The question of free speech has been brought up several times this year. First there were those cartoons, then the Pope, and then some opera (incidentally, opera is a rubbish, over-appreciated, underwhelming form of art). In its latest manifestation, Robert Redeker, a largely unknown French philosopher, has become an overnight darling of the Champions of Free Speech after receiving death threats for a column he write in Le Figaro.
The problem is not so much, or only, Redeker's comments in a newspaper. Such views are quite old and have been expressed many times by rabble rousers and scholars, some of which can probably be found in publications at a university library. They're part of the staple diet on which bigots feed to confirm their own prejudices. The pressing problem is that whilst Redeker, and others, are given column inches that would make Patrick Vieira look inadaquete, very little is done to provide a view from the other side. Le Figaro allowed Redeker to express his views; and this is fine, even if the views are indecent and vulgar, because there are legal, social and cultural reasons (since there is also a "context" to be invoked when discussing French views towards a public expression of religious beliefs). But did they also invite a French Muslim to respond and write a column of equal length and magnitude? If not, why not? (Please let me know in the comments box if they did.)
It is all good and well to defend free speech as an abstracted principle. But you'd be a fool to think that just because you can shout as much as you want on the street corner, your voice is actually heard or understood or means anything. The current world, for better or for worse, is informed by the media; sounds, pictures and words in print. It is unfair to say to people that they accept attacks on their practices and their beliefs in the spirit of free speech, and then at the same time deny them a similar platform from which to respond to such verbal assaults. It is even worse if you continously exclude them from contributing to society so that they may at least rise to a position where they are able to respond. Sentiments such as "you have the right to respond" concentrate on abstractions; my right to do something is, in the end, only as good as my ability to achieve that right (cf. Burke's attack on the "pretended rights of these theorists" and "speculatists" who are more concerned about "abstract" rights). How many people did Redeker reach with his column? And how many would have seen the views of a French Muslim writing in some small publication for local or ethnic consumption? You cannot tell me this distribution is fair in anyway.
Death threats are damning in this situation and merely reinforce the views of Redeker and new found fans. But I don't think some newspapers and media outlets are immune from criticism for not abiding by the spirit of the principle they claim to be defending.