Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
Opinion Editorials, September 2012
Freedom of Speech Is No Excuse for Insulting Religious Symbols
By Khalid Amayreh
in occupied Jerusalem
PIC, Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, September 17, 2012
The tragic consequences triggered by the recent sleazy anti-Islam film "innocence of Muslims" have presented several challenges to political and religious leaders in the West as well as the Muslim world.
They have also shown how an utterly insignificant act by a little known, though malicious individual, could reverberate fast throughout the globe, causing lethal and fatal repercussions and destroying and ending the lives of innocent people.
The modern media, in its numerous forms, have certainly played a role in spreading the sleazy film and also in provoking and infuriating Muslims. None the less, the media's role hasn't exceeded that of the proverbial messenger.
In the final analysis, the media didn't make the news, it just reported it.
The anti-Islam film is undoubtedly a malicious and wicked act meant to insult and provoke. This is what the producer of the film himself said of his intent behind embarking on the cheap feat.
But Muslims have not acted ideally, too. They seem to have overreacted to the original calculated provocation by attacking embassies and indulging in violence, which led to the spilling of innocent blood.
I believe all sides, those who made, financed and promoted the film, as well as those mobs that overreacted to it, are wrong.
But saying so is not enough, if only to prevent the recurrence of similar events.
I urge responsible political and religious leaders in the West and Muslim world to make every possible effort to strike a delicate balance between freedom of speech and misusing or abusing that freedom, e.g. by insulting religious symbols and offending religious faith.
I am not talking about legitimate freedom of speech and expression and other civil liberties which we all value and respect. What I have in mind is deliberately offending religious sensibilities with malice aforethought.
This is more than just an academic matter since ignoring it does obviously cause the shedding of innocent blood.
Having studied at and graduated from a number of American colleges, I realize how most Americans are jealously fanatical about preserving and clinging to their constitution, especially the First Amendment.
However, Americans and others westerners ought to understand that the religious and cultural traditions of other people, e.g. Muslims, ought to be respected as well. The First Amendment must not be used as an excuse to offend Muslims and their faith, as well as other religious traditions.
There are many wise people in America who could find the perfect formula to resolve this problem once and for all. In the final analysis, the American constitution was founded and shaped in a way that would protect religion from the interference, hegemony and encroachment of the state, not the other way around.
And it is not impossible to strike the right balance between freedom of speech and the right of adherents of various religious groups not to be offended. After all, one's freedom ends where another person's freedom begins.
In some western countries, laws have been enacted against those who deny the holocaust. And in America itself, the country of the First Amendment, politicians and journalist think ten times before thinking of criticizing Israel and Jews.
Hence, the visibly malicious discourse against Islam and its symbols in the US and some other Western countries has more to do with a morbid and hateful proclivity to malign, smear and besmirch and less with the legitimate practice of freedom of speech and expression.
In the final analysis, my right not to be offended and insulted overrides a scoundrel's right to malign the Prophet of Islam in order to satisfy his sick Islamophobia.
The American Civil Liberty Union is likely to vociferously object to this argument. And they would probably make many counter arguments which may sound valid.
But the ACLU, which has done many good things and defended many good causes, can not guarantee that insulting religious symbols will not lead to further bloodshed. Which brings us to the ultimate argument that in such circumstances when one is faced with conflicting rights and conflicting freedoms, it is never enough to be right; one has to be wise as well? Hence, the need for the delicate, fine balances between freedom of expression and the right not to be offended.
I also hope that the tragic events of the past few days will prompt a genuine religious dialogue between Muslim and Christian leaders. The task of maintaining the peace, let alone building stable and friendly relations between the followers of the great religions is too paramount a task to be left for pyromaniacs on both sides.
We must start this dialogue right away. We owe it to the victims of the latest madness to see to it that fanatics and ignoramuses on both sides of the isle are not allowed to savage our faces and burn our hearts with the fire of their ignorance and fanaticism.
The Prophet: The Ultimate red line
By Khalid Amayreh
"You shall certainly be tried and tested in your wealth and in your persons, and you shall certainly hear much abuse from those who received the Scripture before you (Jews and Christians) , and from the idolaters but if you persevere patiently, and observe the commandments of thy Lord, then verily, that will be an affair of great resolution." V. 186-SuraIII
By now it is still unclear who exactly produced the despicable and malicious film "the Innocence of Muslims," which defames and abuses the Prophet of Islam. The alleged producer has given many pseudonyms for himself, apparently to elude the public and escape possible retribution by angry Muslims.
However, by connecting the dots and in light of information provided so far, it is highly likely that the author of the disgusting feat is a Coptic Christian who harbors a pathological hatred of Islam. Earlier reports suggested that the hate-filled bastard was an Israeli Jew by the name of Same Baceil, but these reports have been discounted.
The author of the film seems to have received assistance and encouragement from some evangelical and Zionist circles, probably including Terry Johns, the Nazi-like Evangelical preacher who had threatened to burn the Quran, as if doing so would remove the Holy Book from the hearts and minds of hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world.
Other possible accomplices are Daniel Pipes, another notorious hater of Islam, and David Horowitz, an Israeli basher of Islam who spreads his anti-Muslim venom on American campuses. Both Pipes and Horowitz reportedly provided assistance to Geert Wilders, the extreme Dutch politician who has been disseminating his hateful anti-Islam propaganda throughout Europe.
The producer of the rubbish film was quoted as saying that his goal behind the film was to provoke and hurt Muslim feelings. If so, he seems to have succeeded to a large extent in realizing his goal.
Millions of Muslims, especially those who watched the preview of the promiscuous film, have been grieved, seeing the holiest and most saintly man ever to walk on earth, portrayed in such a bad light, to put it extremely mildly.
In several Muslim countries, angry Muslims have protested the sacrilegious feat. In Cairo, thousands surrounded the U.S. embassy, demanding the U.S. authorities to take action against those who abuse the religious symbols of Islam. Hundreds were reportedly injured from tear gas inhalation and flying stones
In Sana, the capital of Yemen, a close ally of the U.S. in the war against al-Qaida, at least four people have been killed so far as security forces tried to disperse protesters outside the American embassy.
In Libya, the American Ambassador and a number of the embassy staff suffocated to death following the torching of a nearby building to which the diplomats were previously withdrawn for their safety.
These are some of the provisional tragic consequences of the despicable act which infuriated Muslims around the world.
It is probably useless to express one's sorrow for the death of these innocent Americans and Yemenis. However, we should have the moral courage to proclaim the truth and say what much of the Jewish-controlled American media wouldn't say, namely that the blood of these victims is decidedly though vicariously on the hands of the fanatical criminal or criminals who concocted that piece of garbage about the Prophet of Islam who commands the veneration of over 1.6 billion human beings.
Some people might sharply disagree with me by arguing that nothing, absolutely nothing, justifies the killing of an innocent human being, especially when the victim or victims have personally nothing to do with the original provocation.
This is perfectly true and valid. However, things are not as simple as that. In the final analysis, it should have been known that vilifying and ridiculing the Prophet of Islam would provoke Muslims and lead to tragic consequences.
In other words, the killing of the American diplomats was almost inevitable, regardless of it being wrong and unjust. The American government and its various intelligence arms should have foreseen these developments before it was too late. Failing to anticipate these tragic reactions is an intelligence fiasco.
More to the point, enhanced security at US embassies throughout the Muslim world may help provide some security for the foreseeable future. However, it should be clearly understood by the wise men in Washington that a determined fanatic who feels deeply offended and hurt by this virulent act of blasphemy against the Prophet of God could elude all security precautions around American diplomatic missions. Muslims wouldn't flinch from sacrificing their own souls in defense of their Prophet.
As Americans have their own idiots and fanatics, we, too, have our idiots and fanatics. And as Americans are utterly unable, probably unwilling as well, to stop their idiots, we, too, are even less able to rein in ours.
Yes, we understand the First Amendment and all of this stuff. But you must also understand that the Prophet is a million times more sacred than the American constitution.
You may argue that Freedom of speech and Expression is sacred in your country. Well, likewise, you ought to understand that for us Muslims the sanctity of our Quran and our Prophet is absolutely more paramount than the views and opinions of the founding fathers of the American constitution.
Now a word to Muslims. It is perfectly legitimate to be angry and furious about what happened. After all, Muhammed is the final and greatest messenger of God to humanity. And any Muslim that reacts with indifference to the sleazy film must check his faith.
However, our reactions must never exceed the bounds of what is acceptable from the Islamic perspective. We must not hurt innocent people under any circumstances; we must not target churches or institutions belonging to Christians.
Doing so would achieve the morbid goal of the author of that piece of hatred.
Similarly, we must not hold all Christians responsible for the disgusting behavior of one idiot who claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ. After all, there are thousands of sincere Christians who have voiced their indignation and outrage at this outrageous act. We salute these courageous Christians for their solidarity and decency. They are our natural partners in the long and difficult battle for inter-religious fraternity and universal brotherhood.
Khalid Amayreh is an American-educated journalist living in the southern West Bank town of Dura near Hebron. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma in Norman in 1981. He also, received a Master degree in Journalism from the University of Southern Illinois at Carbondale in 1983.
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