Free Speech for Whom?
Elon Musk claims to be a “free speech absolutist.” But Twitter’s new owner may already be recognizing the need to distinguish between speech that appeals to reason and evidence, or seeks to broaden our empathy and understanding, in an effort to persuade us, and speech that seeks to vilify others and stir up hatred against them.
PRINCETON – How is it that a man who has banned 83 million people from Twitter can freely use the platform to post his messages denigrating women and supporting the brutal attack on the writer Salman Rushdie? I’m referring to the leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose government is killing young women who want to be able to show their hair in public.
For several years, the Iranian-American activist Masih Alinejad has been calling for Khamenei to be banned from Twitter. Last month, along with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, she received the 2022 Oxi Courage Award at the United States Institute of Peace. Opposition to Khamenei does indeed require courage, as is evident from the attack on Rushdie last August, which can be traced to the 1989 fatwa issued by Khamenei’s predecessor, Ayatollah Khomeini, condemning Rushdie to death for blasphemy.
As recently as 2019, Khamenei called this verdict “solid and irrevocable,” and Iran’s foreign ministry refused to reproach Rushdie’s attacker, instead blaming Rushdie. Alinejad herself has been under FBI protection since August, when police arrested and charged a man with plotting to kill her.
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