UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Harmful speech? : Free expression and the politics of recognition Cheng, Justin Philip


This thesis argues that present free speech debates are unable to deal with speech that reinforces prejudicial understandings of marginalized groups. Addressing these forms of speech would require liberals to examine freedom of speech in the context of democracy. By recasting the discourse according to democratic considerations, liberals can retain the principle of free speech while addressing expression that reinforces stigmatization of minority groups. Using the Jylland-Posten cartoons as a case study, I argue that the imagery of the cartoons justified European suspicion and mistrust of the Muslim minority. The cartoons promoted the conceptualization of the Muslim as the outsider. Thus, European Muslims suffered injury as citizens because they were not treated as equal participants in democratic discourse. I contend that an absolute understanding of free speech is inadequate at explaining the relationship between speech and democracy. Situating free speech according to a democratic framework will assist society in finding concrete solutions to these deeply heated free speech controversies.

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