In light of the violence in response to the Pope’s recent speech, Betsy addresses the question of whether we should practice self-censorship when we suspect our words will lead to violence.
This is something I’ve been thinking about also. The purest in me says “speak your mind.” But when your words can cost innocent lives, it’s well to consider them carefully. I advocate self-moderation over self-censorship. We have a moral duty to the truth, and to speak it clearly, but we need also be aware that words have consequences, and that the highest wisdom may be found in temperance.
I remember living in Los Angeles during the riots set off by the Rodney King verdict. Then-Mayor Tom Bradley went on the air and made statements to the effect that the violent reaction was “understandable.” I always thought this an outrageous and irresponsible act. His job was to restore order, but his public comments served to justify and fuel the rioting. The wisdom of his opinion aside, the city would have been better served if he had expressed himself in a different way and, in that situation, at a different time.
The pope’s case is different, of course. This is not a conflict that will soon be resolved, and the pope’s message is vitally relevant to that resolution. Accordingly, I cannot endorse that he should have held his voice. However, the violent reaction to his speech was somewhat predictable, which suggests that he should have sought a more restrained tone–not out of respect for the Islamic radicals, but out of mercy for those they would murder.