Expression of ‘freedom’
How can a simple caricature be considered as hate speech, let alone lead to harsh reactions such as the recent hideous events in Paris? This question is frequently being asked by some of our western friends. Before trying to answer this question, let us explore its roots. This question is an indication that the real targeted audience of these cartoons or such media outlets is not the western friends, as they have not even received its message!
As a matter of fact, these contents are mostly released by marginal magazines and not by the popular western media. Who is the targeted audience? The answer is simple: the religious minority, in this case Muslims of France who are already alienated by discriminating laws. Freedom of speech, supported by the votes of the majority in western societies, has been used from time to time as a pretext for these outlets against the minority. This is so nasty for a media whose main mandate should be to support the oppressed against the oppressive, to task upside down and try to marginalize a minority to make a profit out of this.
The media outlets, like any corporation, should take the taste of their consumers and audience seriously. The question is, should they regard the taste of their audience whose value is portrayed or the taste of the people whose country is a home base for such production? Which one is democratic: to meet the requirements of the minority-targeted audience or to use (or abuse) the privilege of being in the majority, home-based society? Why should the West impose its own logic to evaluate the minorities’ values? Isn’t this humiliating to the minority? Freedom of speech, like many other legitimate rights, is in danger of being hijacked by hatemongers, and this is against freedom. This is the targeted audience who determine the threshold at which they are insulted. Those who mock or insult religious beliefs publicly can always say, ‘we mean no offense to anyone’, but this is a joke when you have a good understanding about the temper of your audience about a subject — the prophet, in this case.
In fact, such practices are observed in the law under the name of ‘hate speech’. However, putting a border between disputed territories like ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘hate speech’ are sometimes committed to hypocritical decisions and double standards, especially when it comes to Islamic values in France. The law as the main pillar of a civil society should be clear and protected against being hijacked by individuals and different groups. If words like ‘hate speech’ or ‘freedom of speech’ in the law do not have explicit and clear meanings, profiteers can abuse them by imposing their own meaning upon them. This makes this pillar very shaky and can lead to chaos — in this case, insulting religious values, division in the society and its bloody outcomes.
Islam is the second largest religion in the world. This makes it quite challenging for the West as well as Muslim countries to present and represent the ‘true’ Islam. True Islam provides a lifestyle, with the revelation of God (Qur’an) on one hand and the philosophic rationality of human on the other, which are believed to be balanced and consistent. There are, of course, extremists among Muslims and non-Muslims who are not content with this version of Islam. They manifest themselves in a conflict with either one or both of these two major bases. The takfiris who claim to represent Islam and the anti-Islam fanaticism are two sides of a single coin, one supporting terrorism and the other one racism in favor of ‘Islamophobia’. They need each other to survive and Islam, together with the innocents regardless of their religion, are the victims of both of these movements. They create a hostile circle that each one’s action justifies the other one’s. This, in the end, results in hatred and fear against both Islam and the West.
Recently, the magazine of the University of Groningen, UK, has re-published the cartoon of the prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. We do not believe of course that this magazine is an anti-Islam fanatic and we hope it would acquit itself from humiliating and spreading hatred by removing the cartoon in respect to not only Muslim students and academics, but also freedom/manner of speech and in objection to racial segregation and retrogression.
On behalf of all Muslims in the university we invite the readers to dismiss all these noises and receive the message of Islam directly from Qu’ran.
Hamid Afshar, University of Groningen