Freedom of speech is no excuse for insulting religious symbols ~ by Khalid Amayreh


Al Qassam Website | 16-09-2012,09:05

By Khalid Amayreh

The tragic consequences triggered by the recent sleazy anti-Islam film “innocence of Muslims” have presented several challenges to political and religious leaders in the West as well as the Muslim world.

They have also shown how an utterly insignificant act by a little known, though malicious individual, could reverberate fast throughout the globe, causing lethal and fatal repercussions and destroying and ending the lives of innocent people.

The modern media, in its numerous forms, have certainly played a role in spreading the sleazy film and also in provoking and infuriating Muslims. None the less, the media’s role hasn’t exceeded that of the proverbial messenger.

In the final analysis, the media didn’t make the news, it just reported it.

The anti-Islam film is undoubtedly a malicious and wicked act meant to insult and provoke. This is what the producer of the film himself said of his intent behind embarking on the cheap feat.

But Muslims have not acted ideally, too. They seem to have overreacted to the original calculated provocation by attacking embassies and indulging in violence, which led to the spilling of innocent blood.

I believe all sides, those who made, financed and promoted the film, as well as those mobs that overreacted to it, are wrong.

But saying so is not enough, if only to prevent the recurrence of similar events.

I urge responsible political and religious leaders in the West and Muslim world to make every possible effort to strike a delicate balance between freedom of speech and misusing or abusing that freedom, e.g. by insulting religious symbols and offending religious faith.

I am not talking about legitimate freedom of speech and expression and other civil liberties which we all value and respect. What I have in mind is deliberately offending religious sensibilities with malice aforethought.

This is more than just an academic matter since ignoring it does obviously cause the shedding of innocent blood.

Having studied at and graduated from a number of American colleges, I realize how most Americans are jealously fanatical about preserving and clinging to their constitution, especially the First Amendment.

However, Americans and others westerners ought to understand that the religious and cultural traditions of other people, e.g. Muslims, ought to be respected as well. The First Amendment must not be used as an excuse to offend Muslims and their faith, as well as other religious traditions.

There are many wise people in America who could find the perfect formula to resolve this problem once and for all. In the final analysis, the American constitution was founded and shaped in a way that would protect religion from the interference, hegemony and encroachment of the state, not the other way around.

And it is not impossible to strike the right balance between freedom of speech and the right of adherents of various religious groups not to be offended. After all, one’s freedom ends where another person’s freedom begins.

In some western countries, laws have been enacted against those who deny the holocaust. And in America itself, the country of the First Amendment, politicians and journalist think ten times before thinking of criticizing Israel and Jews.

Hence, the visibly malicious discourse against Islam and its symbols in the US and some other Western countries has more to do with a morbid and hateful proclivity to malign, smear and besmirch and less with the legitimate practice of freedom of speech and expression.

In the final analysis, my right not to be offended and insulted overrides a scoundrel’s right to malign the Prophet of Islam in order to satisfy his sick Islamophobia.

The American Civil Liberty Union is likely to vociferously object to this argument. And they would probably make many counter arguments which may sound valid.

But the ACLU, which has done many good things and defended many good causes, can not guarantee that insulting religious symbols will not lead to further bloodshed. Which brings us to the ultimate argument that in such circumstances when one is faced with conflicting rights and conflicting freedoms, it is never enough to be right; one has to be wise as well? Hence, the need for the delicate, fine balances between freedom of expression and the right not to be offended.

I also hope that the tragic events of the past few days will prompt a genuine religious dialogue between Muslim and Christian leaders. The task of maintaining the peace, let alone building stable and friendly relations between the followers of the great religions is too paramount a task to be left for pyromaniacs on both sides.

We must start this dialogue right away. We owe it to the victims of the latest madness to see to it that fanatics and ignoramuses on both sides of the isle are not allowed to savage our faces and burn our hearts with the fire of their ignorance and fanaticism.

* Khalid Amayreh is an American-educated journalist living in the southern West Bank town of Dura near Hebron. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma in Norman in 1981. He also, received a Master degree in Journalism from the University of Southern Illinois at Carbondale in 1983.

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