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The West, the Muslims and the freedom of speech

The dichotomy of freedom of expression and free speech in the modern world has ironically been the cause of the recent tragic incidents in the Muslim world. Universal Convention on Human Rights and European Convention on Human Rights and many other instruments talk about freedom of expression, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of information at various levels. Unfortunately, no document has yet been prepared to find out the solution of the cases where the alleged freedom of expression of one person turns out to create such a mockery of religious feelings of billions around the world. Undoubtedly, the acts of a few have grieved billions of Muslims and non-Muslims around the world. Generally speaking, I don’t believe that such acts can harm Islam or its teachings. It is a religion followed by billions around the globe. Though in this context, it would be fair to say that majority of non-Muslims have also shown their disapproval of the blasphemous acts of American filmmakers. However, a uniform policy at international level is needed to show respect each religion.

If seen through a prism of fair and constructive criticism, there appear to be three main reasons behind religious intolerance around the world. The first is the failure of Muslim regimes to protect their ideology. Sectarian division amongst Muslim states is getting visible with every passing day. The concepts like Muslim Ummah and Muslim brotherhood have been replaced with geopolitical needs. Moreover, the existing forum to promote and protect the Islamic ideology has not yet been able to uniformly set an example to do what it was supposed to. Muslim states in their individual capacity have shown strong response against blasphemous acts in recent times to control but no concrete step has yet been taken by the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) in finding a solution to this problem. The Organization has failed to fulfill its required purpose as laid down in its charter for contributing to international peace and security, understanding and dialogue among civilizations, cultures and religions and promote and encourage friendly relations and good neighborliness, mutual respect and cooperation. No such effort has yet been highlighted by the Organization to create the required impact between members of OIC and other countries of the world.

Secondly, Islamic countries are going through a period of transition these days. Not only are they facing threats internally, but also externally. Most of the problems faced by the Muslim states are caused by sectarian violence, ethnic clashes, war against terrorism and ideological war within the Arab world and so on. The Arab world is going through revolutionary changes triggered by the movement against dictatorial regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria. Similarly, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq are harvesting the seeds of the war on terrorism. Pakistan is also facing sociopolitical instability and series of ethnic and sectarian clashes in its major cities.

Thirdly, the very concept of an Islamic Ummah has been let down by the sectarian regimes in Muslim countries. The terms used in the West for Sunni states, Shia states and subdivisions between the Sunnis and Shias are obviously a result of this lack of uniformity amongst the Muslim Ummah. A new terminology of practising and non practising Muslims has been invented to create another divide between the Muslims around the globe. The wrong interpretation of Islamic teachings and misuse of Islamic ideology for fulfillment of personal gains haven’t helped the Muslim world at all. For example, the translation of Quranic text in different languages has been criticized by Muslim scholars whereas the misuse of Muslim personal law by different Islamic countries is causing further division and friction between sects and Muslim countries.

The bridge between the East and the West is widening. Realistically speaking, the Muslim countries must first settle down on one agenda of promoting harmony and protecting their religious feelings in peaceful manners. Moreover, this will help in creating necessary understanding between Muslim countries and the West to reach a solution and promoting inter-faith harmony. The freedom of expression and other such fundamental human rights cannot be ignored but the exploitation of these rights leading to hurt feelings of a vast majority of the people also cannot be allowed. The feelings of an individual to believe or not believe in any religion should be respected but the same do not give an individual the right to make a mockery of any religion. Most of all, the unity amongst the Islamic countries is the need of the hour. A practical solution is hard to come by as political uncertainty in majority of the Muslim countries and the subdivision from Islamic to sectarian states have created hurdles that need to be removed. And that is not going to be an easy task. The West can only be blamed for its showing no response to the Muslims’ plight but why and how the Muslims came to this condition is a question that needs an answer by the Muslims themselves.

The writer can be reached at [email protected]

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