From the days of Salman Rushdie and the Danish Cartoons to the recent movie on YouTube, the issue of free speech and Islam has primarily surfaced in the context of vulgar language being directed at the Prophet (saw) and the teachings of Islam; this rabid Islamophobia is fueled by the mainstream media, in particular the gutter tabloid press like the Daily Mail. To reinforce the prejudice, the media disseminates un-Islamic actions of individual Muslims as representative of Islam. Besides the mass media, the Internet is filled with many anti-Islamic websites, engaged in the same task of circulating crude propaganda and inciting hate.
There are primarily two types of groups engaged in this type of activities, the far right extremists driven by xenophobia, and the militant secular camp. The former has adopted the anti-Islamic stance to conceal their disdain towards foreigners. So they make the flimsy argument that the Muslims are not a racial entity. That is true; however, the Muslims are largely composed of foreigners, when they are attacked by the far right, one can see the racist undertones and at times the clear racist language surfacing.
In order to appear objective, the secular brigade claims they are opposed to all religions, in reality they are focused on targeting Islam. Hence, the disproportionate media spotlight on the Muslims. For example, the occurrence of honor killings among a very small minority is amplified when it involves Muslims, even though it is prevalent in other communities to the same degree. In India, female infanticide has led to serious population imbalance in certain areas, but this is rarely mentioned. The issue of women’s right is constantly used to attack Islam and Muslims, yet, it is the US led the world on rape, domestic violence, flesh trade and gruesome serial killers preying on women.
Christianity has gone through reformation; with creeping secularization they tolerate any levels of abuse hurled at Jesus (PBUH), and are gradually accepting Homosexuality and Feminism to conform to secular values. At this rate, Christianity will eventually lose its identity. If Christianity has adapted, why can’t Islam they argue. Hence, secular warriors are battling to kick-start a reformation within Islam.
From a monopoly position, newspapers columnists like Melanie Phillips, and similar characters on TV and Radio often justify crude attacks on Muslims, using the pretext of free speech; yet they have never set a real example of their commitment to ‘free’ speech by giving the Muslims an ‘equal’ voice, so that the discourse is a fair one. It is easy for the strong to target the weak; the Muslim communities have almost no voice in the Zionist dominated mass media. In contrast, they maintain a distance from powerful and influential communities like the Jews; just the threat of anti-Semitism results in a rapid retreat followed by an apology, and the issue of ‘free’ speech is quickly forgotten.
Secularist admits that ‘free’ speech has limits, and it should not be used to incite violence. How those limits are decided and enforced is another matter, but it inherently contradicts the notion of being ‘free’. Such notions of freedom can also exist under absolute dictatorship as long as you obey the dictator! Concurrently, secularists argue that in a modern liberal society one should be able to “attack all beliefs”. Is that so? Then we see the caveats, no homophobia, no anti-Semitism, no racism, no sexism, no slander, no defamation and so on. How does one attack or criticize a belief without inciting violence? An obvious answer is not to use vulgar language and employ words that are intended to cause offence.
For example, Islamophobic gangs often make the crude allegation of pedophilia against the Prophet for marrying Ayesha, who was nine-years-old. Her age is not a certainty, only that she was a young woman (not a prepubescent child), and the ‘only’ virgin wife of the Prophet; others were considerably older, much contrary to what a Pedophile would demand. Similarly, offensive language was used to describe Prophet Ishmael as a bastard child, by the Zionist dominated media to denigrate the Arabs, yet benign terms like ‘love child’ are employed to describe the illegitimate children of celebrities. Another false allegation is that the Prophet married the former wife of his ‘son’, when they refer to the adopted slave, Zayd. Islam does not recognize the notion of adopted son; to qualify as a son there has to be a biological relationship. In any case, it is a paradox for secular liberals to lecture on sexual morality when they are constantly seeking to break the existing boundaries; hence permit and encourage various forms of sexual practices.
Islam targets minorities is another crude allegation, it is surprising that the West should make such an allegation given their track record. So they say Dhimmis (non-Muslim citizens of the Islamic State) are oppressed as they have to pay the Jizyah tax. However, conveniently there is no mention that the Dhimmis are also excluded from other taxes that are levied upon the Muslim citizens, and they are also excluded from military service. Furthermore, the rights of the Dhimmis are protected by the clear Islamic texts; the laws are fixed and permanent, whereas in secular west, the minority rights are subjected to the majority, who are at liberty to change those rights. A clear example of this is the incarceration of suspects for years without trial, and the use of torture, rape, sodomy and water-boarding (classed as enhanced interrogation) by the US government.
Be honest, free speech is not free, it is designed to protect secular values, thus inherently it opposes values that are alien to it: likewise Islam opposes values that are contrary to it. However, this should not stifle objective discourse on various issues in a way that builds mutual respect and trust. Indeed, the Muslim intellectuals and scholars are always open to a civilized debate. They do not have a history of inquisitions and burning heretics.
However, the same cannot be said of secular brigade, they are always encouraging crass anti-Islamic literature, provoking an angry response from the Muslims, which is used to justify their initial claim of Muslims as intolerant of free speech. A fair and honest debate requires a level playing field, both sides given fair access, and parties are representative of the respective ideologies. A cursory glance of the media shows, the experts in Islam often tends to be the ones who either hate the subject, or do not have a real commitment to it. Therefore, free speech in the western secular framework is used to persecute Muslims and denigrate Islam, rather than a platform to exchange ideas; it represents secular intolerance.
Yamin Zakaria (email@example.com)
Originally published in December, 2004, it has been modified substantially.