In the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, indeed the very definition of freedom of speech is being discussed and debated ferociously! Should freedom of speech include the right to insult and demean ideas and symbols people hold dear? Some insist that the very concept of freedom of speech includes the freedom to offend, while others maintain that needless & provocative speech that hurts others should, in no way, be tolerated.
In what appears to be a battle of ideas, Pope Francis has recently come out, siding with the latter opinion. On his way to Philippines, he commented that:
“One cannot react violently, but if (someone) says something bad about my mother, he can expect a punch. It’s to be expected.”
“There are a lot of people who speak badly about other religions. They make fun of them. What happens is what happens with my friend (who insults my mother). There is a limit.”
To be fair, I understand and appreciate where he is coming from. Indeed, his call for mutual respect is to be lauded! I also maintain that difference of opinion should be tackled in a reasonable & fair way, and that freedom of speech comes with a huge responsibility.
However, as much as I admire the otherwise progressive stance of Pope Francis, I think there is something fundamentally wrong with the analogy he’s trying to present here. Make no mistake about it; this is the same line of reasoning that blames a rape victim (at least, partially) for wearing “provocative” clothes.
“She must’ve dressed inappropriately!”
All the while, ignoring the fundamental aspect that rape is about power, the urge to control, not sex per se.
Similarly, implying that there is a “limit”, which, if crossed, would unleash fanatics who would murder those that offend their religious sentiments, is, in a way, justifying their very presence. Their presence shouldn’t be taken for granted at all, rather we must devote our energies to getting rid of this twisted interpretation of Islam that these people subscribe to.
Furthermore, I am appalled that Pope Francis would justify hitting someone in response to an insult. Words, after all, should only be met with words – or by simply ignoring the remark. A slip of tongue, perhaps? I would certainly hope so!Coming to the very idea of freedom of speech, I think the vital point to understand is that in a society where people are free to speak whatever they may wish, people are going to be offended. After all, people could take offence over literally anything! How far are we ready to curb (ironically) freedom of speech, then?
You see, a close minded person takes offense easily. The reality is, most religious people, at least in my experience, have a very superficial understanding of the religion they hold dear. Thus, with practically no tools (read: knowledge) to defend the very thing they hold dear, they resort to violence as a last resort to maintain their identity.
When I saw the cartoons published by Charlie Hebdo, mocking Prophet Mohammad, I felt no rage – no desire to persecute these cartoonists. Some of my coreligionists might tell you that I maybe weak in faith, that perhaps I am a “nominal” Muslim. After all, what else could explain such a resigned attitude? Yes, I simply do not care. Not because I don’t respect or admire Prophet Mohammad, but because I do.
Instead of going berserk over these cartoons, I chose to simply ignore them. Why, that is how Prophet Mohammad would respond, too!
“And be patient over whatever they say, and depart from them in a gracious manner.” Quran, 73:10
So, dear Pope, I hope you realize that the solution is not to curb freedom of speech, but to promote tolerance & spiritual maturity.
Why must we be bothered about how others are portraying Prophet Mohammad?
The real question is, how are we, Muslims, portraying him and his message?
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