Every time someone ‘insults the religious sentiments’ of Muslims, ‘freedom of speech’ comes into the spotlight. From Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses to the YouTube video ‘Innocence of Muslims’ fatwas from all over the Muslim World have been slashed on the heads of those who ‘misuse’ their freedom of speech to ‘insult Islam’.
However, when someone implements those very fatwas at the cost of human life, the handful of moderate Muslims defensively bellow that the act has nothing to do with Islam or Muslims. The barefaced deceit gets the backing of the liberal left of the West, that gets extra brownie points for speaking up about the self-inflicted ‘marginalisation of Muslims’, most of whom continue to avoid befriending ‘Jews and Christians’ because their scripture ostensibly prohibits it.
And so when the Charlie Hebdo office was attacked in Paris last week, everything from France’s occupation of Algeria over half a century ago to the economic disparity between Muslims and non-Muslims in the country was touted as the raison d’etre. Fingers have been pointed everywhere except at the awkward truth that the majority of Muslims around the world, and their version of Islam, endorse killing ‘blasphemers’.
It is the same version that is practised, among many other Muslim countries, in Saudi Arabia, where Islam originated and where the entire Muslim world goes to offer pilgrimage. The same country, facing which all Muslims offer salat; where Raif Badawi, a liberal blogger, has been punished with 1,000 lashes for ‘insulting Islam’ – the same ‘crime’ that Charlie Hebdo’s satirists committed. The same crime that is officially punishable by death in 13 countries – all Muslim states.
If there were a worldwide survey about the punishment that Charlie Hebdo journalists deserved for drawing and promoting those cartoons, the answer of the majority of the Muslim world is common knowledge, should we prefer being honest about it. And when the majority of the Muslims and almost all of the Islamic clergy are ‘misinterpreting’ the text identically, obviously the intelligibility of the scriptures comes under scrutiny.
The majority of Muslims would consider the honest Muslim reformist a ‘blasphemer’ for daring to interpret the scripture a certain way
The majority of Muslims would consider the honest Muslim reformist a ‘blasphemer’ for daring to interpret the scripture a certain way. There is no concept of reform without criticism. It’s the same criticism that all other religions have gone through resulting in them shunning aspects of their scripture.
And so is it really honest to dub the Islamist theological understanding ‘misinterpretation’ when it is by far the most popular interpretation of Islam?
Orthodox interpretation of all religions, especially Abrahamic religions, unequivocally condemns dissent and mockery – which is an integral part of freedom of speech. There is no freedom of speech if there isn’t the freedom to offend.
Every time someone gets attacked for offending Islam, the apologists blame the victim for being attacked. “There should be freedom of speech, but it does not mean that we start insulting religious sentiments,” seems to be the popular concept of free speech in the aftermath of Islamist attacks on those mocking Islam.
Even the 12 dead bodies of Charlie Hebdo journalists – who ‘asked for it’ like a woman who’s provocatively dressed ‘asks to be’ sexually assaulted – didn’t change the apologists’ stance that the publication incited Muslims and is hence to blame. Because of course, just like it’s unfair to expect men to keep their emotions under control at the sight of a woman’s skin, it’s too much to expect Muslims to not kill people, or ask for them to be killed, when their religious sentiments are hurt.
By that logic all Muslims and their scriptures would be ‘asking to be’ attacked by orthodox Christians for refusing to acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the son of God, or for the ubiquitous bile being spewed against Hinduism, especially in Pakistan.
Would the apologists be consistent in their argument if Hindu or Christian extremists started butchering Muslims because they disrespected their God? What about the nonreligious folk – the nonbelievers that have eternal hellfire sanctioned for them by almost every religious scripture? Should they retaliate with violence after taking offence at the fact that the deity absolutely despises them?
All religions are offensive to every other religion. All counterarguments are offensive to some degree to the original arguments. Clamouring for freedom of speech with an asterisk that shushes up the right to offend, points towards a world where everyone thinks alike and there’s no freedom of conscience or thought. It should come as no surprise that this is precisely the kind of world most of the Muslim world is, as things stand.
Whenever the aforementioned asterisk is used to suggest that religions should remain immune from the ‘downside’ of freedom of speech, it’s basically Islam that is demanding extra protection. For, if the safeguards of religious sentiments were consistent in their argument, the Muslim world would be the first to be condemned for constantly and relentlessly deriding all other religions.
Instead of asking Muslims to take criticism like other religious communities, we are redefining freedom of speech for the worse. And Muslims seem to be happy fuelling the stereotype that depicts them as savages that can’t seem to control their emotions when they are offended.