Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Freedom of Speech

There was a large demonstration in Baghdad today to protest the Coalition’s decision to close down an Iraqi newspaper based on the claim that it had been printing stories encouraging readers to commit violent acts against Coalition forces. The initial language reported from the paper as the inciteful language seemed less than fully persuasive on that count. While I am having trouble pulling up the article, the language used by the banned paper was something to the effect of "if the Coalition continues to do X, they should not be surprised if there is more violence." I am going to withhold judgment, however, because the Coalition does have an interest in preventing attacks on its members, and either the translation or cultural context of such statements may not accurately convey the urgency of the message. If, however, the statements are this bland, then it would seem a questionable call by the administration. This of course raises the question of freedom of speech and language which is meant to encourage or incite violence. While U.S. Courts have taken a fairly broad view on the issue, it is generally agreed that incitement to violence is not protected speech, particularly in times of war or insurrection.

It is nonetheless somewhat encouraging to see that the largest protest since I have been here is one aimed at protecting speech. I actually walked through the protest. There were some who appeared to be genuinely protesting; others seemed to be waiving Shia colors as much as anything; and a large number seemed to be there because it was the thing to do in Baghdad on a balmy Wednesday night. The crowd was a bit unruly, and had thrown rocks at some soldiers. About half an hour after I left the crowd, there was an explosion in the distance. It did not appear to be in the direction of the protest, but I could not tell on the ground if it was related. I have posted some photos of the demonstration here. [UPDATE: My apologies for the typos in the original post, but I was typing furiously to get this up before the cafe closed.]

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