Keep Islamic symbols, and freedom of speech out of this extremist exchange

As a Muslim, I think I should start by saying that I do not hate freedom. I love freedom. Including freedom of expression. I am enjoying the perks of this freedom right now. In fact, one of the main reasons why I am living in the west is because I like and enjoy freedom of expression that is available here. And it’s not just me. Thousands of Arabs and Muslims lost their lives for freedom during the Arab spring, and before it and after it.

As a Muslim, I find that groups such as ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and Boko Haram, are Insulting Islam, when they equate this whole religion to their ill interpretation of it. I find it disgusting and repulsive that ISIS decided to use the flag of the Prophet of Islam, PBUH, to justify their sick ideology.

I find that terrorists who equate their actions with the Prophet, and extremists in the west, who applaud their efforts, and agree with them that these terrorists are the best representation of the message of Islam, are equally offensive.

Why, after enduring the insult of ISIS using the flag of the Prophet in their massacres against peaceful Muslims and non Muslims, do I have to endure another insult against the Prophet from those on the other side? Why can’t ISIS do it’s business away from the Prophet’s symbol, and why can’t Charlie Hebdo and all the other publications take their business directly with ISIS and other extremist groups, instead of each one of them insulting me to get back at the other?

Personally, I do not believe that violence, coercion, or oppression, of any kind, is the right way to solve any conflict, especially one where masses of people are involved. I believe that, based on the teachings of the Quran, the proper way to deal with those who mock something that is holy to me is simply to walk away.

And it has already come down to you in the Book that when you hear the verses of Allah [recited], they are denied [by them] and ridiculed; so do not sit with them until they enter into another conversation. Indeed, you would then be like them. Indeed Allah will gather the hypocrites and disbelievers in Hell all together – (140)” An-Nisa’

And …

And when you see those who engage in [offensive] discourse concerning Our verses, then turn away from them until they enter into another conversation. And if Satan should cause you to forget, then do not remain after the reminder with the wrongdoing people. (68)” Al-Ana’am

Such things are rarely (if ever) heard from talking heads “expert” on Islam, on western media. Most of them want to convince you that it is the Quran, or the teachings of the Prophet that command people to commit crimes!

Aside from all of that, the totally irrelevant concept of “freedom of expression” is constantly injected into this debate. The problem seems to be in the definition of the “conflict”. One side believes the dispute or “conflict” is over the whole concept of “freedom of expression”; There are people in the west who are convinced every Muslim wants to deprive everyone in the world of their freedom.

The other side says this “conflict” is over one specific application, one specific interpretation, and one specific extreme exploitation of the freedom of expression, that is in dispute, not the concept as a whole.

Freedom is not an absolute value. Values, by their very nature, are relative. Each person and each culture have their own set of values. There are limits to how people can use their freedom when they are with others, or when others might be exposed to their work, or are related to their work.

If someone wants to be the sole decider when it comes to his freedom, this “freedom” must be exclusively related to him alone. If someone wants to do something to himself alone, that has nothing to do with anyone else in the world, he can be “absolutely” free to do whatever he wants with himself. One does not have the right to decide how much freedom he has over something that pertains to other people, especially when it is a holy symbol.

I can’t say for example: “I should be free to insult the mothers of everyone in France, and they can simply ‘not read’ when they want to”. This is not how this thing works. An extreme action on one side (insult) will inevitably generate an extreme action from the other side. I can’t guarantee that no one in France is going to hurt me, if I make it my job to insult their mothers, or something that is more holy than their mothers, on an ongoing basis.

It’s a self fulfilling prophecy. If I walk in the streets of Paris and accuse everyone I see of being an extremist, someone inevitably is going to attack me. Not all people in France are sane, or nice, or peaceful. And so, when someone will attack me, I will come out and say “See, I told you that you people are extremists!”.

If this issue was about any other group of people, it would not have required so much explanation. The protection that is afforded to the freedom of expression does not extend to insulting, instigating hatred, and demonizing a certain group of people. In this case “expression” becomes verbal aggression, or abuse.

How are Muslims expected to respect and value the value of freedom of expression of the people of the west, when the value of freedom of expression of the people of the west does not value the most valuable value Muslims have. For me as a Muslim, Muhammad, Peace be upon Him, is more important than your freedom, or my freedom, or even my life. I cannot congratulate a definition of freedom that infringes upon the holiness of the Prophets, PBUT.

It is a reality that there is on this planet a huge group of people to whom a different value holds the same amount of “holiness” as Frenchmen feel for freedom, or even more. What do we do about this reality? Are these people not allowed to have as much attachment to their holy value as you do to yours? Is their definitions, or their prioritization of values automatically invalid whenever it is different than yours? What if someone else’s definition of freedom is offensive to you? Should each one of you do what they want or what they can?

How the definition of freedom should be decided among humans, when two great civilizations on this planet are disputing over what is freedom? If they can’t come to an agreement over whose definition is better, the least each one should do, is leave the values of the other outside of the dispute. People in the west can practice their own freedom, as they see it, to its fullest extent, as they see it, when they deal with things that are exclusively their own. France is not more important than all the Muslims of the world, to demand the right to insult their values, and then demand that they respect the values of France. You can’t demand the right to insult an entire religion because this is “freedom” as you see it. You can’t demand the right to invalidate others’ values for the sake of your own values.

To say that the values of Muslim are less important than the value of freedom is to France, is the same as to say that the value of freedom of French people are less important to Muslims than their religious values. When the question comes to values, everyone should either respect the other side, or stay on his own side, and do whatever they want within their own limits.

This whole issue could be resolved with a simple legislation that bans insult to religious symbols of all religions, similar to many legislation in Europe and elsewhere, that bans hate speech, antisemitism, and holocaust denial. The feelings of 1.6 billion Muslims must be afforded the same protection as the feelings of 16 million Jewish people in the world. And if Europe wants to bypass another inquisition, or another holocaust, it needs to act to protect its biggest minority.

Otherwise what is the alternative? The only way for France to enjoy insulting the Prophet of Islam, without ever fearing any consequences is for France to exterminate all Muslims from this planet. This would also be true if I wanted to make sure I can insult all French people, without ever facing any consequences for this. I would have to make sure there are no French people left on this planet. Otherwise, I would be either really stupid, or really arrogant, to expect them to be fine with me insulting them.

Personally, I do not even want to see any illustration, depiction, painting, personification, or image of “the Prophet”. I would like to retain my own personal image of this person, and I do not want anyone from outside to impose upon me, or insert into my senses, something that would alter my image of Him. I do not want to see anything like that even by accident. I have the right to that. I have the right to have a personal image of someone in my mind, and I have the right to be warned when something that I might find offensive is enclosed inside any form of media, so that I can practice my own freedom to not see it.

This “right to holiness”, or “the right to have a holy concept” adds to what exists of freedoms, it does not repress or reduce any existing legitimate forms of freedom.

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