Saturday, February 2, 2008

From freedom of speech to blasphemy

Wed, 30 Jan 2008 22:15:41
By Bita Ghaffari, Press TV

There is a border between freedom of expression and blasphemy - a border that should never be crossed.

Attempts to confuse the concept of free speech with one that is inciting, provocative, or offensive has a long history.

Attacking Islam and striving to portray it as a religion harboring violence and extremism is not a new phenomenon. However, there have been renewed attempts to distort the image of Islam through profane utterances or writings concerning Muslim sacred entities in recent times.

Certain naïve political figures resort to sacrilege as a means of working their way up the ladder of political success. Austria's Susanne Winter is one such figure. Her blasphemous remarks regarding the Prophet of Islam Muhammad (PBUH) and the assertion that Islam should be 'thrown back where it came from, beyond the Mediterranean Sea' only expose her prejudiced and ignorant mindset. Can that be considered an instance of extremism?

Apparently, she made the hate speech with the intention of garnering massive support at the city council elections - a strategy which failed to work.

Winter's comments even drew immediate condemnation from several top-ranking Austrian authorities including Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer who said she had absolutely no right to attempt to undermine the values and beliefs of an acknowledged religion.

She was also reprimanded by Vice-Chancellor Wilhelm Molterer, Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik and finally President Heinz Fischer who said the remarks were 'intolerable and outrageous'.

Yet again, another Islamophobic European politician recently announced his plan to make a film with the clearly stated objective of attacking Qur'an, the Muslim holy book. Geert Wilders, the head of the Dutch far-right Freedom Party, announced he would release a 10-minute film to show his view that the Holy Qur'an, 'is an inspiration for intolerance, murder and terror'.

He earlier proposed a ban on the Holy Qur'an. There are even fears Wilders might burn or tear up Islam's Holy Book in the film. Threatening to commit sacrilege against the sacred book of 1.2 billion people? Is that not extremism?

French writer Robert Redeker in an article printed in Le Figaro caused offense to Muslims through his provocative remarks about the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the religion of Islam, but was defended and offered protection by the French government.

In 2005, a Danish newspaper infuriated Muslims around the world for publishing offensive cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), which were later reprinted in several other European media under the pretext of freedom of expression. What are these if not vivid instances of extremism?

Having been introduced into the current political parlance, the words 'terrorism and extremism' are in sudden vogue. This is part of a scenario to instill a phobia of Islam and of the Muslims worldwide.

A review of the crime situation worldwide would reveal that most 'advanced' countries have crime rates which are several times higher than the corresponding rates in major Muslim countries. Not to mention that the number of lethal domestic assaults would have been much higher, in US for instance, had it not been for the availability and improved quality of emergency care and medical variables.

The mass media of the so-called civilized world keep branding Islam as a religion breeding violence, turning a blind eye to the fact that a great many lives are being everyday sacrificed in uncalled for wars that are waged by non-Muslims in the first place. Consider the civilian toll in hot spots like Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine today.

Religions are for promotion of peace and love for humanity. Some, however, have been conspiring throughout history to misuse religion as a tool to accomplish their hideous ploys.

One need not be a passionate religious believer to realize that making profane remarks against other religions - be it Islam or other divine faiths - or arousing a sentiment of anger and disgust among followers of a certain faith is not a way to uphold freedom of expression, but a most unethical practice.

Interestingly enough, most European countries prohibit any speech or writing that denies the Holocaust but turn to advocates of liberty of expression when it comes to unfair and biased interpretations of Islam.

A German court recently sentenced Sylvia Stolz, the former lawyer of Holocaust revisionist Ernst Zundel, to 3.5 years in prison, and banned her from practicing law for five years.

Also, French judicial police summoned French revisionist historian Robert Faurisson on charges of attending an anti-Holocaust conference in Iran.

To date, Faurisson has been subjected to a long list of official and unofficial penalties from assault and battery leaving him with a broken jaw, to a suspended prison term of three months, a fine of 7,500 euros as well as removal from his university chair - for questioning the historic events surrounding the killings of European Jews by Germany in WWII.

France's 1990 Gayssot Act makes it an offense to question the existence of crimes against humanity. It is one of several European laws prohibiting Holocaust denial.

Islam is a religion that is embraced by about 1.2 billion people around the world from a host of nationalities and races. That means one in every five people is a Muslim. What therefore encourages some to try to blatantly desecrate Muslim sanctities and what good do they achieve from offending the beliefs of followers of the world's second largest religion?

Islam is attracting an increasingly larger percentage of global population at a faster rate (2.9 percent) than the total annual population growth (2.3 percent).

The world today needs discourse among religions and cultures more than ever before. Followers of divine religions need to be vigilant and think twice before they fall for the 'black propaganda' intended to mislead.

The irony is that covert Western hands can be traced in creating the breeding grounds for extremist movements. First, the groups are mentored, funded and trained; later, they are reprimanded as radical Islamist groups involved in terrorism.

Violence is committed by groups that are bred and fostered by Western powers to give a distorted impression of Islam.

Let us not be carried away by the tide of provocations and deceptions. Religions are to shine the light of guidance throughout the human journey toward perfection. The faiths of Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad (PBUH) have all aimed to provide mankind with direction.

All throughout history, people's religious sentiments have been provoked to sow the seeds of discord and enmity, by timeservers who think of nothing but quenching their insatiable greed for power and wealth.

Extremism comes into play where there is ignorance and deception. It is the duty of the elite to keep the public opinion from falling for such distortions of reality. There have been and still are numerous cases wherein Muslims have been the victims rather than perpetrators of violence and terrorism in recent history.

Extremism and terrorism are terminology propagated by hegemonic powers to justify invasion of foreign territories and plunder of their resources - those who live in homes that have been built at the expense of ruining other people's homes. They need alibis to attack and invade; wage wars, and sell arms. What can serve their purpose better than clinging to the excuse of 'fighting extremism'?


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