Blasphemy or freedom of speech
Posted by Faheem Belharvi
The sacrilegious film “Innocence of Muslims” that mocked Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) and Islam has profoundly hurt the sensitivities of Muslims and sparked violent protests all over the world. It has renewed the debate about sanctity of religion and controversial approaches towards freedom of speech. What is freedom of speech and expression? Does it allow humiliation of any divine religion, its prophet, its faith, and values that are perceived sacred by the followers of that religion? If it does allow all such things then why freedom of expression has always been used against Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)? These are a few questions frequently raised by Muslims across the world.
Muslims have been protesting against the movie, at some places protests are staged in a peaceful way while in most states these have turned violent, such as the killing of American diplomats in Libya and the burning of public and private property and loss of innocent lives in Pakistan. This is not the first time when blasphemous act has been committed against Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), there has been a chain of events, at first books were written to defame the Prophat Muhammad (PBUH), then caricatures were drawn in Denmark and other European newspapers and now a malicious attempt has been made to produce a sacrilegious movie. This movie has followed by publication of caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in the French magazine Charlie Hebdo that have added fuel to anti-Western sentiments in Muslims.
In the post 9/11 era the wrong image of Islam has been portrayed in the Western societies and it is considered as a threat to Western civilization. New terminologies are being introduced that are being associated with Islam such as radicalization, extremism, fundamentalism, Islamic terrorism and Islamophobia. People like Sam Bacile are representing the so-called Islamophobia, the filmmaker has deliberated focused on fermenting violence. Filmmakers should have anticipated that it will create unrest and violence in Muslim societies because for the Muslims, love for Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has been considered as part of the faith. Veneration of all prophets of Allah is a fundamental principle of faith in Islam. If we see what has been the reaction of Muslim states it becomes obvious that Muslim masses are protesting against blasphemy of their religion but their leaders are silent. They have not raised a collective voice. Unfortunately, there is lack of will on the part of Muslim leaders to project a common cause.
Criminalizing the defamation of religion has been on the agenda of OIC for some time but it could not get support from the western liberal democracies. At present, Turkey is heading the OIC, but it is not yet clear that organization has consulted with its members to bring a resolution to ban blasphemy. OIC member states must get agreed on a common agenda that UN should declare blasphemy as a criminal offence and should present their case from a unitary platform so that it could have a forceful effect. If denial of holocaust has been prohibited by law in majority of Western states to respect the sensitivities of 13 million Jewish population then why indifferent laws and practices against over 1.5 billion Muslim population?
It is our right to protest against such attacks on our religion but the protest should be staged in a peaceful manner. Our Prophet (PBUH) stood for peace in his whole life. If we resort to violent means and destruction of our own property then we may not be able to highlight the noble cause to which each one of us is duty bound to raise our voice. Western notion of freedom of speech and expression can not be accepted in its current form. There should be a clear distinction between what constitutes free speech and what will be considered as hate speech against any religion. Turkish Prime Minister has rightly said that free speech comes with boundaries, “Freedom of thought and belief ends where the freedom of thought and belief of others starts”.
UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon referring to anti-Islam movie has also made it clear that the right of freedom of expression to provoke or humiliate some others’ values and beliefs can not be protected, it can only be guaranteed and protected as a fundamental right when it is used for common justice, and common purpose. To promote interfaith harmony, it is the duty of Western governments to take this issue seriously and to come up with some proposals that could address the discriminatory law of freedom of expression and could differentiate between freedom of speech and blasphemy.