Should groups in liberal democracies have special rights to limit speech that is offensive to their culture or religion?
My topic is an analysis of the various theories of multiculturalism and how they would respond to controversial issues concerning freedom of speech with regard to religious sensitivities. While Western nations have often concentrated on 'nation building', or the integration of citizens into public institutions, there has been the emerging trend of minority rights and 'multiculturalism' (Kymlicka, 2001, pp. 2-3). Groups with diverse interests and political agendas are resisting assimilation into wider society and are struggling for acceptence, respect and public affirmation of their differences (Parekh, 2000, p. 1). While the nation state has not become obselete, many of its traditional functions have lost their relevance and value and we therefore need to reconceptualize its nature and role (Parekh, 2000, pp. 193-194). Many nations have a new found interest in multicultural policies and Australia has declared itself multicultural in the early 1970's as did Canada; and the debate around multicultural policies has raged on in Britain, Germany and Israel since the 1960's (Parekh, 2000, p. 5). In Kymlicka's view, public opinion has shifted from seeing minority rights as a pragmatic compromise to a matter of fundamental justice (Kymlicka, 2001, p. 6). One controversy that multiculturalist policies have raised is issues of tolerance of cultural difference, including group rights. This is evident on a daily basis, from the storm around Muslim girls wearing headscarves in France, to the debate surrounding the use of French as a first language in Quebec; multiculturalism has been asked, what should be tolerated? In my dissertation I will look at the controversial topic of freedom of speech within liberal democratic systems. Freedom of speech is an integral part of a democratic system, and in democratic systems discussion is often cited as a means of reaching consensus and compromise. Free speech is also intended to explore new ways of thinking and to criticize ways of thinking and living. The difficulty comes when there are certain topics, such as the lampooning of Islam and the Prophet and denying the Holocaust, which are deemed to be off limits by certain groups. Different liberal philosophies however have differing views on what the limits of free speech are. I will be looking into these philosophies and whether the limits they set apply to the Danish cartoon controversy and to the David Irving case of Holocaust denialism. There are three broad theories of how liberal systems ought to deal with the demands of a plural society. These are 'classical liberalism', 'liberal nationalism' and 'multiculturalism'. In broad terms, classical liberal theory is intolerant of special group rights, liberal-nationalism affirms certain kinds of group rights within a liberal framework, and multiculturalism asserts the equality of cultures, and questions the primacy of liberalism. The question that I will be answering is how these theories deal with group rights when those groups ask for the limiting of speech that is deemed offensive to group culture or religion. In a more global society, different cultural and religious groups have differing levels of tolerance toward certain kinds of speech. Certain groups value freedom of speech with very few constraints, whilst others believe that that some speech is harmful and disrespectful to their culture or religion. Questions about the viability of these different cultural and religious groups co-existing have been highlighted by recent events. The two cases to be explored in my analysis will be, firstly, the outcry following the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed in Denmark. Many of these cartoons were seen to be derogatory to Muslims and the depiction of the Prophet is also not allowed in many Islamic traditions. Much of Danish society felt that although these cartoons were offensive and in bad taste, they had to protect their right to freedom even though it may be offensive to others. This pits the Islamic culture against that of the Danish 'liberal' culture and asks the question of whether 'liberal' culture or 'multiculturalism' can assure religious tolerance? My second example is the controversial case involving the historian David Irving and his questioning of the Holocaust. This questioning led to his imprisonment in Austria for the crimes of Holocaust denial. This case involves someone expressing his freedom of speech, yet many liberal-democratic countries have laws expressly prohibiting this kind of Holocaust denial. The reasoning behind such laws is to protect the sentiments of Jewish community and the suffering they endured under the Holocaust. In both cases, the interests of religious groups are invoked as being sufficiently harmed, and the liberal right to free speech should therefore be limited. Hence the thesis looks to explore religious tolerance available in classical liberal, liberal-nationalist and multiculturalist systems at a theoretical level. I will also argue that certain kinds and manner of speech, such as speech that lampoons and offends group sensibilities, should be limited in certain cases and that liberal-nationalism provides the most fair way of adjudicating disputes.