Freedom Of Expression or Freedom To Blaspheme?
By Mirza Yawar Baig
18 September, 2012
Freedom of expression must not be confused with freedom from the consequences of expression. Exercising freedom and abusing it are not the same. The latter forfeits the former. Just because we are free to express ourselves, it doesn’t free us from the responsibility for what we express. We are responsible for what we say and do and for the consequences thereof and so must consider carefully what we want to express. This is the basis of what we call civilized socially responsible behavior.
Once again we have an attack on the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) on whom it seems to be open season all the year round for people to take pot shots. And then cry foul when those who love him get upset. The rule seems to be, ‘I will say or do whatever I want but you must not get offended.’ Another rule, ‘Prove your maturity and culture by not being offended by insults.’
Seems strange indeed to us who are brought up in a culture where honor is not just important, it is everything. Respect for our signs and symbols is what our sense of honor is based on. And there is no symbol of our honor other than Allah Himself, that is more important than the Prophet (Peace be on him). So if someone insults him, it is very natural for a Muslim to feel sad and very mad. The claim of those who make these attacks is, ‘But we are not offended when someone blasphemes against Jesus or Moses. So how can you be offended when we insult Mohammed (Peace be on them all)?’ That is like saying, ‘I am not offended if you curse my parents and so you should also not be offended if I curse your parents.’
Our response is of course, ‘We have never cursed your parents in the first place. And secondly if you are not offended if someone curses your parents it is a sign that you are lacking in a sense of honor. That you are shameless. How can you demand that we also become shameless?’ For the record, find me a film made by a Muslim which abuses Jesus or Moses? You won’t find it because we revere them as prophets of Allah. So when Muslims have not done anything to abuse Christianity or Judaism, why should they be subjected to abuse from Christians and Jews (the people who allegedly made this ridiculous film) and be compelled to accept it?
I am not for a moment justifying or countenancing the violent protests and the unfortunate killing of innocent people. I have already spoken against that on several occasions since it happened. However I am writing this to request all responsible people to seriously wake up and start asking some pointed questions. One of which should be, ‘What was the need for this film in the first place? What is wrong with letting people believe whatever they want? What is wrong with leaving people alone with their religions – which is a basic human right?’
I was interested to read one of the comments of the learned viewers of the film who said, ‘In all their history, Muslims have contributed to the development of mankind less than a bunch of donkeys.’ What do you do with such ignorance? Another one demands that he will screen this film along with clips from other films which are insulting to Hindus, Christians and Jews and he demands that people must sit and watch all of them with equanimity. Isn’t that the strangest statement? For someone to make this insane demand is not considered insane. But when someone protests at this unprovoked attack on his honor, he is guilty of intolerance.
Why must people be forced to tolerate insults? Why must people be forced to sacrifice their honor just because those who have no honor want to exercise their fancy? Is this fair? Is anyone interested in justice anymore?
If we go by this logic then the right to safety and security must be balanced by the right to terrorize a population. The right to education must be balanced by the right to remain ignorant. The right to health must be balanced by the right to sickness. The right to marriage must be balanced by the right to rape and so on. Crazy, isn’t it? Just as crazy as the call that the right to freedom of religion must be balanced by the right to blaspheme any religion. These people want to impose the rule on us that if the followers of any religion want to practice their religion then they must be prepared to accept the fact that all that they hold holy and sacred will be blasphemed, insulted, degraded and desecrated by other people who don’t care about their feelings and they must accept this treatment without complaint.
Doesn’t that sound like a gross violation of human rights? It does, to me. Violence to human rights is not only physical violence. It is also violence that is psychological and mental. Ask any divorce lawyer who is suing on the basis of mental torture. This is an accepted principal in law. Freedom is defined as something that you are permitted to do as long as it does not violate someone else’s freedom; does not hurt someone else; does not harm anyone else. That is why the famous saying, “Your freedom ends where my nose begins.” If we define freedom as the unbridled right of someone to do whatever he or she wants irrespective of what harm this action or speech may do to someone else’s dignity, reputation, relationships or position, then we would have complete chaos and anarchy.
Defined in the way the makers of this ridiculous film and their supporters are demanding, freedom of speech must be rechristened ‘freedom to abuse’, ‘freedom to hurt’, ‘freedom to damage’, freedom to destroy’. This is a completely senseless argument and this behavior is not civilized at all. It is barbarism and oppression at its worst. So what is so different when it is done by film makers with the target being not one man or woman but an entire population? If anything it must make the crime humungous in magnitude. Like murder, which when it is perpetrated against an entire population becomes a holocaust and genocide. Ask the Jews who were the victims of this at the hands of Hitler. Of course that was before the West invented the term ‘collateral damage’. Otherwise they too, like the Iraqis and Palestinians, would have been mere statistics rather than innocent people who suffered one of the worst man-made disasters in the history of mankind. Unfortunately it seems to be by no means the last.
Yet we are asked to accept this ridiculous argument that if we are practicing Christians then we must accept films that show Jesus as a fornicating rock star or his pictures holding a beer can in one hand and a cigarette in another. If we are practicing Hindus then we must accept the pictures of the gods we worship, on toilet seats. And if we are practicing Muslims then we must accept the most obviously hatred filled images of the one person who we hold the most holy, Mohammad, the Messenger of Allah (Peace be on him). And all of us, Muslims, Christians, Hindus and others who have not been targeted yet are told that we have to accept someone’s ‘right’ to indulge his perversion at our expense. And if we dare to protest, then we will be labeled uncivilized, terrorists and anti-human.
In this version of civilization, it is civilized behavior to insult a religion. It is uncivilized behavior to protest against that insult. Does this make sense to you? It doesn’t to me. But it seems to make sense to a small minority (my assumption) of people who are seeking to impose their warped sense of values on the rest of the world. The question is what should be our reaction? Ideally I would love to ignore this thing entirely. But I’m afraid that it may only make such people bolder and eventually we will get to a point where we can’t ignore it anymore and then the reactions are more destructive.
In my view it is important for people of all religions to come together and stand together to ensure that freedom of worship and freedom of expression is ensured for everyone. And that this is done with an understanding of responsibility for expression. There can be no freedom of worship or expression when some people insult and abuse what someone else worships or reveres. Insulting someone personally is not accepted as a freedom in any civilized society. If someone did that they would become liable for legal action and punishment. So how can it be accepted to insult someone or something that an individual worships or considers holy?
Will someone explain this insanity to me please??
Mirza Yawar Baig Founder & President of YAWAR BAIG & ASSOCIATES™, International Speaker, Coach, Trainer and Facilitator specializing in Leadership Development. He is a consultant faculty in a number of universities
Freedom of Expression?
By: Khalid Baig
With the latest in-your-face act of the Facebook, the issue is once again attracting headlines. Should Muslims react? How should they react? Where do they stand on the philosophical issue underlying all this?
In the media the issue has been framed as a clash between two camps. One camp stands for freedom of expression. The other wants to curtail it. Needless to say the first camp is enlightened and virtuous. The other is a relic of the dark ages. The clash in other words is between a civilized and civilizing West and Islam that just refuses to be civilized.
Once you accept this framing of the whole issue, the outcome is already decided. Are you for freedom of expression or not? It is a loaded question, and just like the yes/no question, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” no matter how you answer it, you remain guilty.
Look at the typical Muslim response which begins, “We also believe in freedom of expression but…” It matters little what you say after that. It is obvious that you are trying to add exclusions and limitations to a basic moral value while the other side is asking for no such limits. It is not difficult to see which side will come out ahead.
But this predicament is a result of uncritically accepting a false statement about the nature of the clash. For the real clash is not between those who are for and those who are against a freedom. Rather it is between two different freedoms. On the one hand is the freedom to insult. On the other is freedom from insult. Whether it was the Satanic Verses of the 1980s or the Cartoons of 2005 and their endless reproduction since then, if they stand for any freedom, it is freedom to insult. Pure and simple. Muslims, on the other hand, have stood for and demanded freedom from insult. Nothing more. Nothing less.
These are certainly opposing values. You can be for one or the other. And the question does arise, which one is a better value.
To see that let us imagine a society that truly believes in the first as a cherished moral value. It celebrates freedom to insult and guards it at all costs. Every member of it enjoys this freedom and practices it regularly. In a business everyone insults everyone else. The boss is insulting the employees, the employees are insulting the bosses. The salesmen are insulting the customers. The accountants are insulting the creditors. Everyone is enjoying the great freedom to insult. The same is true of the home. The parents are always insulting the children. The children are constantly insulting the parents. The spouses are incessantly insulting each other. And in doing so they all stand on the high moral ground because freedom to insult is such a fundamental freedom on which the society is built.
Actually contrary to the claims of the pundits if the Western society was truly built on this “cherished moral value,” it would have perished a long time ago — consumed by the fires of hatred and negativity generated by this freedom. No home, no neighborhood, no village, no business, no organization and no society can survive for long if it makes freedom to insult as a cornerstone of its freedoms. Clearly most who advocate this freedom do not practice it in their daily lives. But they are making an exception in the case of Islam and Muslims. The driving force behind this is not any great moral principle but a deep rooted hatred born of ignorance.
Software professionals sometimes use a term called beature. It stands for a bug turned into a feature. A bug is a defect in the software. A feature, on the other hand, is a desirable attribute. A beature is a defect that is presented (thanks to slick marketing) as a feature. Freedom to insult is also a beature. It is the growing sickness of Islamophobia in the West which is being presented as a high moral value, packaged by the slick marketing departments as freedom of expression.
Well, whether or not freedom to insult is a Western value, Islam has nothing to do with it. It lays emphasis on its exact opposite: the freedom from insult. It values human dignity, decency, and harmony in the society. The freedom of religion it ensures includes freedom from insults. While it does not shy away from academic discussion of its beliefs and showing the falsehood of non-Islamic beliefs, it makes sure that the discussion remains civil. In those discussions it wants to engage the intellect of its opponents; in contrast those who itch to insult their opponents are interested in satisfying their vulgar emotions. Thus while its most important battle is against false gods it asks its followers to refrain from reviling them. (Qur’an, Al-anam, 6:108). It also reminds them to stay away from harsh speech. “Allah loves not the utterance of harsh speech save by one who has been wronged.” (Qur’an, Al-Nisa, 4:148). Prophet Muhammad, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, who is being reviled by the scum of the world, taught Muslims to never let the low moral standards of their adversaries dictate theirs.
As a result of these teachings Muslims can never even imagine insulting any Prophet — from Adam to Moses to Jesus to Muhammad, peace be upon them all. Even when they ruled the world, Muslims treated the religious leaders of non-Muslim also with respect – even during battles. In the Baghdad court Jewish and Christian scholars engaged in open discussions with the Muslim savants. Needless to say they had not been attracted by the freedom to insult but its exact opposite. Freedom from insult is a fundamental value that assures peace and harmony. It leads to healthy societies. And Muslims are very proud of their impeccable record here.
What is true of a home or a village is also true of the world as it has become a global village. Now, more than ever before, the world needs the harmony and tolerance that can only be assured by the freedom from insults.