Wednesday, October 03, 2007

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 It is a sign of political immaturity of religious "community leaders" (the MCB, HFB etc) and outdated thinking on the side of the race relations activists that they don't buy this argument.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.

6 Comments:

At 3:22 AM, Blogger BEAJ said...

Good article. You've been tagged...sorry.

 
At 10:01 AM, Blogger Plateau said...

Gert,

I was referred to your blog by someone who read the comment you recently left on "inside Iran" blog.

Firstly, I am an Iranian, don't live in Iran, but still have family there. So, I am very aware of the situation there.

Secondly, I don't support war on Iran, but believe that the Mullah regime must be replaced by internal to Iran movements and the Iranian people. However, the Iranian people need external support.

As for Ahmadinejad, he is a thug and a murderer (of Iranians). Do I have exact numbers of how many he has personally killed? No, I don't and I don't think anyone even inside Iran can tell you that. But IR has killed many people in Iran and there are records of that. IR is a truly evil regime, is ambitious and, no doubt, wants to export radical Khomeinist Islam to other parts of the world, starting with the Middle East. This is something that many Westerners don't comprehend and/or believe that if they were to leave him and IR alone, the threat will go away. It will not.

Quite a few Iranians actually say that IR is much more popular outside Iran than inside. The Mullahs are well connected in the West and have their tentacles and supporters deep and wide, in the West.

Here is an article I suggest you read. It is by an Iranian, and will give you some insight into Ahmadinejad's and IR's way of thinking. Who is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- Ahmadinejad is not simply as you put it "anti-Semite" and a "Holocaust-denier". The article will tell you more.

In addition, I suggest you read Ahmadinejad the Liar and Deceiver -- and -- Great Satan on my blog and take a look at a few links. The comments for "Great Satan" post are particularly informative.

I'm sure the blogger from "Inside Iran" will give you his own information.

Cheers.

 
At 4:02 PM, Blogger Gert said...

Plateau:

Thank you for your information. As I stated in these comments (on Iranian blogs), I'm trying to find out what Iranians think of Ahmadinejad's alleged "Wipe Israel off the map" statement. Is it an accurate translation or not?

Your comment doesn't really answer that question.

 
At 8:33 PM, Blogger Plateau said...

Gert,

The first link in my previous comment would have answered your question about Israel (Jews and the Jewish State) and Ahmadinejad's views. Have you read it?

"Ahmadinejad's alleged "Wipe Israel off the map" statement. Is it an accurate translation or not?"

Ahmadinejad wants the State of Israel dissolved, for it to be replaced by "Palestine" and for the Jews "to move back to Europe". He is more than willing to do that by war and the destruction of the Israeli state. He has said that in Persian and so did Khomeini some 28 years ago, in Persian. Khomeini, Ahmadinejad, IR see the destruction of Israel as "liberating the Palestinians". That is what he has said and is his intention.

We aren't playing with semantics here. So, the answer to your question is Yes.

 
At 7:59 AM, Blogger Gert said...

Plateau:

"Have you read it?"

Yes, but American Thinker is very US rightwing. I can find information like that on just about any conservative think tank's website.

This is why I wanted to get some commentary from ordinary Iranian bloggers. None have been forthcoming so far.

In any case, thanks for your input!

 
At 11:12 AM, Blogger Plateau said...

Gerd,

You're welcome about my input!

I just put up a post on my blog. etc..check it out when you get the chance. Ahmadinejad: "Wipe Israel off the Map" - Is it True?

A couple of things:

1. The author of the article in the first link is an Iranian. Although he is a U.S. citizen and regardless of "American Thinker". He tells it as is and doesn't make up stories. Unlike the US or Britain, most Iranians (who live inside or outside Iran) - unless regime supporters - do not fall into distinct black and white categories of "right wing" or "left wing". More often it is a mixture of the two depending on a given issue.

2. I doubt many Iranians will be forthcoming on the Israel and Ahmadinejad issue, because of current climate and the likelihood of war. Those who live in Iran are very afraid of war, and those who live outside have families in Iran. So, they are equally concerned about war drums. Many prefer to focus on human rights issues of Iran. Many others prefer to be silent about anything that might provoke or justify a potential war. It is understandable. Others still will skirt around the issue.

The only people who will clearly deny Ahmadinejad ever saying anything about the elimination of Israel, will be those who are pro-regime. What should give Westerners a clue is Ahmadinejad's lack of a clear "NO" to the question asked of him at Columbia U "Did you say you wanted Israel off the map". He simply could have said: No, but he didn't!

The last thing point would be: what do you want to hear? If you prefer to believe that Ahmadinejad never said so or it was incorrectly translated, misinterpreted, or somehow justified, etc... then I don't think the post on my blog will work for you.

The point I've been trying to get across is not simply the translation of the words, but the way he thinks, his beliefs and his intentions.

Sorry about the long comment! It is my last one, you'd be happy to know :-)

 

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