Around the world, “freedom of speech” has a generally agreed upon definition and application: according to Article 19 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone has the right to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas.”
Has someone neglected to tell Iran about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or is it simply flagrantly flouting it? Whatever it’s doing, it’s testing (or redefining) the limits of irony. In just one such example, Iran recently boycotted the Frankfurt Book Fair for inviting author Salman Rushdie to attend, while some media outlets even called for his murder – all in the name of “free speech” (because in Iran, apparently, silencing authors is what free speech is all about). In reporting Tehran’s decision, some Western outlets used softer terms than “boycott” – such as “withdraw” (The Independent), “pull [its] stand” or “cancel plans” (AP), or “shun” (The Guardian).
Some Iranian media outlets, however, not only openly endorsed the boycott, but called for violence against Rushdie as well (apparently, “free speech” permits and justifies that, but not Rushdie’s appearance at the fair). The newspaper Jomhouri-e Eslami (“Islamic Republic”), for example, invoked the 1989 fatwa issued by the Imam Khomeini permitting Rushdie’s killing, reminding readers that it is still in place. The website Khaybar, meanwhile, went even further, publishing a sinister illustration of Rushdie in a hangman’s noose.
Boycotting and inciting to violence and murder in the name of freedom of speech? Hangings may be a rather casual affair in Iran, where capital punishment is astonishingly rife, but this may be taking things a bit too far… how ironic can you get?