Hans Küng: Clash of Civilizations
A few posts ago, I related an anecdote from the time that I participated in Hans Küng's ecumenical seminar. In that story, I offered my opinion that Küng had not defended free speech strongly enough.
Well, speak of the devil...
In Friday's International Herald Tribune (March 3, 2004), Hans Küng presents an article, "How to prevent a clash of civilizations," that touches on this very point:
Press freedom in a responsible press:I cannot agree with Küng on this if he is implying that "it ... [should] only [be legally] permissible to ... deal tactfully in the media with the great religious figures of humankind." If this is what Küng means, then I believe that he is wrong. Free, tactless expression of opinons about religious figures should be permissible. Media in the West is already free to deal tactlessly with the great figures of Christianity -- even with Jesus himself. Of course, such free expression is powerfully offensive to millions of people. Maybe even to a couple of billion people.
But mustn't the freedom of opinion and press freedoms be upheld at all costs?
Without free media there can be no democracy. But freedom of expression may not be abused in such a way that it deliberately violates central religious feelings and produces stereotypical hostile images -- formerly of Jews, now of Muslims. Press freedom entails being responsible. If it is not permissible to defame individuals and to violate their dignity, then one should also deal tactfully in the media with the great religious figures of humankind, whether it be the Prophet Muhammad, the Buddha or Jesus Christ.
But that's precisely why such speech should be protected, i.e., because it is offensive.
Küng is speaking of "media," but Muslims do not draw the line there. If offensive speech about Muhammad is made illegal for the media, then what is to stop it from being made illegal in scholarly writings? Muslims consider any criticism of Muhammad to be unacceptable, so how are scholars supposed to present the details of and analyze the motives behind Muhammad's violent actions, of which, there were a large number, many of them apparently reflecting badly upon Muhammad's character?
Küng's proposal would give religions veto power over what people are allowed to say. That's a pretty ironic position for Küng to take, given that he doesn't like the fact that "the Vatican has rescinded his authority to teach Catholic theology" due to his 'offensive' views. Would Küng really want religions to have the same power over everyone that they do have over their own clergy?