Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Ruckus over the Danish Cartoons

When I was younger, my dad used to say that freedom is conditional. You see, with freedom comes responsibilty. You are free to do whatever you please as long as your actions or words do not hurt or limit the freedom of another. Once harm is established, then you have to face the ramifications and may even have your freedom restricted or revoked.

So in the West, people are free and democratic, something we still long for. Yet what is freedom, really, and how do you define it? Muslim girls in France are banned from wearing hijab in schools, a move unanimously backed by the french goverment. People with Muslim, Arab or African names have difficulty finding employment. In the States, there is the Partiot's Act which allows government agencies to spy on people.

On the other hand, the West has freedom of speech. So much so, that often time slander and hateful comments are regarded as the individual's inherent right to free speech. (antisemitic comments and negative remarks about the holocaust are crimes punishable by law in many western countries. These negative remarks include publicly doubting the holocaust.. but of course prophet bashing is free speech and welcomed!)

So this brings me to the Danish cartoons that slander the Prophet (PBUH). The questions that beg to be asked, is a person's freedom limited or unlimited? Shouldn't a person be held responsible for the results of his/her right to practice free speech? In this instance, my dad's words come to my mind, you are only free to do as you wish as long as no one is harmed. In the case of the Danish cartoons, clearly the sensibilities of all Muslims were offended .

So what do we do now? Do we murder him like Theo Van Gogh, the Danish filmaker was? Do we act violently and reinforce the negative image Islam seems to have? Do we act rashly with threats, hateful words and boycotts that would do Muslims more harm than good and create a backlash?

Or do we rise to the occasion? Why not sue the cartoonist for defamation and slander? Why not take the high road and settle this one and for all in courts? Why not establish a clear precedant in their courts and in their lands that makes it clear that slander of religion (whatever it maybe) is not freedom of speech and should not be tolerated? Why not be patient, resourceful and resilent until we have it established that with freedom of speech comes responsibility?

Wasn't the Prophet (PBUH) mocked and ridiculed by his opponents? For that matter, weren't most prophets (PBUT). But the Prophet never waged a war for that reason or incited violence and doled out threats. Why not mimick his actions as we struggle to right the wrong done against him?

Maybe because it is easier to make a ruckus and fuss, instead of being the bigger and better persons, instigating real and lasting change for the better.

5 comments:

SillyBahrainiGirl said...

Well said.. this is exactly the same argument I have been having with people since the cartoons surfaced !

Yes, the Prophet was egged but he didn't send negative vibes and death threats left, right and centre!

Gardens of Sand said...

Thanks, sillybahrainigirl for reading my blog. I did not know anyone did that! with a Palestinian faction threatening to kill Danes in Palestine, and calls for boycott....what did that solve? Nothing, instead french newspapers are parading these cartoons all over and the issue has transformed from defaming a prophet to freedom of speech vs. islamic radicalism and terror. When will we learn to change our ways?

TariqKhonji said...

"Shouldn't a person be held responsible for the results of his/her right to practice free speech? In this instance, my dad's words come to my mind, you are only free to do as you wish as long as no one is harmed. In the case of the Danish cartoons, clearly the sensibilities of all Muslims were offended."

Yes, freedom of speech goes only so far as no one's rights are harmed. But suggesting that the cartoonists or anyone else should be gagged because they may offend people's sensibilities is actually harming their right to express themselves.
If you say that people cannot harm others 'sensibilities' by speaking their minds then you are effectively saying that there can be no sound freedom of thought. You can't take things to the next level if you impose restrictions on freedom of debate.
If we had to worry about offending everyone with everything we say there would be no political debates, no campagns, no newspaper columnists, no letters pages, no talk shows...debate means that occasionally people are going to get offended.

Gardens of Sand said...

"Yes, freedom of speech goes only so far as no one's rights are harmed. But suggesting that the cartoonists or anyone else should be gagged because they may offend people's sensibilities is actually harming their right to express themselves."

I am not saying they should be gagged or silenced. I am all for freedom of speech, but I am also for respecting others. Despite what I feel about many things, including other people's beliefs, I have to respect them, and respect their right to belief what they wish. Is it too much to expect the same back.

"If you say that people cannot harm others 'sensibilities' by speaking their minds then you are effectively saying that there can be no sound freedom of thought. You can't take things to the next level if you impose restrictions on freedom of debate."

A person can get a message across loud and clear without the need to offend and insult. If the cartoonist wanted to really instigate change and tackle a problem Islam suffers from today, then he could've done that with a thousand and one different ways that are creative and thoughtful, and get the Muslims thinking. He could've depicted the average Muslim but instead he chose to depict the Prophet in offensive ways. That is what I have a problem with.

I am not for restricting freedom of speech and debate. However, I am all for restricting bigotry and hatefulness. What is held sacred to any individual (be it the Prophet, the Dali Lama, the Pope, whoever and whatever), should be respected and not made targets of cheap shots.

Anyways in this we differ. Thanks for the comment though, makes good food for thought. I guess too, this incident brought the issue of secularism vs religion to the forefront.

TariqKhonji said...

"I am not saying they should be gagged or silenced. I am all for freedom of speech, but I am also for respecting others."

Then we agree. What they did was tasteless, but they should still be able to say it.