Top > Rants > Free Speech 101 for Muslims

And others who do not understand free speech

Recently (as of the time I am writing this) there has been a lot of fuss and anger in relation to some cartoons published in a Danish newspaper depicting the prophet in a less than complentary fashion. This is understandable and people who object to these depictions have the right to object, but not the right to demand that such things are not published and that Something Must Be Done.

Free speech is essentially the right to say whatever you wish on any subject you wish without restraint by the government. There are restrictions on free speech ... you are not permitted to make people listen to your speech.

Free speech belongs to a tradition of liberalism which has campaigned for less government control of the people; the tradition includes the freedom to choose one's religeon. In many countries in Europe, free speech may not be protected by law, but there is a tradition of free speech.

Establishing this tradition and combating the traditional tendency of governments to restrict it was long and hard. Many people gave their lives to the cause; others spent long terms in prison for expressing their views. And the fight for religeous freedom is closely associated with similar tragedies behind the gradual acceptance that Europeans should be able to choose a god of their own choosing and worship in their own manner. Something that Muslims in Europe should be grateful for!

An elderly and somewhat reactionary women I know believes that it is blasphemous to read the Koran, publish the Koran or sell the Koran. Now obviously this is ridiculous, but 100 years ago it would have been a commonly held belief. Not much further back it would have been illegal to publish the Koran in the UK, and illegal to sell it, and you could spend time in prison for owning one.

It is the principle of free speech that allows the Koran to exist in countries with a Christian background.

It is easy to say that free speech is good, but some things are just going a little too far. In a sense it is right ... some things are going a little bit too far. But we need to be careful about trying to restrict freedom of speech in any area; even in the area of religeon or you could find some suprising things being banned!

Not so long ago, it would have been illegal to practice any religeon than the state sanctioned one. Then it was merely illegal to not attend the churches of the state sanctioned religeon. And finally it was the practice that a tenth of your incoming would be given to the state sanctioned church. The gradual process of allowing religeous freedom has allowed us to practice the religeon of our choice ... including Islam.

If we turn back the clock to times when religeon was protected by law, then Muslims would suffer more than Christians! At least in countries with a tradition of Christianity. Do any of us want that ?

What is the right way to respond to a paper that chooses to publish cartoons ridiculing the Muslim prophet ? Well violence is certainly not the right answer, and I'm sure it is only a tiny minority of Muslims who believe so. After all if most Muslims were violently inclined, there would be July the 7th's every other week, and September 11th every month.

A better way by far is to turn it around and use humour to attack the negative image that some people hold of the Islamic religeon, and show that the Islamic world in its true colours ... a civilisation with a long history of great cultural and scholastic achievements.

The Cartoons

I have recently read the Wikipedia article on the cartoons which makes interesting reading. Amongst other things it seems that it is fine for the cartoons to be published in newspapers in Islamic countries whereas no paper in the UK dares publish them!

But the most interesting thing is why the cartoons were published and what inspired the cartoonists to draw them the way they did.

The cartoons were commissioned in response to the fear of Islamaphobia in Denmark today ... someone was trying to pubilsh a children's book with a perfectly respectful portrayal of the prophet. Unfortunately no artist could be found to make the image as they claimed they were too frightened of Islamic extremists ... even though respectful portrayals of the prophet are accepted by significant numbers of Muslims.

The cartoons themselves may have been insulting, but they were drawn to portray the cartoonist's perception of the prophet as interpreted in modern Denmark. The fact that the prophet was portrayed as having a bomb in his turban may well be insulting, but perhaps Muslims should be more angry at the minority of Moslems who use terrorism as a weapon using their religeon as 'justification'.

The violent reaction of some Muslims to principles that we hold sacred does nothing to improve the reputation of Islam.