives you a kind of recognition that\r\n you otherwise feel you’re not getting, so you know there are lots of \r\nissues involved in the choice to wear a headscarf, but I don’t think \r\nwearing a headscarf or having people not wear headscarves or not wear \r\nburqas has anything to do with addressing the problem of political \r\naction, political censorship of things like the Danish cartoons.
\r\nQuestion: Should our guiding principle in such clashes be \r\n“free expression above all”?

\r\nJoan Wallach Scott: I mean I guess I’m you know I’m certainly for\r\n free expression.  I think that… and I was the head of the Committee on \r\nAcademic Freedom in tenor at the American Association of University \r\nProfessors, so that was the hat I wore for a long time and I certainly \r\nthink free expression is what there should be.  There are always tricky \r\ncontexts and the one in which the Danish cartoon somehow seemed to be a \r\nblow, a horrible blow at religious belief and religious…  You know if \r\nthe Danish cartoons had been swastikas, what would the response have \r\nbeen on the part of Jewish community?  I mean maybe people wouldn’t have\r\n threatened the lives of the cartoonists, but I think there would have \r\nbeen an outpouring of objection on the part of members of the Jewish \r\ncommunity about this travesty that was allowed to be expressed even as \r\nfreedom of speech is something that is recognized and, you know, the \r\nNazi march in Skokie, Illinois in the 1970s or 80s, I mean civil \r\nlibertarians here said that march had to be allowed to take place, but \r\nso I think one can under…  There was a certain kind of insensitivity \r\nthat was involved in the publication of the cartoons in a context in \r\nwhich this was a really volatile and explosive issue, but I think they \r\nshould have been allowed to be published.  I do think though that the…  \r\nAs I say I don’t think if they had been…  I don’t think the editors of \r\nthe paper would have allowed the publication of similar cartoons in \r\nwhich anti-Semitism could be the accusation rather than attacks on \r\nMuslims.
\r\n Question:
Should the satirical “South Park” episode \r\nabout Islam have been censored?

\r\nJoan Wallach Scott:  No, I think that that…  I think that was \r\nfine.  I mean I think that…  And I think people are looking to sort of… \r\n There was certainly threats and all of the rest of it, but I you know \r\nno, I don’t…  I think that can be allowed.  Again, I guess my test \r\nalways is if we’re as tolerant of what could be taken to be…  \r\npost-Holocaust, what are taken to be anti-Semitic gestures as \r\nanti-Muslim ones then you know I think yeah, why not allow these \r\ncharacters to sort of play around and be satirical.

Recorded April 26th, 2010

\r\nInterviewed by Austin Allen

Western attempts to ban Islamic religious garb, and Muslim attempts to censor Western religious satire may be separate issues. But neither is a good idea.

Photo by Callum Shaw on Unsplash
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