What freedom of speech?

In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful

The recent blasphemous and disgusting insults that were made to the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad (PBUH), and all the unfortunate events that followed, require a conscious effort to detect the misunderstanding between these two civilizations, and clarify it. Any attempt to bridge the gap between the Muslim world and the west should address this issue.

First of all, both sides need to admit that there is at least a possibility that they might be wrong. No one should be treating the others with supremacy, and look down upon the believes of other people, whether it is a concept like the freedom of speech, or a holy person like the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). If both sides will at least consider the viewpoint of each other, it will be easier to resolve this conflict.

Since I am a Muslim, I will begin by listing the misunderstandings that Muslims have about these publications:

1- The United States’ government is not involved in producing the film, nor is the French government involved in producing the cartoons.

2- As of now, the United States government doesn’t have any legal tools to punish the convict who produced the film, or the tools to prevent such incidents from happening again in the future. The same applies to the French government.

3- The perpetrators of these disgusting actions do not represent the overwhelming majority of the people of the US or France.

4- The main goal of the perpetrators was to insult and provoke Muslims, and then hide behind the protection that the “freedom of speech” offers in these two countries. They WANT to create a conflict between Muslims and the west. They want the people of the Muslim world to be angry at the west, and people in the west to be repulsed by the inevitable reaction from Muslims.

5- All of the above means that our anger should not be directed towards the governments or the people of those nations, because its not their fault, and because this fulfills the goals of the criminals. The justifiable anger should be directed to help those nations see that it is those criminals who are abusing this “holy” right that is the freedom of speech.

6- Even if the governments of those countries were directly behind those acts, this still doesn’t justify attacking embassies and killing innocent people who live peacefully among Muslims. If there are Muslims who think that the act of one convict represents everything that is the United States, then they can’t blame the American people if they think attacking an embassy and killing an ambassador represents everything that is Muslims. If those government were involved in this insult the proper response will be to hold demonstration demanding your own government to cut ties with it, or to expel the ambassador. You don’t get to do it yourself. Especially because in that case you will be fighting your own brothers in the law enforcement, and sabotaging your own country.

7- To be angry for an insult of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is normal, but to allow this anger to take you outside the limits of behaviour that even the Prophet would approve is ignorant. If you do in the name of the Prophet something that contradicts the teachings of the Prophet then you are the one who is causing the biggest “insult” to the legacy of that Prophet. And if you are not following the commands of this Prophet in your behaviour, how can you then claim that you are his follower, and claim the right to be offended when someone insults him?

8- Any effort to confront such insults should not be chaotic, spontaneous, and emotional. The efforts to confront such behaviour cannot be to blow out steam, and express all the justifiable anger at the behaviour of this kind. You should not express your anger in order to feel good, and then go back to accumulate more anger in a passive way of life, until the next time it gets over the top, and you can’t take it anymore. It makes more sense if the effort is consistent, even if it is a small effort, because this is what pays off the most. It also makes more sense to channel the effort directly and precisely at the core of the problem, in order to have the best effect possible.

And to the west:

1- The few hundred people who stormed into embassies in Benghazi or Yemen do not represent the overwhelming majority of Muslims, who are peaceful people, and all they want is peace, bread, and happiness, just like you.

2- You can’t expect all the Muslim world to respect your values if you don’t respect theirs. The values of any one nation are not more valuable than others. No one should assume supremacy over other humans, and consider his own holy things to be more holy than those of other people. We no longer live in a world where everyone can do what he wants in his own country. The world is boundary-less now, and everyone needs to make little compromises in order for the world to be in peace.

3- Freedom of speech doesn’t include the freedom to insult.  Freedom of speech doesn’t include freedom of hate speech.

4- Freedom of speech cannot be absolute. There are always red lines that no one can cross. In many EU countries it is illegal to deny the Holocaust, or question the number of victims who fell in it. Those who do are subject to fines or imprisonments. Recently in France, a law was pushed to the senate that criminalizes the denial of the so called “Armenian Genocide” in the early 1900’s. In Britain it is illegal to show the parliament in a comedy context. In Holland it is illegal to insult the Queen… etc.

All of the above restrictions were put to protect sensitive issues and/or important figures. There is no reason why such practice can be acceptable when applied to all of the above, and suddenly the absolute freedom of speech becomes threatened when the 1.5 Billion Muslims demand that their own sensitive issues and/or important figures be respected. It will not be the end of free speech if the feelings of Muslims will be respected, as some extremists in the west try to depict it

5- Even if it doesn’t make sense to the west to forbid insulting Muhammad (PBUH), or holy figures in general, it is still important for the nations of the world to maintain courtesy and respect each other. If the law forbids people from making noise from 11 PM to 9 AM, to allow their neighbours to sleep , this doesn’t mean that you can “practice your right” of playing loud music from 9 AM to 11 PM. If someone is constantly abusing this “right” that he is given, then the law can be nuanced for the good of everyone. Law after all is here to fit reality, and not the other way around. Some courtesy is necessary.

6- If someone can control another person’s mind, then he can redefine his concept of freedom, and make him fight to remain a slave. Media is an authority, and just like any authority, it cannot be given to people with no strings attached. The only reason why this has been going on for so long is because media is the one that tells you what is happening, and puts it in the context that it chooses. It has been depicting any attempt to limit the authority that media has over you as an attack on your freedom. Their authority over you is your freedom, and so you will be willingly fighting for it.

What people in the west should be fighting for is not the freedom for everyone to say what he wants without consequences, but the obligations on those who have the authority to shape the minds of people to tell the truth to the best of their abilities.

Media has been abused in many countries around the world recently, and this brought catastrophic consequences on this planet. In some instances media is playing a negative role to delude people and distract them. This shouldn’t be their right. It shouldn’t be the right of Fox news to convince Americans that global warming is a myth. It shouldn’t be the right of Rupert Murdoch to corrupt the political elite in Britain to push his own agenda. It shouldn’t be the right of American media to dismiss the “uprising” of the 99% of Americans, and turn a blind eye to everything that happened to dismantle this movement.

Even if there were no Muslims in the world, it will still be important for the west to reconsider the way they think of “free speech”.

7- Normal people in the west only have theoretical freedom of speech. In the US for example, everyone is allowed by law to open a news channel and tell a story that contradicts that carried out on Fox news for example. But in practice, how many people have the ability to do that effectively?

In this age of mega corporations, what is even more important than free speech is the right to be heard. Having the same theoretical right with someone who is more resourceful than you are is not fair. A multi billion dollar corporation that has thousands of employees and hundreds of lawyers should not be considered an equal citizen to a single person with no influence. Again, the law must be more fitting with reality, and not the other way around.

8- Everyone, (on both sides) who is concerned about the freedom of speech should also be worried about the way the biggest tool that we have so far is being compromised. The internet is being privatized. Although theoretically anyone can open a website and compete with Google, Twitter, or Facebook, in practice this is impossible. Those companies are extremely resourceful and very popular. A person who is upset with the fact that Twitter decided to retain the right to block tweets in a country if the government requests them to be removed, can only theoretically leave twitter and use another website. But with all the connection he have in twitter, and all the audience that is found in twitter, when he will leave, it will be as if he is leaving the internet itself. After all, our whole web presence is controlled by few corporations. Not to mention that our ISPs control our very access to the internet.

The internet today is only theoretically a free place. Corporations know that after investing all of this time to connect with people, or adjust his devices and services to one company, a customer is not likely to leave. They know that we are too lazy to move together to another company, and they use that to the fullest.

This doesn’t mean that these corporations shouldn’t be allowed to exist. They are providing a service, and they should be benefiting from it.  But this means that if they are effectively becoming the internet, they can’t be the only ones who regulate it.

What happened recently when Google refused to remove the film that insulted millions of Muslims, and jeopardized the lives of many Americans, was a huge drawback in internet freedom. Google claimed the video was “compatible with its community guidelines”, and refused to take it down even after a request from the White House. Now someone might think that this is good for free speech, but its not.

If Google’s community guidelines become judge over the holy believes of millions of people, and the interest of the strongest country in the world, then we are in trouble. If a for profit corporation becomes so indispensable that it assumes the right to decide for all of humanity what is acceptable and what is not, then we are not free anymore. If you can’t get your message through except through Youtube, Facebook, or Twitter, and your website can’t be found except through Google Search, then there is no meaning to the theoretical freedom of the internet.

If you can’t be heard without the approval of one or several corporations, then there is no point to have “freedom of speech”. If you think Google that went against the well of 1.5 billion people on this planet to enforce its own view of what is right and what is wrong will not do it again, you are wrong. If you think this will only be limited to Muslims, and will not affect you, you are wrong. If a for profit corporation dictates to humanity what is right and what is wrong, then no one is free.

Lastly, all of humanity is facing tremendous environmental, political, and economic challenges, and it is crucial that all of humanity leave the small differences aside, at least for now, and work on what matters. Let’s all stop insulting each other until we resolve the more urgent challenges against our very existence on this planet. We are only put in this conflict with each other in order to be distracted from those who take advantage of all of us, and none of us can face them alone. Our unity is our biggest strength. We can’t expect the others to be exactly like us before we accept them. We need to learn to live with our differences, and this is a process that everyone must take part in.

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