Now, who will stand up for free speech and expression?
When the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo gathered in their Paris headquarters on the 7th day of the New Year, little did they know that a group of gunmen will unleash the most savage attack on not only them and their colleagues, but on something they hold most dear, their freedom of speech and expression.
The notorious French weekly newspaper, known for its satire and anti-religious caricatures had taken up the tough task of taking on the subjects which some people won’t even go near, it had printed the infamous Danish cartoon in 2006 and had satirized Islam (a.k.a ‘The Religion of Peace’) and Prophet Mohammad.
Yet, the recent attacks on the Newspaper is a naked display of the utter degradation of values of liberal and multicultural societies through the hands of militant Islamists and jihadists. This is not the first time when the radical myrmidons of the ‘peaceful’ faith have attacked individuals for the mere acts writing or drawing. In 1988, the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, a man who had run his own country into penury and bankruptcy, declared a worldwide murder contract against Salman Rushdie in the guise of a fatwa, for writing a book called The Satanic Verses. In 2006, Danish embassies in the Muslim world were burnt and vandalized after a Danish newspaper published cartoons of Prophet Muhammad.
Mullahs in the Arab world themselves drew additional cartoons for the sake of inciting their fellow faith-mates and then attacking anyone who looked remotely Scandinavian. These attacks happened despite Denmark being a democracy which sent regular aide to Palestine. This kind of brutality in the name of retaliation only goes on to reflect the lack of introspection in the majority of the Muslim world when it comes to the circulation and expression of free ideas and opinions.
The most important tenet of our civilization is to protect and nurture the principles which enable and allow the flow of most radical expressions and thoughts in our societies. As Rosa Luxembourg once elegantly put it, freedom of speech is meaningless unless it means freedom for the person who thinks differently. The excuse that one is ‘offended’ by some of kind of expression does not even constitute an argument for censorship. Taking offence is a personal matter, and to mewl about how one’s feeling are hurt by a cartoon or a book does not even remotely justify a ban, forget a murder.
As for Islam, religions that proclaim that infidels and homosexuals should be stoned to death or that women can be taken as sex slaves or treated as chattel and slaves shouldn’t even cry about protection from ‘hate speech’. It remains a grand irony that the people who shout about beheading, or say, prosecuting those who insult Islam with banners and enflamed effigies, are the ones asking for protection. I ask you dear reader, if I had been a journalist in the Muslim world, would these animals get arrested for demanding my head? No. Would I get in trouble for writing this piece? Yes I might. Apart from these, the question one needs to ask is very simple and brief: Where are our priorities? Censoring ideas which hurt sentiments and thus giving space to pompous mullahs and imams, or protect free speech and expression so that every individual is allowed to access the controversial subject themselves and come to their own conclusion with the aide of innate humanistic traits like contemplation and dialectics.
Even while I write these words, there must be thousands around the world who would be blaming the French cartoonists for making fun of the prophet and his subjects, and a substantial portion of such people would no doubt be non-Muslims. This is sheer cowardice and intellectual misdemeanor. The great philosopher John Stuart Mill, the imperishable Thomas Paine and the unforgettable John Milton, the trinity of men who breathed intellectual vigor into freedom and liberty, summarized a particular idea which was common to their works: As much as it is the right of a person to speak, so is the right of the audience to hear. Thus, when talk about censoring a particular idea, we are not only silencing an individual’s right to express, we’re making ourselves the hostage of our own actions by denying ourselves the right to hear or listen.
In conclusion, I would just say that around the time of such acts of terror, or when the religious clerics take upon the task of encroaching civil liberties, I’m offended as well. I’m offended when I’m told that I should respect those religions which I don’t respect, or shouldn’t watch a movie which offends a particular religious group, but hardly have I ever gone down the street and burnt a mosque or a temple or killed innocent civilians and vandalized cinema halls to avenge my hurt sentiments- that’s the difference between my etiquette and their stupidity. If you wish to speak against my beliefs, you’re free to do so. I would not only not stop your from expressing your opinions, I’ll defend you from anyone who tries to silence you, and that’s the essence of enlightenment.
If I were to end this essay with a single line: Your faith and your gods are not above criticisms and satire.
By: Ayush Tiwari