A Muslim on free speech
Here's another article from one of these moderate Muslims that "never speak out".
Muslims should embrace free speech
Religious groups instinctively want to censor ridicule of their religion. But it harms them in the longer term.
Sunny Hundal - CiF
Another week, another media-fuelled controversy on Muslims apparently being against freedom of speech. On Monday morning on BBC Asian Network and yesterday morning on Radio 5 Live I was called in to defend the right to be offensive.
The controversy goes like this: someone on Facebook started a group called "Fuck Islam", and in retaliation several Muslims started groups calling for it to be shut down. Some said they would leave Facebook if it wasn't closed. Now here's the rub - the group owner clearly isn't some BNP supporter because he/she goes out of their way to say they hate all religions and don't want to demonise ordinary Muslims themselves. He/she adds "fuck Christianity", "fuck Judaism" to their intro and clearly is an atheist.
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Should Facebook shut the group down? It isn't doing anything illegal according to UK or US law. Nor does the group contravene Facebook's own rules, since insulting any religion (as opposed to the followers) is not banned. There is only one argument left - it should be closed on grounds of taste and decency.
But rather than argue why it should be allowed to remain open on the basis that Britons have fought for Enlightenment values etc, or that shutting a Facebook group would herald the end of western civilisation as we know it, I want to make a different point.
Even when it is uncomfortable or downright offensive, freedom of speech and expression is especially important for minorities to cherish and hold on to tightly. They should argue for more of it, not less. It is a sign of political immaturity of religious "community leaders" (the MCB, HFB etc) and outdated thinking on the side of the race relations activists that they don't buy this argument. But it is a very important one nevertheless.
Here are two examples to show why this is the case.
Most people who demand censorship on criticism or ridicule of their religion do so because it is their primary identity. They personally feel under attack. Why can't people respect my identity, they ask. Good question. But if people were forced by law to respect other people's identities, you couldn't criticise anything. For example, a highly patriotic American or Indian could argue that criticising their country of origin felt offensive and should not be allowed. That would make life very difficult for Muslim and Sikh groups. Respect for all identities? Certainly not - I value my right to criticise governments, public figures, organisations and religious rituals.
If religious groups want to restrict ridicule of their religion, they have to accept that criticism of other identities like nationality would not be allowed. Furthermore, it would mean anyone declaring that other religions are "false" and theirs is the only true path would also be carted off to jail.
The second point is this. Freedom of speech and expression has allowed minorities in the UK to dress in the ways they want to, live how they want to and practice their own beliefs within the law. It doesn't matter if some don't like the turban, the hijab or the niqab - as long as a person does not personally infringe on the rights of others, freedom of religion is paramount. And most of the arguments for banning them are facile. By arguing for restrictions for others, religious groups only foster a hostile environment where others may demand that these freedoms be taken back. We need more freedom, not less. And that involves taking the good with the bad.
So, for my fellow panellist from MPAC (on Asian Network) to argue that criticism of Muslims should be restricted during these "difficult times", while they continue attacking "Zionists" despite an upsurge of anti-semitic attacks on Jews in Britain (by Muslims) is a tad hypocritical. It took a decade before Inayat Bunglawala saw the light.
To be fair, religious minorities aren't the only ones who misunderstand free speech and expression. It isn't uncommon for readers on Cif and elsewhere to demand that the niqab be banned because it offends them. Similarly, I recall Brownie on Harry's Place calling for Neil Clark's article on Cif to be censored; and Norm Geras saying Columbia University should never have invited President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently. I find it amusing when people are happy for the BNP to make idiots of themselves in the media, but not others.
I understand that many Muslims feel under attack right now, given that xenophobic attacks on them have become commonplace. The problem is that most people don't think logically; they think emotionally. While Jews and Christians have become more politically astute in realising that creating a stink only backfires in their faces, most Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims are woefully immature in this regard. Free speech is especially important for minority groups because when there is a crackdown through legislation on "unpopular" thoughts, it usually affects them disproportionately. It's about time they realised this.