Freedom of Expression includes respect of sentiments of civilized society. Insulting their revered icons is an insult to ethics of life.

On the evening of November 18, 1978 in Jonestown, Guyana, 909 members of Peoples Temple had killed themselves, including their leader Jim Jones and 276 children. This fateful night, Jones had ordered his congregation to drink a concoction of a cyanide-laced grape flavored drink. Parents were instructed to inject their young children with the same drink. But what drove them to this dire decision?

muslim soldier Freedom of Expression Includes the Respect of Sentiments of Civilized Society Also

Not long ago, probably 40 months past, a far-right Norwegian terrorist Anders Brevik had gunned down dozen of people on the island of Utaya. And the reason was – A clarion call to stop the Islamisation of Norway. Why it happened?

More than twenty years ago, the American Jewish doctor Baruch Goldstein had entered the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron and murdered 29 Palestinian worshipers and injured 115 more. He belonged to the Kach movement founded by a firebrand New York rabbi, Meir Kahane, who himself was killed in New York on 6 November 1990. Kahane had migrated to Occupied Palestine in 1981 when he found it tough to operate in the US. The then Israeli president Chaim Herzog, described Kahane as ‘a mark of disgrace’ which tarnished the Jewish people.

He believed and preached that ‘the only good Arab was a dead one. I don’t want to kill all Arabs, nor do I want a situation in ten years where it will be impossible to expel them.There will never be peace between Jews and Arabs. There are no moderate Arabs. There are two kinds of Arabs, clever ones and stupid ones. The stupid ones say what they mean – Syria, Libya. The clever ones mean it but they don’t say it.”  (Newsweek, 26 August 1985). What lead to this lunacy?

Gujarat 2002 – another example that is very fresh to scare any peace loving human being.

And now we have the recent heart rending story of Charlie Hebdo. I’m not going into the gory details of massacre and the aftermath. I shall try to analyze here the causes behind the mindless act of mayhem and murder. The known reason – killers were hurt with the cartoons of the Prophet of Islam (PBUH).

Those who believe Freedom of Expression which includes every form of insult and indulgence in vulgar print or visual acrobatics, argue – “The magazine has every right to publish what it wants. So what if they depicted the Prophet in their caricatures? They didn’t limit themselves to Islam. We do caricatures of everyone, and above all every week, and when we do it with the Prophet, it’s called provocation.

I am not arguing for or against here. I am bisecting the ulcer.

A Cartoon is a product of Fine Arts – a creative provocative / amusing / interesting and appealing form of line strokes. It is often incisive and tells more than depicted in figures. However, sometimes it is dangerous when it hits below the belt; it suddenly hurts the sensibilities of collective faiths without the proper and sufficient space of sound explanation. A cartoon of such orientation is usually judgmental and declares and opinion without a backdrop.

charl8e hebdo cartoon Freedom of Expression Includes the Respect of Sentiments of Civilized Society Also

It is an outcome of ‘Thinking Critical’ and not a piece of erudite ‘Critical Thinking.’ It is the denouement of a thought process laced with predilection, bias, cynicism, sarcasm and often borders on nihilism. The foundation of thinking-critical is negativity. It is judgmental and shorter the message, the more devoid of caution. It doesn’t demand a great logical and smart power of assessment.

When you’re engaged in ‘Critical Thinking’ you begin with an open mind and a clean slate. You’re not judgmental; you’re not prejudiced; you try to understand several points of view; you want to delve deeper into the complexities of the issues; you carefully examine alternative positions; you avoid pinching conclusions; you eschew zealous claims. As the famous author Daniel Taylor says: “The life of a reflective person is more likely to be interesting, less likely to be serene; more likely to be contemplative, less likely to be active; more likely to be marked by pursuits of answers, less by finding them. The result is a high potential of creativity, curiousity and discovery, but also for paralyzing ambivalence, alienation and melancholy.”

The problem with these much lofted so-called intellectuals, the modern day eveready agnostics, myopic reformers, wordsmiths, new-age artists, cartoonist, rebels against established norms and faiths and torch bearers of Freedom of Expression is that they make the repelling caricatures of time-tested norms of the society without delving deeper, without the real knowledge of what they elaborate. Armed with the smattering of the subject and shrill slogans they try to tear off the social fabric without a proper solution.

With shallow, casual and careless bricks of recalcitrance and ignorance they want to build the ideological castles of new society. Their so-called Creative Edifices are meant to disturb, to hurt, to provoke, to insult and these intellectuals try to harp at  their creation like the proverbial crow that flies to nearby fruit stall when it is tired of pecking the stinking carcass it had chosen for lunch. Before spilling their much-hyped creative scats on paper they rarely care to consult their intended prey or its caretaker.

Justly and rightly, the world is shocked at the recent killing of French Journalist. It is a heinous act of highest degree of cruelty that deserves the maximum condemnation and punishment. But that is not the end game. It needs retrospection; it needs clinical study. Retribution, revenge and clampdowns would lead to no where. These would act opposite.

Vengeance and hatred are no solutions. The inculcation of the hate culture and resorting to historic witch hunting would help in crowding the camps of crazy fanatics. Ideologies are not conquered or subjugated; these are met with fairness, more openness, more humanity and tamed with more democracy.

The idea to target Islam as an entire religion would be counter-productive. Freedom of Expression includes the respect of sentiments of civilized society also and Muslims are of that. Insulting their revered icons is an insult to ethics of life. Loss of dignity of an individual and community are delicate issues that must be handled with tolerance and wisdom.

By: Naim Naqvi  

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