The limits of freedom

Is freedom of expression absolute?

Hassan Zainagairi
Publish Date: Oct 12 2012 12:00PM

 The ‘civilized’ and ‘enlightened’ West and those wedded to its culture are stunned over the manner the Muslim world reacted to the provocative film ‘The Innocence of Muslim’ produced by a pack of Islam-haters. Up in arm the champions of ‘divine cause’ of freedom of speech and expression accused Muslims of being ‘intolerant’. The ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’ taunted: ‘Is tolerance for a satire really a concept that is not compatible with Islam?’
 While extreme reaction is not a proper and acceptable way of responding to “art” and can never be legitimized, the instantaneous question which needs a dispassionate answer from the critics of ‘violent’ Islam is: ‘Can freedom of expression be absolute?’ or there need to be some Lakshman Rekha every one has to respect and desist from transgressing it. Pertinently if expression need to be ‘absolute’ where shall this ‘absolutism’ lead to? Can your privacy be safeguarded? Can ethics and values escape the onslaught of pyromaniacs? If somebody abuses you and you in rage slap him, would world be wondering why “you can’t take a joke”? And, more importantly, do states and their constitutions truly and practically allow this free-flow and unrestricted mind-speak? Or they come up with some ‘reasonable restrictions’.
 Genuine expression has to be differentiated from the offensive expression. Its toxicity is fatal for the moral health of the society. The ‘civilized’ nations often advise their fellow countrymen to keep in mind that ‘your freedom ends where another persons nose begins’. But as has been witnessed on many occasions, if the nose happens to that of a Muslim, the stick of freedom doesn’t stop from wagging and, consequently bleeding the hapless victim. The contradictions ands hypocrisy of the West is glaringly visible. In his September 25th address before the United Nations, President Obama lauded the ‘enshrined American values of Constitutional Protections and freedom of speech’ and puffed up in pride ‘citizens cannot be thrown in jail because of what they believe’ and that they should be allowed ‘to speak their minds and assemble without fear.’ But why these “constitutional protections” wither up when Muslims are indicted and sentenced in exercising their right to freedom of expression.
An American Muslim pharmacist of Egyptian descent in Boston was sentenced recently to seventeen years for ‘translating passages and uploading videos to the internet’. A cable operator of Pakistani descent was sentenced to six years in 2004 for ‘connecting his New York customers to Hezbollah’s satellite channel.’ American authorities and prosecution argue the speech of the accused Muslims was not protected as ‘it could have lead to violence’ vague argument without any proof. In contrary to this various American Islamophobes like Robert Spenser, Daniel Pipes, Pamella Geller, Martin Kranner, to name a few, with a diabolic record of hate-speech, have spewed venom against Islam and Muslims. Anders Brevik, who murdered 77 people in Norway last year confessed he was inspired by these American anti-Muslim haters to commit the heinous killings. But none of them was held accountable or condemned.
 On the New York subway an advertisement put up by a hate group called ‘American Freedom Defense Initiative’ reads: ‘in any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad’. Isn’t this filthy advertisement a flagrant violation of freedom of speech. Isn’t it provocative? Can’t it lead to ‘violence’? compare it with Gunter Grass (Germany’s famous living writer and Nobel Prize award winner fort literature in 1999) stated in his lyric in April this year. Gunter Grass accused Israel for its aggressive behavior against Iran and said Israel’s Nuclear Power is endangering world peace. Why your veneer of ‘tolerance’ got ruptured at his ‘speaking his mind’ and his ‘belief’.
 The mantra of freedom of speech is a sop that Muslim World is not going to accept. After all, why the West applies double standards with respect to this ‘divine cause’. Anti-Semitism zips them all, breaks all their pens, decimates all their art. Why? Laws exist in almost every Western country that would send offenders to prison. Muslims ask if anti-semitism holds inviolability in your ‘emotional blindness’ the revered symbols of Muslims’ faith make us “touchy” even at the slightest incitement. If extremist response to provocation is a violation of human values, incitement to violence, that too deliberate, falls in the same category too. Looked in the big picture the situation we are in is not ‘about violent religion versus non-violent art; it is violence versus violence’, as aptly remarked by Michael Muhammad Knight. 

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