Free Speech, Feminism, and Femen

Sara Salem at has a thoughtful piece on the reasons why she disapproves of Femen's demonstrations in support of Amina Tyler, a young Tunisian woman who was threatened with death by Tunisian fundamentalists because she posted a half-naked protest picture of herself on Facebook. Since I disagree with Ms. Salem on several points, I attempted to post the following comment, which was not published:

It actually seems there has been a lot more coverage of the “problem” of Femen than the murderous response of the Salafists. However you wish to characterize Femen’s protests, they are a non-violent form of expression that should be protected. I am not familiar with the Orwellian Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, but it is hard to believe that any body with such a name has a place in a free society. A proportionate response would be to treat Amina’s demonstration youthful indiscretion as a footnote and the Salafist response as a crime. Instead, Amina is being hounded from the country while the Salafists apparently remain in positions of growing influence. To suggest this is Femen’s fault is classic “blame the victim.”

As far as I know, neither Ms. Salem nor the many other women criticizing Femen's protest so much as said a word in Ms. Tyler's defense while she was receiving death threats before Femen responded with the "Topless Jihad."

I am fully in support of the right of Muslims to practice their religion freely on the same basis as adherents of any other religion. But I am even more committed to the free expression of ideas, even if they offend. The violent suppression of ideas by Muslim fundamentalists or by anyone else is something I abhor, and I think it is a shame that so many feminists seem intent on putting cultural relativism before free speech and opposition to violence against women whose style of protest does not suit them.