Kashif Hafeez Siddiqui

Archive for May 21st, 2010|Daily archive page

Understanding Freedom of Expression

In Facebook Conspiracy on May 21, 2010 at 9:09 am

By : Khurram Ali Shafique

One of the regular visitors to this blog has asked me a question that must also be in the minds of many others:

“I get stuck- when non-Muslims say that a cartoon is just a cartoon, and why are you taking it seriously. You can draw images of us and also of our gods.To them i reply that Islam teaches love and respect to all religions and prophets. But… they keep saying that draw our cartoons and we will publish them.”
No, they will not. Ask them to read the laws regarding libel and patents that exist in their country. Unrestrained freedom of expression has neither been advocated nor found desirable anywhere in the world so far. There are always certain limits even in US. The issue is how to define those limits.
Here are a few examples:
  • Facebook itself deleted the official page of People’s Resistance, a broad-based Pakistani group formed for a peaceful struggle for restoration of judiciary sometime ago. I am told that not only their page got deleted but they even received warnings from FB administration just because they had invited for an event involving protest in favor of judiciary in their own country. Read more on Teeth Maestro
  • When Satanic Verses of Salman Rushdie was published, Pakistani filmmaker Shehzad Gul responded by making a film called International Guerillay that depicted Salman Rushdie in a negative manner. While Rushdie’s book had been allowed to circulate in UK, the film was initially banned because Rushdie could have filed libel suite not only against the film producer but also against the British authorities! Read details on Wikipedia.
  • Recently, there were news about Megan Fox taking some legal action against an advertisement of baby milk that used just her first name “Megan” in a funny conversation (you can search it on the Internet).
So, the freedom of expression does not mean that everything goes. Now, it may be that most people in the West do not mind if their prophets and deities are mocked, so it has been allowed in their law. Many people in the East seem to mind that (and it’s not just a Muslim thing: Christians sought ban on Da Vinci Code movie and Hindus protested against the exhibition of paintings by M F Husain disrespecting Hindu goddesses.
Why people in the West are more tolerant about ridiculing religion (when they are not equally tolerant about defamation of living citizens) than in the East may be because whenever a civilization is going down it shows these kinds of symptoms – it was the same with ancient Rome, the later Mughal Empire and so on.
So, the bottom line is that while the contemporary Western societies seem to be in favor of protecting only their living citizens through laws against defamation, most Eastern societies today seem to be extending that cover to religious personalities long dead also. Again, this is not an essentially East-West thing: Western societies in their better days were also like this, for instance about 150 years ago when “the sun did not set on their empire”!
In this situation, what we all need to learn – the West as much as the East – is that in a world that has practically become a global village, one cannot go on behaving like the village idiot anymore. We need to show some ettiquettes.