Freedom of Expression and Beyond

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Freedom of Expression and Beyond

Humanity now lives in plural societies. Pluralism and multiculturalism have become the norm. Respect and recognition of others - in religion, language and ethnicity - is the glue that holds societies together.

How freedom, respect, and recognition of others can go hand-in-hand is the critical question. When this relation breaks down, chaos will prevail. My freedom ends where another’s rights begin.

Nobody can claim a freedom that violates the respect and dignity of others. You have freedom to criticize, oppose and challenge the beliefs and practices of others; however, when you use it to insult, defame and scandalize others, then you are overstepping their rights. In order to have peace and harmony in any plural and multicultural society, everyone should be on guard against stirring hatred and disrespect for others. A word, a picture, a sentence can explode to violence. Yes, you have freedom but do you have the freedom to walk naked on the streets, for example? No. Why? This is because you offend others by walking naked in front of them. Thus, freedom has limits. Some time ago, there was a debate about the issue of women walking topless. How many people approve of that in the name of freedom? Thus, freedom has its limits. It has its moral boundaries. No apostles of freedom, including Voltaire or Rousseau, argued for unbridled, individual freedom. That is neither humanly possible nor pragmatic.

Covering the private parts was the most important cultural development of the human race. Should "freedom” take us back to being naked?

Clothing is one of the most important marks of distinction between humans and animals. Do we want to erase that mark in the name of freedom of expression? Nudity is reversing human cultural progress. The first thing Adam and Eve did was to cover their nudity. Now, freedom of expressionists want them to remain naked, what a perversion of human values!

When a cartoonist in Holland depicted the Prophet Muhammad as a terrorist a few years ago, Muslims reacted violently and tried to kill the cartoonist. As a counter-response, I wrote a book entitled: Mercy: Prophet Muhammad’s Legacy to All Creation. In it, I stated:

"We must show our love for the Prophet by defending him, especially now when he is being insulted, abused, slandered, and defamed in his grave just as he was living with his contemporaries…But how should we defend him? By murdering those who slander him? Destroying their property or issuing death threats? No, for such activities were not part of his noble character.”

There is no doubt that a few Muslims have reacted violently and against the teachings of the Prophet whom they are defending. The Quran states:

"Whoever kills a person – except in punishment for the killing of another person, or for the spreading of dire corruption in the earth – it shall be reckoned as though he has killed all humankind. And whoever saves a life, it shall be reckoned as though he has saved the life of all humankind.” (5:32)

This is the most profound declaration of the protection of human life rarely found in even other religious texts. Human life, no matter who’s – Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, or Muslim – is sacred, and the one who violates the sanctity of life is a criminal. Those Muslims who committed the Paris massacre are truly criminals.

While condemning the brutal, barbaric, and inhuman actions of those Muslims who committed the Paris massacre in unequivocal terms, we ask the cartoonists, calmly and collectedly, what message do you want to convey by depicting somebody naked? What do you want to achieve by depicting a historical figure revered by more than a billion people without clothes? Might this be exceeding the limit of your freedom? Can such freedom bring peace and harmony in pluralistic and multicultural societies?

Unbridled freedom clashes with many human values, even freedom itself.

To those who threaten the peace of France if such cartoons are reprinted, I would say: stop! you are not defending your Prophet but rather insulting him by breaching his noble teachings towards his friends or foes. The Quran states:

"For not equal are the good deed and the evil deed. So repel their evildoing with that which is best in the sight of God. Then, behold! The one who had enmity for you, and for whom you had enmity, may become like a most intimate friend.” (41:34)

To conclude, freedom is essential to a healthy pluralistic society, and at the same time so is respect and the understanding of others. Personal and societal freedoms must be balanced with the common good and human decency, and sanctity of life must be held as the paramount principle, otherwise society as we know it will cease to exist.

Sheikh Ibrahim Hussein Malbary