One of the most impressive characteristics of religious extremists is the ability to hold facially contrary positions without any sense of contradiction or hypocrisy. Saudi Arabia decries any limitations on Muslims worshipping in other countries while banning churches and public worship of non-Muslims in its own country. Iran is particularly prone to such contradictions like executing homosexuals while denying that there are any homosexuals in Iran or objecting to the treatment of protesters in the West while jailing, beating and killing protesters in Iran. This week Iran offered another such example. In refusing to censor a Holocaust-themed cartoon festival, Iran (which has ordered the killing of authors and cartoonists for insulting Islam) insisted that it had to stand with free speech and would not think of interfering with an author or cartoonist in expressing their views. The same week, Iran has called for the arrest and punishment of models who allow themselves to be photographed without religious scarves. Likewise, it previously ordered the flogging of a model for a public kiss.
While governments should not censor such competitions and should protect free speech, Iran could condemn the competition. Thus, it is not that Iran is wrong in refusing to shutdown the competition. Rather, it is the towering hypocrisy of a nation that is one of the brutal suppressors of free speech in the world embracing free speech without a hint of self-awareness.
As Israel and the United States condemn Iran for allowing a Holocaust-themed cartoon festival to go on display in Tehran, the Iranian regime says it won’t censor what it says is free speech. Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, “Don’t consider Iran a monolith. The Iranian government does not support, nor does it organize, any cartoon festival of the nature that you’re talking about. When you stop your own organizations from doing things, then you can ask others to do likewise.” Really, tell that to Salman Rushdie who Iran is still trying to murder for simply writing a book considered offensive to Muhammad.
Zarif added “Why does the United States have the Ku Klux Klan? Is the government of the United States responsible for the fact that there are racially hateful organizations in the United States?” Of course, that would a valid point if, like the United States, Iran allowed free speech. If that were the case, Iran would be on good ground in saying that it will not censor speech for any group, even hateful or divisive groups. But of course it not only suppresses free speech but kills people who express certain thoughts.
This year is the second International Holocaust Cartoon Contest to be held in Tehran. The competition was created as a juvenile response to the printing in 2005 by Jyllands-Posten, a Danish newspaper, of a series of cartoons that mocked Muslim prophet, igniting protests across the world. The Iranian organizers are trying to show that in the West people cannot satirize the Holocaust but can satirize Muhammad. The premise is of course false in the United States. However, in Europe, countries like France, England, and Germany are rapidly rolling back on free speech. It is possible in these countries that mocking the Holocaust would be treated as hate speech, something that many civil libertarians (including myself) have decried over the years. However, while there are plenty of countries that can reasonably point to that contradiction of free speech principles, Iran is not one of them.