Sunday, February 19, 2006

Rights and interests

A man in Russia republished the Mohammed cartoons on his website, a popular one that quickly established itself as the top result for corresponding searches on popular Russian search engines.

Subsequently, his hosting account was blocked. Access to all the content was restricted both via HTTP and FTP, so he could not even retrieve the data from his projects. Inquiries with the hoster uncovered that they received a phone call from Russia's secret police (which branch has not been specified, and neither had the caller's identity) telling them to take the site down. The e-mail conversations (here and here, in Russian, via Exler) show the hoster's technical director expressing dismay at the webmaster's sheer gall, posting something that was not in line with the government's current policy and not understanding the ramifications. The technical director said that, as he was older than the webmaster, he knew better and was acting in the webmaster's best interests, suggesting quite transparently that had the man not been in the Ukraine at the time, he would most likely be arrested and convicted, and still might be should he return to Russia.

The technical director could cite no laws that were broken through the publication of the cartoons. However, nobody even vaguely familiar with the reality of life in Russia doubts that the webmaster could, in fact, be prosecuted as the result of his actions.

Discussing this on a Russian forum, I witnessed my opponent saying that the webmaster was in fact at fault; that his childish actions were contrary to the national interests of the state, and he had no right to do so.

Now, let me reiterate my position: yes, the cartoons are offensive, and yes, anyone republishing them is knowingly offending Muslims. This, however, cannot be cause for limiting a person and a society's right to select their own laws and standards of acceptable behaviour within their own country.

My opponent asked me a hypothetical: if I owned a house next to the house of a Muslim, would I place something obviously offensive to him in my front lawn, knowing it would make my neighbour my enemy? No, I probably wouldn't. But I would certainly want the right, under law, to do so if I wished.

In a free country, the interests of the state cannot override the rights of a person.

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