Why Insulting Peoples’ Faith Is Not The Right To Free Speech?

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by Israr Khan

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I am not a very staunch Muslim but I find it most embarrassing and hurtful that people of other religions feel that they have the liberty and some intellectual license to mock my faith.

According to the Anjuman Auqaf Jama Masjid, along with the daily prayers, the congregational Friday prayers will also resume at Jama Masjid with all SOPs and other preventive measures in place. (August 18, 2020)

Mocking any religion is the most serious outrage and it is not confined to Islam only. When a painting of the Virgin Mary smeared with cow dung was exhibited in Brooklyn in 1999, New York’s Mayor, the Catholic Church and many Christian organizations condemned it and threatened the museum.

In India, various groups let down M F Hussain, a genius, by hounding him for his paintings of goddesses. He was forced to leave India, the country he was born and loved to the core of his heart.

The French Case

In the 14-year history of the cartoons in France, the response to the images there has undergone a profound transformation. Once denounced by the head of state for provoking and disrespecting Muslims, the same drawings are today fully embraced and accepted across the political establishment though conflated with France’s commitment to freedom of expression and thereby widening its divide with Muslim nations and leaving many French Muslims feeling alienated.

French President Emmanuel Macron

To the Muslims in and outside France, the cartoons are simply provocative and gratuitous insults levelled at their faith. The hardening of France’s defence of the blasphemous images has also set it apart even from the United States of America and other 77 Western democracies like Germany, Austria, Poland, Italy, Armenia,  Azerbaijan, Belgium, Netherlands,  England,  Ireland and others that, faced with increasingly diverse societies, have become more cautious about speech that could be considered offensive, especially to racial, ethnic, religious or other minorities.

Complicating matters for France is that it does curb some freedom of expression banning, for example, attacks on people for their religion and colour of skin. If their freedom of expression gives them the right to be satirical or humorous, we can understand that but cartoons putting a prophet who is fundamental to the belief of billions of believers in suggestive and degrading postures cannot fall within this right. Comedy is fine, the mockery of one’s beliefs is not.

Comedy, Not On Faith

I believe that anything is open to comedy but implying people are stupid for their beliefs is pretty unpleasant and certainly will not make anyone reconsider their point of view. If anything, it reinforces it. I am not a very staunch Muslim but I find it most embarrassing and hurtful that people of other religions feel that they have the liberty and some intellectual license to mock my faith.

People’s religion and beliefs are to be respected regardless of your personal opinion. Personal liberty and freedom of speech should not be therefore misused to ridicule any religion or their prophets.  Mocking one’s religion and their prophet is the most serious kind of ridicule and will invoke strong reactions from the believers, spread across the Globe. The world should keep in mind that Muslims will tolerate their uprooting, killings, lynching and the destruction of their religious places but never the insult or demeaning of their beloved Prophet (PBUH).

New Crusades?

The modern-day crusades are back. And although the concept of terrorism existed long before terrorist outfits such as the Irish Republican Army (IRA), Ku Klux Klan (KKK), Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) entered the scene but nothing caught the fascination of people like the “Islamic terrorism”.

For the last 19 years, the world has been fixated on Islam and is busy debating how, according to popular opinion, the terrorism ushered by Islamic tenets are a menace to society. But in these last 19 years, many Muslims, including myself, refuse to accept the terrorism belonging to us because we follow Islam. And we refuse to be apologetic or responsible about it anymore. How a madman interprets the Quran does not make either the Muslim community as a whole or the religion we follow responsible for the act. If an obsessive lover kills for the “sake of love”, you don’t brand love to be in “crisis”, even though people have been killing in the name of love for centuries.

Macron’s Mess

But Macron thinks differently and has put France is front and centre, discussing terrorism. At Samuel Paty’s funeral, he declared Islam being “in crisis all over the world” and how France will continue to make cartoons to stand strong on its values of liberty. And to really drive the point home, the offensive cartoons on Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) were projected on all government buildings in France. If this isn’t bullying and deliberately provoking an entire community, I don’t know what is.

Anti-Macron protest held at Batamaloo area of Srinagar on Friday, October 30, 2020. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

Macron’s retaliation has sparked protests all over the world by Muslims who are utterly disgusted by the government of a liberal nation resorting to insulting religion. Islam and the Muslim community as a whole have nothing to do with the beheading. But whenever Muslims say this, verses from the Holy Quran are quoted by Islamophobes who call Islam a barbaric desert cult. It doesn’t matter to the haters that those verses have a context. They will have none of it.

The Biblical Old Testament, for instance, tells believers to go to war. “When you go out to war against your enemies, and see horses and chariots and an army larger than your own, you shall not be afraid of them, for the Lord your God is with you, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. And when you draw near to the battle, the priest shall come forward and speak to the people and shall say to them, ‘Hear, O Israel, today you are drawing near for battle against your enemies: let not your heart faint. Do not fear or panic or be in dread of them, for the Lord your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory’.”

Torah’s verses also speak of genocide and pillage. The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Avenge the Israelite people on the Midianites; then you shall be gathered to your kin.” Moses spoke to the people, saying, “Let men be picked out from among you for a campaign, and let them fall upon Midian to wreak the Lord’s vengeance on Midian. You shall dispatch on the campaign a thousand from every one of the tribes of Israel.” “The Israelites took the women and children of the Midianites captive and seized as booty all their beasts, all their herds, and all their wealth. And they destroyed by fire all the towns in which they were settled, and their encampments.”

Surely, the true followers of these religions will speak up against anyone seeking to use these verses out of context and painting their religion as violent? But only Muslims are picked on and their beliefs targeted.

India’s media and Hindu right groups are projecting Macron as a ‘free speech’ hero and are using the violent reactions in France to further their hate campaign against Muslims.

Lynching Trends

In the past six years, India has become a world leader in the lynching. Muslims and Dalits are being lynched by fanatics on suspicion of consuming or carrying beef.

Israr Khan, former DIG Jammu and Kashmir Police, looks at his three generations, who served the police and the armed forces.

A group that promotes and celebrates the lynching of people in the name of religious sentiments in its own country has no moral right to criticise the fanatics who kill in other countries in the name of defending their religion.

But today these Hindu groups are defending the right to free speech of Charlie Hebdo magazine in lampooning Islam. One wonders why they failed to apply that principle of free speech back home.

(The author, an IPS officer, is a former Deputy Inspector General of Jammu and Kashmir Police. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Kashmir Life.)

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