When Freedom Pisses People Off

There are no few times and places in modern western societies when, to be blunt, freedom pisses people off. It may be religious people ticking off seculars such as in the whole circumcision controversy in Germany, the Kosher slaughter ban in various places, or those scary and offensive, please!, headscarves and kippot in France. Sometimes, it is women walking through a religious neighborhood wearing immodest dress, a Reform Jew asking for freedom to practice Judaism in the Jewish state (how offensive!), creating a satirical, exploitative, or insulting depiction of rabbis, Christian leaders, or Jesus: “If I could turn this water into any kind of wine, it would be this year’s Cabernet Sauvingon from Holy Cow Vineyards.” Drawing cartoons and making movies that are insulting to some, even many, even hundreds of millions of people, are just part and parcel of freedom.

Sometimes, freedom really pisses people off. Having had the unfortunate opportunity to hear and see the hate filled protests of Westboro Baptist Church taking place just outside of my Temple and done so with a Holocaust survivor friend standing next to me, I know that freedom can be painful at times. We cannot take the good and not the bad.

For several decades now, it has been said that those in the Arab and Muslim worlds really cannot handle freedom. This is not said because the critic believes Arabs and Muslims incapable of making their own decisions or governing themselves.Nor is it said because there is a desire to oppress the citizenry of those states. More than anything, criticism has centered on the inability of large numbers in those lands to tolerate the freedom of others to disagree and in particular the extreme hatred expressed against not only criticism of religious dictates and a willingness to slaughter the critics.

It is not that critics of democracy in the Arab world believe that democracy as such may not exist. America’s Founding Fathers knew well that pure democracy is mob rule and we certainly see that in nation after nation. The question is whether or not minority rights may be protected. Are Christians safer in Morsi’s Egypt or were they safer in Mubarak’s? Any question as to the answer right now?

The real Arab Spring will not occur when mobs realize that they can take the place of dictators and simply oppress those who oppressed them. The real Arab Spring will occur when the freedom to denounce religion, to satirize and insult, is defended by the governments of those nations with the same energy now being expressed by those in the streets condemning that behavior. As long as people cannot express their opinions and share their ideas freely, even controversial insulting ones, there may be warmer days and colder days, but it remains winter. The sun has come out in the Arab world, perhaps, but the people are really still moving from blizzard to blizzard. 

About the Author
Rabbi David Kaufman is the Rabbi of Temple B'nai Jeshurun in Des Moines, Iowa, a congregation affiliated with the Union for Reform Judaism. He is also the President and Co-Founder of We Are For Israel, the home of "Centrist Advocates for Realistic Peace" and created the news site about the crisis in the Nuba Mountains, Rabbi Kaufman maintains an informational blog on which he posts sermons and other materials related to Jewish practice and belief at