Will Saletan has has published a piece making a traditionalist American absolutist case for free speech. He points out that in most Western nations there are in fact curbs on speech which is considered offensive, disturbing, and perhaps dangerous. Therefore, Muslims who point to Western hypocrisy have a point. I agree with this argument without reservation. But, I do want to reiterate the putative targets of offense are illustrative of a divergence of values in and of themselves. Though I wouldn’t criticize non-Western Muslims for pointing out the existence of laws banning denial of the Holocaust, I do have issues when Western Muslims bring this point up even innocuously. The reason is simple: the Holocaust concerns the systematic state-sponsored murder of millions of human beings. This is a far more serious issue than the reputation of the prophet Muhammad. Of course that statement reflects my particular values. And, whether you accept the idea of hate speech or not I suspect most Westerners would accept the validity of this proposition.
More generally a major thread running through conflicts about speech is globalization and technology. Today communication and propagation is nearly frictionless, and government curbs on speech either have to be very robust (e.g., Saudi Arabia or China), or, they have to be nominal and selective. The great thing about American free speech absolutism is that the implementation is relatively easy and clear. The problem with speech laws in other nations is that it seems that they are enforced sporadically and at the pleasure of the authorities. This may seem coherent in nations with heavy censorship, but it seems peculiar and out of place in those nations where censorship in the exception and not the rule.