Freedom of Expression?

Category: Faith & Spirituality, Life & Society Values: Freedom Views: 5414

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.

  Category: Faith & Spirituality, Life & Society  Values: Freedom
Views: 5414

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Older Comments:
Very Good Article I must say, Mr. Khalid I thank you for posting this for us.

Note to Khalifullah of India:

Each society has myths. Hindus are no exceptions and nor are muslims. They have their myths. Ramayana, probably good deal of it is myth. Who knows what part is true about a story over 4000 years old.

Well said. Freedom of Insults! This world would be a harmonious place to live in if every individual and nation practise this.


Romesh as usual never sees anything good in what a Muslim does or tries to innovate as most of our brothers in the forum pointed out.It does not matter people like Romesh would never be happy with us Muslims unless we follow people like him deceiving himself.It is they who always want dictate what to do and it should and must be done the way they wanted not what the majority of people want the sample of Romesh type of democracy.So it democracy dictated by people like Romesh who wants control the forum for his own selfish interest not for the benefit of the majority.We are fully behind the author and his article it is only people like Romesh who are always as usual hiding behind so called progress to retard the progress of others at the same time try to infer that they are the champions of such progress while in reality only retarding the progress.We know they do it deliberately with the intention to stop the progress of the humanity especially that of the Muslims and all those sincere people strugging to champion the cause of their society demanding for justice and freedom which people like Romesh detest in diffferent parts of the world.In the end the truth prevails such as the case of Nelson Mandela and others who were initially shunned and given diffferent names and dubbed as anti-humanity terrorist and now Muslims falling in the same category calling them different names simply because they stand up to defend their freedom and struggling to preserve their own identity.We must allow every person to practice whichever religion he desires without imposing it on others.So everyone is free to express his/her own opinion as democracy demands at the same time coexist peacefully without fear of being molested or intimidated as one family.Therefore Muslims like all other human beings are also part of the humanity should be allowed to practice their Deen at the same time express their opinions as enshrined in all our constitutions.So we support freedom of Expression.

Author is not able to grasp basic concept of freedom of expression - to criticise,even harshly, every (EVERY) religion (yes, even islam). taking into account the doublethink, that is common for islam - islam is perpetually insulting Jews and Christians by proclamation that their Scriptures are "corrupted" - but this is in moslem head branded as the "rational critique" of previous religions.
when the same is done to islam, moslems are up for nothing good.
so if they can freely criticise other religions, the same applies for islam.

Article is well written and very well reasoned. Freedom of Expression is of paramount importance and no restrictions should be practiced while talking about Social, Political and Economical issues. However when discussing sensitive issues e.g. Religion, which are specific to particular section of society restrictions must be applied.
Rather than insulting and mudslinging other religions approach of Respect for All must be adopted.
A true free society is that where "I follow religion I believe in and practice without interference, and others can follow (or not follow) any religion without any interference from my side". Society based on respect rather than insult will be long-lasting and will bring structure rather than contradictions.

Mr. Romesh Chander's comment that Muslims have no confidence in their religion is a big joke! That is why Many Christians who went to preach Gospels to Muslims return back desperately. Some of them embraces Islam seeing the confidence of Muslims in their religion. Truth has the inherent quality to withstand all odds. That is the secret of spread of Islam even though many intelligent enemies are struggling to defame Islam at their best.

Holocaust id fraud. How about that? anti semitism? hate? anti whatever?. If those hate mongers wanna know if they truly have freedom, let them stay an hour extra their lunch break at work, which is usually an hour. When u return from work, what happens? you eithrt get written up or get fired. What lesson does this teach? it means freedom has limitation. The West is hypocritical about thier choice of words. They choose who is terrorist and who is not. So keep ur freedom in ur closet period. Why do Jews get upset and rage whensomeone denies Holocaust, isnt thats should be freedom of speech?. No death treath is not barbaric has the west also actually killed those who against them. Stop seeing things in black and white.

A forceful presentation of undeniable truth. No sensible so-called beacons of freedom of expression could resist from this powerful and eloquently delivered refutation of their "licensed hypocrisy".

Ramesh. You are misinformed and using the same standard of media and most late night comedian to judge all culture and religion with same yardstick. What offensive to one culture may not be offensive to others. Also, Even in the west and the U.S there is limitation of freedom of expression. In europe its against the law to deny or vilify the holocaust. Few years ago the so-calledlate night comedian, Bill Maher was fired from ABC for calling President Bush a liar. The mainstream media dear not speak ill of the US flag or its military, etc, etc.Not very long ago at Selma , Alabama the dogs was let loose to attack and maim blacks just for rallying for their freedom not to mentioned the many that was lynch just for speaking out for justice and freedom.
You are wrong that Muslims have no confidence in their religionMaybe you are not aware Islam is the fastest spreading religion in the West, while people are leaving christianity by the drone, especially with all the raping and torture of children by priests.
I know you monitor Muslim website to spread lies and misinformation, but you should not be ignored be exposed.

Christians will continue to press the case for Biblical Christianity in Muslim lands even if it insults Islam.

As usual, the author does not believe in freedom of expression; he defends freedom FROM insult.

Unfortunately, insult is a relative term. What may be an insult to you may be normal behaviour of others. Why do muslims always feel insulted, but Buddhists don't? Because Muslims have no confidence in the strength of their religion or its convictions, and want to impose by Force. In US, we insult Jesus and Christianity all the time; christians pay little or no attention to them, because they are convinced of the strength of their religious convictions.

Insult is a feeling and nothing else. If you don't want to be insulted, then don't feel insulted. It is that simple. Just ignore. Life is not wine and roses; we don't like awful lot of things, but learn to live with them. So, learn to live with Freedom of Expression. The more you oppose Freedom of Expression, the more and stronger Freedoms will be used. Don't like it, too bad. You are in the Wrong Country. US (and now West) are built on those Freedoms and they are not going to give those freedoms back to some brain dead protestors and street hoodlums.

The article is well written, and it clearly expresses the difference between freedom for and freedom from insult. However, it is important to look at the original intention of the creator of this "holiday." He did not create it to insult Islam or Muslims, he did it to show the world that he should still be capable of creating the cartoon he desires.

Prophet Muhammad was not the only messenger that he portrayed in his previous South Park cartoons. If making a caricature of a spiritual leader is a crime, then he attacked virtually all religious beliefs. Prophet Muhammad was never singled out.

The fact is, it was only the Muslims who had a problem with him making a caricature of someone so revered in their faith. And to go against this disruption, he asked the global community to join him in this fight against an attack on freedom of speech and expression. So most people joined him not to simply insult, but to make a statement. (Of course there will always be those who only want to insult, but they are simply ignorant and it is best to ignore them.)

Also, in regards to the original Danish cartoonist five years ago, there was no need to give him death threats and eventually murder him. Is a cartoonist Islam's biggest threat? Is it not important for Muslims (and all people) to concentrate on what is important, such as the Palestinians who have been dislocated from their homes? Or the Afghan, Sudanese, Iranian women who are treated as inferiors? How about we fight for something worth fighting for?

If Muslims continue to respond in such barbaric forms that eventually lead to catastrophe, such as the death of dozens of people related to The Satanic Verses, then of course we have to expect a fear of Islam. The moderate Muslims should not simply ignore the acts of extremists and say "they are not following the real Islam." They claim to be following Islam, and it is the Islam that the west is witnessing today.

The author's views are excellent. He has correctly explained as 'freedom from insult'. Neither the cultures nor the religions around the world will admit insulting others, in theory. Therefore typical Muslim response could be as follows: "WE DO BELIEVE IN FREEDOM OF SPEECH FROM CULTURED SOCIETY"

This is a good article argued on biblical terms and tone. However, it is only appropriate to protect the neighbors from insults while their ethics that oppose the cherished values founded on the apostolic teachings may be frankly denied and resisted against. This associate insults that neighbors feel for their association with the opposing, anti-Christian (that is, anti-Islamic) ethics. As open insult is better than flattery in this case being biblical in terms and tone due to sincerity, straightforwardness and truthfulness in the expression of person making the statement, no guilt is associated for insulting the dishonorable although it may appear like committing an offence.
Believers (Christians) are exempt from the blames of the unbelievers (non-Christians) when they converse on the guidance of the principles of their faith.

I'm happy to read this article. Thank you very much.