Who is responsible?

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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  1. Jester said:

    "Islam" and "freedom of… anything" is as far apart as Iceland and the equator!

  2. Arslan said:

    I guess this dichotomy will allow racisim in the name of freedom of expression as If one's colour is white or cast is superior or status is higher than other , then one should allow all this racists behaviour in the name of freedom of expression as Its my freedom to what I want to say , I should say……

  3. Jag Nathan said:

    Islam will be respected when Muslims respect non Muslims. The way non-Muslims are treated in any Muslim country leaves no room for anyone to respect them. We are witnessing Newton’s 3rd Law at work. For a long time the governments of liberal democracies (including India) have played ball with all kinds of bad behaviour coming from Muslim nations. Little did anyone notice that the masses these liberal leaders ruled had an opinion that was different? When we see fellows Jews, Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Shiias, Bahais, Ahemdis being hunted down like dogs, incarcerated & murdered for cooked up reasons, when we see their rights being curtailed, their places of worship being destroyed and school books depicting them as monkeys and lesser human beings unworthy of respect and equal treatment, Muslims must expect this and worst. If Muslims want to be respected, they have to start by learning to respect others. Pass any laws you want. You can perhaps stop a few people from talking. But the truth prevails. You cannot stop 6 billion minds from thinking. Can you?

    • aijazhaider said:

      You are totally wrong. I Iive in the KU Campus, Karachi and know all the christian community here. Akram Masih is the head of the sweepers and in my lane Arsalan Masih, Riyasat Masih and Manzoor Masih do the daily chores in shifts. We have installed a water-dispenser so all can drink cold water. All of them have motorbikes and quite few also own rickshaws which they run in off-duty hours to earn extra. They agree that tey will not find a safer place and caring community anywhere in the world. The Bishop of Karachi lead a procession protesting against the blasphemous movie. The punishment for intentional blasphemy against any prophet, by muslim or non-muslim is death sentence. I have not seen any scenario like Jews, Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Shiias, Bahais, Ahemdis being hunted down like dogs!

  4. Taaruf said:

    muslims have misinterpreted teaching of Islam and the Quran. They have developed a divide and rule policy among one another. The muslims have dis-integrated in diverse sects. Due to this division, each member tries hard to produce explanation and interpretation of Quran for achieving supreme authority in religious doctrines. This supriority makes them over pride and they misinterpret the teaching of Quran. As a result of disintegration, lack of co-operation, religiuos sect differences, foreign un-Islamic religious scholars try to blespheme Holy Prophet, mis-represent and metomorphsize the teachings of sunnah. What is important for us to purge sacred things is to maintain and sustain cementing bond of brotherhood and create mutual understanding among muslim segments of differnt school of thought.

  5. Dr.M.M.Khan said:

    If we just accept the following the life would be livable in Pakistan.
    (A. One goes to the mosques to pray for spirtual deliverance and not for brainwashing by clerics who seem to have their own agenda.
    B. The Parliament is resposible for making fair laws.
    C. The courts deliver justice
    In Pakistan A seems to have monopoly over the rest. Even freedom of speech is controlled through misguided guardians of faith.

    • Nazia said:

      if people of Pakistan would learn Islam from Amir laquat or veena malik then what would you expect from them
      if parliament gives vote to Zardari and Raja as President and PM respectively then what would be law of accountability of Pakistan' s legislative system.
      If court's given justice is denied by state authority where this justice system can survive ?
      where Pakistan will survive if war culture become indispensable for us by our leech like establishment so in one side we are making agitation against US and killing our own people and on the other side our FM is meeting with US officials for setting conditions of US aid specially for military then what can you predict for future of Pakistan under such guided leaders.

  6. Dr.M.M.Khan said:

    It is the freedom of speech which has made West what it is today and not Middel East. Provocation leads to confrontation and death and destruction as we have witnessed in Pakistan today. A foolish act in USA has made a great nation collectively loose it,s sense of proportion.How much damage have we done to ourselves//lost lifes, lost earnings, more widows and orphans. How long will this rage last? You cannot deny people freedom of speech however unpalatable it may be. It is a god,s gift to us otherwise we would have been born deaf and dumb.
    Now that adrenaline kick is over let us reflect and make consequent analysis. Has anything changed?

  7. Nazia said:

    Those who were today hit has no link with any kind of confrontation or debate of free speech.We have been used of bullying the people and that is what we had learn via belief of jihad imposed on us in Zia;s time.Pakistan is enjoying high time of this freedom of speech but here miscreants are dominants on liberals who are defying such acts and demonstration .I again say it is state led move which is linked with some kind of US aid that is being decided bu our establishment and US officials via our FM channel

    • Dr.M.M.Khan said:

      I am impressed by your comments.Pakistan seems to be ruled from the graves. ZAB
      family and Zia seem to have a strangle hold on pakistanis. Don.t you think it is time to bury the past and carve our own future. The way i see it from far away it appears we are comfortable with the past and will slavishly live it again.
      As far as foreign aid is concerned beggers can,t be choosers–no offence ment.

      • Nazia said:

        Yes beggars cant be chooser but black mailers can give you many choices of convenience
        thanks but I think I wrongly replied to right man.

  8. Genesis said:

    The world has a right to have its views and often it might be unpleasant to some.A section of society cannot impose its ideas and views on the rest of the world which to say the least is unfair

  9. Jez said:

    I've read various responses from those purporting to represent an Islamic voice – I, as a non-Muslim, have no idea if they actually do, of course – and what really impressed was when they argued for freedom of speech even though they may find such speech disagreeable. This reminded me of the old saying which is attributed to Voltaire.

    Journalism comes with responsibilities. The words you write resonate. Your duty of care goes beyond writing something that reads well – incidentally, your editor needs telling off for failing to spot where you fail to use the definite or indefinite article upon occasions…which makes me, the reader, wonder what else you have missed, where else you have been inaccurate? Let us consider the first paragraph…

    The opening paragraph is littered with assumptions and assertions: billions of Muslims ("a religion followed by billions across the globe" – the global Muslim population is not expected to reach two billion until 2030 – unless, of courses you meant 'followed' as in 'watched', in which case the sentence rather disengenuously enables more to be inferred than was explicitly implied); "been the cause"? (this is biased and precludes the possibility that there may be other causes/agendas); "majority of non-Muslims" (this may or may not be true but there's no evidence for it either way, and if you think you have evidence for such an encompassing assertion, reference it); and the idea of a 'document' stating what is or is not permissible as freedom of speech is a contradiction in terms (unless it says, 'say what you want to say' – noting that laws already exist in most countries for slander/defamation). I should also point out that 'blasphemous' depends upon one's perspective, of course, although that one can be explained away by the context in which the article was written. (If there is no deity, then there is no blasphemy; if there is a deity, then that deity may or may not be linked to any of the world's religions etc).

    Writer and readers alike may find those contributions on the BBC to be of interest. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-19632

    Ed Husain's piece – which is the very first one – seems to me to be reputable, reflective and responsible.

    If it was my religion, I'd have either ignored the film or addressed each allegation one-by- one to either accept, refute, clarify, or contextualise, as appropriate ie the film says 'X', perhaps based upon Koran reference(s) 'Y' and ''Z' but fails to take into account 'A', 'B' or 'C' or, in other cases,is not based upon Koran verses but is presumed to be based upon source materials '1', '2' or '3', for example, to which Islamic scholars also respond by stating the case for or against.

    My bias, to be clear: I'm a Christian. I do not believe that Mohammad is a prophet of the God of Abraham. That aside, I do believe in allowing people to freely and fairly discuss or test religious systems, ideas, dogmas, and challenge the so-called authority of Christian priests, Islamic imams, Jewish kohens etc who all seem to do rather well for themselves by controlling the masses.

    People should question. With questioning comes answers, however distasteful or uncomfortable those questions and answers may be for others. Christianity may be utter nonsense, Islam may be utter nonsense, Judaism may be utter nonsense etc.. One or another may, of course, be true. We are on this world for such a short time. Let's not fight about this. If there is a deity, then that god doesn't need you or me to does the killing. He (if ladies will forgive the masculine pronoun) can take us any way or time he chooses.

  10. Kazim Ali Naqvi said:

    Westerns are always partial while tlkng about the Freeedom of Speech..
    western media should be condemned for this hypocracy..whenever any body wants to say something or put a question on Hollow cast or on the conspiracy of 9/11 then he had to suffer.
    in 2006 after the war between Israel and Hizbulla, Hizbulla won..a person from canada hire a advertising board and Congratz the Hizbulla..Legal actions were taken against that person..in very same canada one parliamentarian praises the Hizbulla then he was forced to say after few months "that Hizbulla z a terrorist organization"..
    I praise the efforts of Sir Adeel Amjad…
    a good contribution nd solutions have been given in this writing..
    There should be a document that can held a person liable who comits such an act that disturbs the International Peace…
    International peace z above the so called concepts of Freedom of Speech and Expression.Which are always misused by the Super powers..

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