The freedom to express oneself without fear and the tolerance for opposing viewpoints are what binds otherwise diverse, democratic societies. In the United States, this freedom is protected by the Constitution, with only very specific limits, the key one of which was imposed in 1969, following a landmark Supreme Court ruling in the case of Brandenburg v. Ohio. According to that ruling, inflammatory speech cannot be penalized unless it is “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.”
The discussion of the boundaries of free speech is one that continues to arouse controversy, both in the US and abroad. It basically centers on the extent to which a country agrees with American Founding Father and fourth president James Madison, who said: “A man has a property in his opinions and the free communication of them.”
British-Indian author Salman Rushdie — whose book, The Satanic Verses, spurred Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to issue a fatwa ordering Muslims to kill him — clearly holds Madison’s view. In the 30 years since the book was released, Rushdie has been warning about the dangers of curbing free speech. Not only did he bemoan the 2015 mass murder in Paris of the Charlie Hebdo magazine staff at the hands of radical Islamists, but he has also been an outspoken critic of Western universities censoring and banning speakers with whom they disagree. “It’s nonsense, and it needs to be called out as nonsense and rejected as thoroughly as possible,” he said in 2015, while accepting a lifetime achievement award from the Chicago Tribune.
The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) — made up of 57 mostly Muslim-majority states(56 plus “Palestine”) — disagrees. In its 8th observatory report on Islamophobia, the OIC states, “…there is a need… to work with the media to promote the understanding of responsible use of freedom of speech… [and]… Hold the media accountable for perpetuating hate speech and extremism.” The OIC’s Media Strategy in Countering Islamophobia and its Implementation Mechanisms describes one part of its strategy as:
“To call media professionals to develop, articulate and implement voluntary codes of conduct to counter Islamophobia. The OIC and its Member States should be vocal in calling media professionals to use the power they have with responsibly through accurate reporting..”