Appearance of Nick Griffin, the leader of the far-right British National Party (BNP) on the BBC Program, Question Time1, has caused a furore and raised questions on the limitations of freedom of speech. Should an individual be permitted to express views that cause offence to a certain section of society? Even if the views are technically permitted by law, should the mass media encourage this by giving racist bigots like Nick Griffin a platform on a primetime TV? A more fundamental point in this debate is - should freedom of speech have a limit in the first place.
With the exception of Nick Griffin, there was consensus amongst all the panellists on the limitations of freedom of speech. Those limits specify that it is unacceptable to express views that are deemed racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic. Most pertinently, you should not deny the holocaust; even to question this sacred subject is taboo. However, you can express anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim views, no matter how much offence it causes; in fact the more the better, because it is often used by sections of western societies as a barometer for freedom of expression. After struggling against the censorship for centuries, suddenly their freedom of expression rests on their ability to insult Islam and Muslims.
The political lightweight Nick Griffin was convincingly knocked out in the first round, and humiliated on all the issues, except when it came to the subject of Islam and Muslims. All the panellists failed to respond to the baseless anti-Islamic rants of Nick Griffin, except the ‘mufti’ ‘Syeda Warsi, whose answer was inadequate and superficial, not really worth dwelling upon.
It is not surprising for Nick Griffin to express anti-Islamic or anti-Muslim views, as a racist bigot naturally dislikes foreign people and their culture. Although, I am sure, many members of his party enjoy the Indian curry or the Turkish/Arabic kebab! I still remember the racists thugs would end up eating curry in the Indian/Pakistani restaurants in the evening, after taunting the Asian kids for smelling of curry during the day. Although these bigots were in the minority, but couple of drops of urine is sufficient to spoil a bowl of milk. The British society has progressed considerably since those times, but not the primitive members of the BNP.
When specifically asked by a member of the audience why Nick Griffin considers Islam a wicked and an evil religion, his response was on two points a) it oppresses women b) allegedly the Quran 'ordains as a religious duty the murder of Jews as well as other non-Muslims'.
Let us examine each of these points.
On the issue of women, it is perplexing as to why Nick Griffin would be concerned for Muslim women. After all, majority of the Muslims in the UK are from Asia and the Middle East, therefore clearly visible to eyes of the British National Party members, unlike the recent East European migrants!
If Islamic Laws were oppressive to women, they would naturally abandon Islamic values and exchange their modest clothing for the mini-skirt and the bikini. Nobody is forcing the Muslim women to remain as practising Muslims in secular West or in secular East. However, according to the mainstream media and major parties in the UK for some strange reasons they like to remain oppressed. What is even more puzzling, majority of the converts to Islam are in fact women, but these small details are always overlooked! How is it that such an evil religion continues to attract these women from all sections of a free society? Why do they choose to oppress themselves by embracing Islam?
The same kind of secular-prophecy was made prior to the invasion of Afghanistan; the Anglo-American forces would liberate the Afghan women from their veil. It failed. Today in certain European countries, the attitude is, if the Muslim women do not want to be liberated from their modest clothing, we will force them to do so! This is a blatant contradiction with the notion of freedom, and reflects the mindset of medieval Europe on the verge of launching a liberal-inquisition.
With regards to the second point of killing Jews and non-Muslims, Nick Griffin did not elaborate with any reference from the Quran, of substantiate it by citing scholarly works and historical examples. There is no verse in the Quran orders the indiscriminate killing of non-Muslims. On the contrary, a section of Islamic law deals with how the non-Muslim population should be protected, hence they are known as the Dhimmis, which means the protected people. It is fact that non-Muslims flourished within the Islamic Societies, Jews and Christians lived peacefully under the Muslim rule in Spain for centuries, as they did in places like India, Syria, Turkey and Palestine. In fact, facing religious persecution in Christian Europe, the Jews sought sanctuary within the Ottoman Empire, and prospered there for centuries.
The rise of BNP (British National Party) can be partially attributed to the demonisation of Muslims and Islam fanned by sections of the mainstream media. The nasty propaganda machine has often reversed the roles of victim and aggressor. The cowboys were always the virtuous people chasing the terrorists of the time, the Native Americans, often depicted as irrational wild savages; of course nothing to do with the new colonisers taking over their lands and resources. Today the impression created in the minds of the masses is that the Muslims are the anti-Semitic, illustrated by reversing the role of victim (Palestinians) and aggressor (Zionist State) in the region.
It is easy to blame others for your problem, this is the politics of the far-right according to the likes of Jack Straw and others, however, the reality is the mainstream media and the major parties have a majority share of this blame game, along with sections of the Muslim community.
Yamin Zakaria (firstname.lastname@example.org)