When freedom of expression hurts
Democracy needs to be protected for that progress to come about. Two things ensure that, morality and laws. When you have morality, you have respect. And respect allows all ideas to be spoken and listened to. In such an environment, nobody will step beyond the bounds or become angry, even if he opposes certain ideas.
Law determines the bounds of liberty in democracy. You can argue with someone, but you cannot harm him. You can criticize your country but you cannot engage in separatist activity. You can criticize people, but you cannot insult them or provoke them. Paragraph 2 of Article 10 of the Convention on Human Rights explicitly sets out when limits apply to freedom of ideas.
Criticism is a democratic right that keeps societies sound and strong; but insults merely seek to silence the other side. It is a defeat, weakness and a state of wretchedness that harms societies.
The last week’s attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the kosher market were without doubt cowardly acts of terror. May Allah grant fortitude to the families of those killed in these ghastly attacks. Islam condemns such barbarity in the strongest terms. These attacks reminded us again of one important fact that the moral values of Islam are a source of peace.
We need to have a close look at the concept of “freedom of expression” which has come to prominence in the wake of the incidents. If you insult things or values that a person holds sacred, then freedom of expression is finished. If defamation is perceived as freedom of expression in democracies protected by law, then democracy will come to an end there. When democracy ends, some people resort to anarchism and terror. Insults trigger anger, not freedom. They strengthen hatred and aggression, not democracy. They stir the ignorant into action and incite the angry.
It is the abdication of reason to seek to equate insults with humor. A defamatory painting or sketch will not make any part of society laugh. It is not a social message that will teach anyone anything or improve them. It will simply incite hatred and create division.
The pain that emerges is the result of that. One segment of society suffers huge pain when things it holds sacred are attacked, and that is hard to repair. That is not the job of humor. That is not freedom of expression at all. It is a blow to the foundations of democracy. It is confronting communities in Europe with great difficulties. It is a move intended to deprive someone in a democratic society of the right to live in freedom with his own identity. It is another way of saying, “I am using insults to fight your belief.”
The slogan “the pen is stronger than barbarism” is certainly true. However, to insist on insulting the sacred values of Muslims is just another form of barbarism perpetrated by the pen. If any magazine wishes to eliminate the scourge of radicalism, the way to do that is not by attacking Islam or its sacred values.
The way the whole world rose up as one against terrorism in the wake of the attacks in France is of course striking and very fine. It declared that barbarity is unacceptable to any country or head of state. It is not a solution, but it is still admirable.
However, it is unacceptable to classify different acts of terror and reject only those that affect one’s own country or society.
That same week when the Charlie Hebdo attack happened, terrible slaughter was committed in 16 towns and villages in Nigeria. Around 2,000 people, women, children and the elderly, were killed; many houses were burned, and 20,000 were forced to flee. Some of those who dived into Lake Chad to try to escape reportedly drowned, while others are facing hunger and disease on little islands in the area. The attacks in Syria still went on. Thirty-six people froze to death because of the blockade in some regions. And again, the attacks in Iraq continued at full speed.
These are all acts of terrorism. That terror is continuing as you read these words. Therefore, if there is a single front against terror, that must be expected to manifest itself against other acts of terror deriving from the same source. Since there is no difference between people living at 46 degrees latitude and those at 9 degrees, protesting against one while remaining silent in the face of another exposes a huge ethical void.
Of course, there are lessons that the Muslim world needs to learn from the terror in France and across the world, and there are solutions that need to be focused on. As I always say in these pages, responding with the Qur’an to the scourge of radicalism requires a global policy. In the process, however, insulting sacred things under the guise of freedom of the press or freedom of speech, or regarding that as a victory, will merely open the door to troubles. Those who wish to express their ideas through insults, who deprive others of the right to reply, merely encourage isolation and anger in the society in which they wish to live. “Free” Europe, therefore, needs to redefine the concept of freedom of ideas; if it wishes to maintain a strong democracy and rein in terror.
The writer has authored more than 300 books translated into 73 languages on politics, religion and science.
He tweets @harun_yahya.
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