Hate Speech in the Guise of Freedom of Expression
Dr. Khaled Batarfi,
“Freedom of expression is important, but so is respect for other people.” This was the opinion of Danish Vice Prime Minister Bendt Bendtsen in an interview with daily Jyllands-Posten about the paper’s action in publishing 12 demeaning caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) that has pitted Denmark against the Muslim world.
“Freedom of speech is an important right, but it also carried with it an obligation to use good judgment,” he contended. “What Jyllands-Posten did is totally legal. I’ve got nothing against freedom of speech — it is important for us all — but if it can offend and hurt a lot of people, why use freedom of speech for that? This is about respecting other people’s cultures.”
Bendtsen reminded: “It was not unheard of for Danes to get upset over misused religious symbols: Two summers ago, a grocery store was forced to stop selling flip-flops with pictures of Jesus after religious groups complained.”
“Danish newspapers could possibly learn something from US newspapers, which tended not to try to push the limits of what was permissible,” he advised. “In the US, freedom of expression is also important. At the same time, there is also a tradition of showing consideration for others.”
I don’t think I can put it any better. It is amazing, though, that he needed to state the obvious.
The editors of the Norwegian, Danish, French and Jordanian newspapers that published the caricatures have something in common. They run small-time newspapers, and were probably trying to make waves, build up reputation and boost sales. This might sound cynical, but it is much better than the alternative explanation — religious hatred. One can’t call what these papers did an exercise of “maximum free speech”, as the Danish paper’s editor put it. If so, why not start with your own? Muslims believe in and respect all of Allah’s prophets and messengers and would not tolerate disgracing any of them.
If practicing “maximum free speech” was the real motive, then there are other ways to flex your muscles. Try, for example, casting a single shade of doubt on the “official” number of the Holocaust victims. People get imprisoned, fired and their character assassinated for discussing the issue.
Denmark and Norway are among the few European nations that have clean history with the Muslim “Ummah.” They didn’t join in the Crusades. They never colonized Muslim lands. They didn’t help in the creation and support of Israel. They took no part in the so-called “war on terror” against Arab and Muslim nations. Therefore, they have never been on any black list of the terrorists, the anti-Western, or anti-globalization activists.
With such a clean record, spotless history and profitable business relations with over 1,200 million Muslims, you expect Danish leaders to be wiser.
Why would the queen, prime minister and conservative Christian groups go out of their way to squander all these fortunes?
Why would they, out of the blue, insist on inflaming Muslim passions with mindless, hurtful, hateful statements and caricatures?
What is the cultural, intellectual value of depicting the holiest symbol of a fifth of the world’s population as a suicidal bomber, womanizer and terrorist ?
Hate speech got the world into its worst conflicts and wars, most on ideological grounds — Christian Crusades, European holy wars, Muslim sectarian civil wars, World War I and II, down to recent conflicts in Ireland, Bosnia, Chechnya, Lebanon, Rwanda, Kosovo and neocon “crusade” on terror. Hate speech killed millions of Native Americans, blacks, Armenians, Jews, Bosnians, Indian untouchables, Chinese and Cambodian intellectuals, Chechens, Gypsies, and Kosovars. All started with some hateful doctrine based on race or ideological superiority, such as Nazism, Zionism, white supremacy and Mao’s Cultural Revolution. By dehumanizing and demonizing the other, it makes you feel superior and helps you rally your own behind a cause. It also justifies your acts of aggression, suppression and injustice.
So, what could and should the civilized world do to fight this disease? When Jews suffered because of hate speech, we invented the anti-Semitism law to protect them. I propose widening this umbrella to include the rest of us. The UN and other concerned international organizations, governmental and nongovernmental, must start collaboration to come up with such rules.
Otherwise, the current clash of civilizations will continue at a larger and more dangerous level and rate.
Humiliated people of a certain religion, race or culture may take it only for a while. The world’s most devastating war, World War II, was a direct result of humiliation the German race suffered at the hands of victorious World War 1 powers. Humiliating over a billion Muslims can’t go on for long without a hit back. Extremists, terrorist organizations and hate preachers are already working on it. Can we afford to wait until the damage is irreversible? We waited too long before and did too little. We should wake up earlier and do better ... this time.
Dear Dr Khalid,
I read your informative write-up in the Arab news of 5 Feb 2006.
Denmark and Norway are among the few European nations that have clean history with the Muslim "Ummah." They didn't join in the Crusades. They never colonized Muslim lands. They didn't help in the creation and support of Israel. They took no part in the so-called "war on terror" against Arab and Muslim nations. Therefore, they have never been on any black list of the terrorists, the anti-Western, or anti-globalization activists.
I have the following doubts since I have contradicting feeling about the approach of this daily.
I have read that this newspaper, Jyllands-Posten did support the fascist Mussolini and Nazi Hitler in the thirties. Also Mussoini was a hero for them.
Denmark is country known to have NO separate burial ground (Maqbara) for Muslims, which makes more clear about their "tolerance" for Islam.
Look forward to receiving more detailed information on the subject.
Dear Dr Khaled,
I am a 62 years old Belgian living in Thailand and I travel a lot in Muslim countries where I have many dear friends.
Educated as a devote Christian, member of the Roman Catholic Church, my eyes opened as soon as I started to live in far away countries for the last 25 years. I never lost my faith in the "One and Almighty God" but through study I discovered the dark historic pages the Catholic Church has written during the centuries that it dominated life - supported by powerful state organs - in a way which can be compared to-day with the Shia rule in Iran.
I read with interest your letter in Arab News Online "Hate Speech in the Guise of Freedom of Expression".
Also of interest is the statement of the Catholic Church as reported by a Malaysian newspaper :
I do not know if the Arab language press is also mentioning this statement because in the Middle East there is confusion between Christians and Westerners (the modern Catholic Church has learned a lot from its mistakes in the past but it has become irrelevant to most of the Westerners)
I think that because of the history of religious wars in Europe about what is "correct thinking" and "what is decent" and "who the clerical authority to have the last word", it will be impossible to introduce suitable legislation in the Western democracies : they will not want to hear about regulating such matters by law.
However there are in some countries with law to punish those who stir up and promote hatred between etnic and religious communities. Jail sentences will not help but heavy financial penalties - payable to the charities operated by the offended communities - will be very effictive!
If the Danish justice system would have had a law based on which it could slap a penalty of a few hundred thousand US dollars on the Danish provincial newspaper, I am sure the editor would think twice before publishing those cartoons....
Hereunder I send you copy of an e-mail I sent two days ago to a dear friend in Pakistan who deeply distressed about what is happening in the Western press and some misguided outrage in a few Muslim capitals.
Please understand : I am just an ordinary but educated person who reads a lot and listens a lot to other people while traveling.
Ferdinand Van Wichelen
I think only educated Muslims will understand why " the freedom of thought and expression" is a like sacred cow in the Western democracies and that no religious authority will be allowed to overrule this.
You have to understand history of Christianity in the Western world whereby the total domination of the Roman Catholic Church in every sector of life, also science, led too religious abominations.
As an example I refer to the well know cases of Giordano and Galileo.
A great shock went through Europe when Bruno Giordano was executed by the Church Tribunal in Rome in 1600 because he professed the believe that not the earth was the center of our celestial system but rather the son (see attachment for details). Indeed the Jewish holy books have versed contradicting this.
However Giordono was more a philosopher than a scientist and therefore what happened to the highly respected and great scientist Galileo shocked the Western intelligent people still more.
I quote from the online encyclopedia "Wikipedia.org" :
He has been referred to as the "father of modern astronomy," as the "father of modern physics," and as "father of science." His experimental work is widely considered complementary to the writings of Francis Bacon in establishing the modern scientific method. Galileo's career coincided with that of Johannes Kepler. The work of Galileo is considered to be a significant break from that of Aristotle. In addition, his conflict with the Roman Catholic Church is taken as a major early example of the conflict of authority and freedom of thought, particularly with science, in Western society.
In 1633 a Church Tribunal rejected his solid scientific observations about the universe as contradicting the holy books and declared him to be a "heretic". Such a sentence is normally followed by an execution unless the heretic repents by abjuration of his theories and the poor man did it immediately!
It took until five years ago that the previous pope in Rome issued a public apology about the treatment of Galileo, but from the middle of the 17th century the Christian Church and the great scientists and philosophers became more and more enemies.
The case of Galileo is just one of the well known cases of Church abuse against people not following the "official teachings" : since the Great Inquisition against Jews and Muslims (and later against Protestants) which started already in Spain since 1492 and since the open revolt against the doctrine of the Church by Protestants such as Luther and Calvin around 1520, many thousands have been tortured and executed by Catholic Church Tribunals.
Further disputes about religious thought and who was the supreme authority for these matters led to ferocious religious wars all over Europe until 1648 and many more thousands of people were killed (I wish that in Iraq the now triumphant Shia's will read some of this European history before pushing the Sunni's into a corner).
More and more intellectuals became not only great ennemies of the Church, but they confused this human institution with the divine power it claimed to represent in an exclusive way, and therefore they started to reject belief in the Almighty God.
A very influential hater of the Church and of the Christian version of God was Voltaire, a French philosopher and writer who lived from 1694 until 1778 and he was one of the strongest advocates of free speech, freedom of thought, freedom of expression, seperation of church and state,etc... ...which were reflected latere in the US Constitution adopted in 1789 and really smashed into European history by the French Revolution of 1792.
The ideas of the French Revolution pushed 40 pct and more of the French population into rejecting religion and since then it never stopped spreading all over Europe (although in my opinion still more people have been spiritually poisoned by the worldwide domination of the godless "entertainment industry" for which Hollywood is a symbol. It is not the White House or the Pentagon or the Wall street which dominate the modern world : it is Hollywood!)
The memory of church abuse and related killings about matters of freedom of thought and expression are so deeply incrusted in the subconscience of the European population that those freedoms have become as I wrote above "sacred cows".
The basic thinking in the Western world is that if those freedoms are not evident then some authority has to define "what is correct thinking, what is decency, etc..." and then the resulting quarrels could end up in fighting and killing as it was a few hundred years ago....because there will always be people trying to be "more Catholic than the Pope" or "more Muslim than the Prophet".
Now about the cartoons in the Danish press : I have found them on the internet.
Some of them are really very offensive and I can feel the shock and emotions of even the most moderate Muslims, because I am myself always shocked when in the Western media there are equally offensive publications or worse movies about Jesus Christ ( such as portraying Jesus as rock music star....)
But what is the correct reaction :
a) to ignore it because we know that the perpetrators will not escape Supreme Justice when Judgment Day comes? Do we no longer believe in this and do we want therefore to enforce justice as self appointed administrators of Almighty God?
b) to start big protest movements which in fact only make the offenses more (in)famous than they were already?
My reply is : ignore them! ...... but I understand that some people cannot follow my thinking.
However if it leads to Hamas people in Palestine attacking the EU representation which has got nothing to do with the cartoons in a Danish newspaper then we see already the danger created by people who try to be more Islamic than the Prophet.
The Hamas militants arrested even an innocent German teacher living in Gaza and are threatening other innocent people, illustrating my point of view.
The Muslim world must be careful not to fall into the trap of pretending to protect or enforce the Kingdom of Almighty God (He is indeed Almighty and does not need our support) while in fact creating their own small kingdoms. The Christian Crusaders did it already one thousand years ago with the "liberation" of Jerusalem. Now Mr Osama bin Laden is trying to fall in the same trap : indeed if he would succeed to establish a Muslim Caliphate in the Middle East, can you then guess who will be the first Caliph?
Your article titled Hate Speech in the Guise of Freedom of Expression makes some pretty interesting comments.
You wrote that Hate speech got the world into its worst conflicts and wars, most on ideological grounds —Christian Crusades, European holy wars, Muslim sectarian civil wars, World War I and II, down to recent conflicts in Ireland, Bosnia, Chechnya, Lebanon, Rwanda, Kosovo and neocon “crusade” on terror. Hate speech killed millions of Native Americans, blacks, Armenians, Jews, Bosnians, Indian untouchables, Chinese and Cambodian intellectuals, Chechens, Gypsies, and Kosovars. All started with some hateful doctrine based on race or ideological superiority, such as Nazism, Zionism, white supremacy and Mao’s Cultural Revolution.
First off, you forgot to mention Darfur and the GENOCIDE that is taking place there. Arabs killing off the Christian population. Perhaps we should mention the Ahmahdis in Pakistan, Christians in Saudi Arabia, Coptics in Egypt, hell, I imagine I could just mention how all non Muslims residing in Islamic countries are treated... I particularly find Sura 21.11-15 helpful when understanding the Muslim mentality... Or perhaps Sura 48.29? Judging from the reaction of peaceful, law-abiding Muslims to these silly cartoons, I guess my Muslim neighbor is going to chop off my head now if I insult him in any way? and you don't find this remotely hypocritical??? God bless Rushdie...God bless Naipaul...
then you write: By dehumanizing and demonizing the other, it makes you feel superior and helps you rally your own behind a cause. It also justifies your acts of aggression, suppression and injustice.
I find it pathetic that you criticize Western media for even thinking about injuring the pious, almighty Muslim Ummah...what a joke...Jews are portrayed as monkeys and pigs consistently in Arab papers and Muslims are encouraged to kill infidels in Palestinian and Saudi textbooks...then you have Muslims ranting and foaming at the mouth like Pavlov dogs screaming "down with the UK" "Kill the infidel" blah blah blah in the United Kingdom! it's nice when freedom of speech protects your right to spout off hateful and bigoted rubbish isn't it? but when it's aimed at you, Muslims cry like babies with dirty diapers...it really is quite simple: if you don't like Western values, don't live in the West. If you happen to live here, don't demand we live under the barbaric, nazi oriented rubbish you call Sharia law. Basta...
Huntington was/is right: Islam has bloody borders...
ps: is there going to be a fatwa issued to have me killed in the name of your peaceful religion?
A sensitive article tonight and one that took deep thought and consideration; many topics and balances that face us all. It is interesting and I share with you that a number of American Jewish rabbis, and I suppose those in other nations as well, all took immediate exception to the cartoons as being not only in poor taste but also of the ilk that speaks to hatred and the humiliation of a people and their heritage. The issue of a free press is a separate matter involving a free world and matters of good taste and purpose are always up for scrutiny and evaluation. Open discussions are thus worthy and encouraged.
At no time have I ever heard a imam or other Islamic cleric rise to challenge cartoons in the Arab world that consider Jews to be "Pigs, infidels, and worse". You see....our work is never ended and where are we headed? Islam was remarkable and the Prophet's word is sometimes taken out of context by those wishing to bash Islam; herein lies the challenge to all journalists in terms of standing tall and forging the irons for truth and not hatred. Certainly, opinions are part of the free range; responsible communication demands a level playing field.
As always, I thank you for trying but as the days move forward, I feel that we are not making any headway.
Salam and shalom, my respectful friend in Jeddah...
Observing all the "news" reports and the reactions in various countries to the sacriligious cartoon of the Prophet that was published, it occurred to me that Muslims are the only religious sect that reacts with violence to this type of insult. There are reports of various embassies being entered and destroyed and other violent acts by Muslims in response to this cartoon. I do understand that it is forbidden to recreate an image of Mohammed (PBUH) according to your religion. Nevertheless, I don't understand the violent reaction as Islam is portrayed as a religion of peace - excluding the extremists.
I was unaware of the ban on images of the Prophet until this happened and I've spent quite a lot of time reading everything I can find about the religion. I certainly understand how offensive the cartoon is to believers in Islam. I would be offended if there was a similar representation of Jesus. I would not, however, take any kind of violent action against those responsible, nor would I be involved in any physical attack on anyone associated with the country or region from whence it came. I am frequently offended by cartoons I see in Arabic media, but I don't project my anger on Muslims in general or even the news service that publishes such cartoons.
The violence that has occurred by Muslims in reaction to this cartoon gives credence to those who publicly associate Islam with violence. The bottom line is that one bad act doesn't justify the behavior by offended Muslims. Both my religion and my culture teach that one bad act doesn't justify another. So I am asking what it is about Islam and/or the culture that condones or results in this behavior.
EarthLink Revolves Around You.
Do you ever watch Conan O'Brian on USA TV? He regularly makes fun of Jesus in a playful way. I have
no doubt that
many Christens here get offended. But he is not hated for this and has not received death threats(to my knowledge).
The Muslim community seems to expect a level of respect they seldom give to other peoples and faiths.
I have heard that Osama Bin Laden is very popular in many Muslim COuntries. Is this true? Just how popular is he? The numbers reported here in USA are startling.
Are they true?
I believe those numbers are true and that many Muslims feel that 9-11 was justified in some sense. The failure of the muslim leaders, press and everday Muslims to acitively speak against it and denonce it has had a chilling effect. Many in the west belive that "spraying us with insecticide" as Mr. Atta fanatized about is not far off.
I often wonder where and what would the Palenstine People be if they had used the tatics of passive resistance as used by Gandi? Would they be further towards thier goals of reclaiming what was taken? What progress have they made using the prideful and foolish way of violence they have chosen?
People in the west now fear Muslims. They fear Muslims wish to kill us. They fear that muslims will first reach for the knife and the gun before any other method. They fear that Muslims want all "infidels"
dead. They fear that Muslims will not integrate into the societies where they are small ethnic minorities.
They fear that Muslims will not tolerate them as they have been tolerant of them in many cases.
If a small USA population existed in Iran and USA attacked Iran such as twin towers what do you think would happen to that small band of USA citzens in Iran?
I think the Muslims talk a good game. But they do not put there money where there mouths are. The constant references to Jew's as not better than anaimals does not help. Saying they will be erased off the face the earth is not so nice either. I am not jewish but I find it strange that when such comments are aired publicly by Iran there is very little (if any ) denunceation of them by Muslim leaders worldwide.
Where the outrage?
In short Muslims are responsible for there own bad PR. They have done a lousy job of convincing people they are peace loving. Quite the oppisite has occured.
This is not the Wests fault. It is the Muslims fault.
The way to beat the west is not with guns, knives and hatred. It is with shame. But in order to shame others one must strive to be shameless.
Blowing people up, suicide bombers, burning foriegn consults( over a cartoon) are all shameful acts. They weaken Muslim peoples in the eyes of the world , not strengthen them.
It's all about credibility. The muslim peoples have very low credibilty in the west right now. People in the west do not believe them anymore when they speak of the peace and love that they claim is written in the koran. Where are the peace marchers in the muslim world?? Maybe they exist in large numbers but I can say I do not know of them.