Freedom-free zone

I was in Egypt when the invasion of Iraq began in March 2003. I remember that at that time, during a Friday prayer I was attending, the Imam was speaking angrily against the invasion. The speech was honest. It wasn't just a 'how to enhance your relationship with Allah' stuff, it was real words, from a real person, about the real world.

The week after that, that Imam was replaced by a younger one. Here in Kuwait, as I was listening to the Imam speaking in the Friday sermon last week, it occurred to me again how the topics of these sermons are always distant from the realities of life. Then, I remembered that Imams have to record these sermons and report them back to the Ministry of Awqaf for review every week.

For some reason, I thought that it is unfair for these people to remain outside the coverage range of freedom of expression that we have in Kuwait. I don't know why freedom activists are mainly liberals, who are – for some reason – not interested in defending the freedom of expression for religious clerics. You'll rarely hear someone speaking about the right of people to wear what they want; usually it is about the right of people NOT to wear what they want.

On the other hand, religious people in general are also not into civil activism! This is probably why this area remains a 'freedom-free zone.' Don't get me wrong, I am not an Islamist or a liberal; I simply believe that each of the two parties has equal right to express his beliefs, and in this case, I think that Islamists' right is compromised.

Of course I understand that religion can be a very dangerous subject, and that it can be misused to fuel violence and terrorism. It's probably because of this risk that the governments in this region are always vigilant in monitoring Islamists' speech. In some cases violence has been used to suppress the attempts of Islamists to gain more freedom. I think this is one of the reasons for the continuation of religious violence in this region.

We need to realize that fairness is required to maintain a durable state of stability. Compromising fairness out of fear will result in creating conditions that will produce extreme reactions. These reactions will trigger tougher responses from governments and so on.

The only way to escape from this deadly cycle is to be fair and balanced. Islamists need to feel safe to express their views, even if these views are misled; I would even say especially if they are misled, because in that case we can help them correct their perception, before they are transformed into action.

We need to realize that there is no such thing as partial or selective freedom. If we truly believe in freedom, be it freedom of belief, expression, or practice, then we should know that it is really much more beneficial for the functioning of society to give freedom to people than to take it away.

It is essential for us to understand that freedom should be implemented as a whole concept, as a belief system, and as a strategic choice, for all members of society, because partial freedom is not a freedom to begin with, and if people don't have freedom, then you can't blame them for what they do.

© Kuwait Times 2010

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