There have been four types of responses by the Muslim community. The first response is that the Muslim community must conform and align itself with western notions of freedom of speech and liberal values. The second response is that we must do nothing in order to prevent further promotion of this book. The third response is that we must physically prevent the publication of this book, even if this means resorting to violence and aggression. The fourth response is that we Muslims, must understand the political reality and as a result challenge the ideas that this book represents, and call on the Muslim nations to demand sincere leadership that will follow the Qur'an and sunnah comprehensively.
I will attempt to respond and comment on each of these Muslim responses.
You Must Accept Freedom of Speech and Western Values!
The first response is the height of intellectual and theological redundancy. This response has already accepted freedom of speech and liberal western values as the sole reference for our actions and behaviour. It is well known, even amongst western philosophical discourse that freedom of speech has no conceptual export into the real world - it doesn’t and cannot exist. Even the most liberal countries have pages and pages of legislation restricting speech. Some of these include hate speech laws, libel laws, product defamation laws, anti-terror laws and even public speaking laws. So in reality there is no free speech, it is more logically coherent to describe it as "expression within the context of the law and society's values".
The questions that follows is 'are western values the way forward?' With the rise in violent crime, anti social behaviour, domestic violence and sexual assault how can anyone be confident with western liberal values? Just to add here, when western nations look at so called Islamic societies and they see some perceived negative behaviours, they are very quick to blame the Islamic values as the cause. However when it comes to their immense problems in western societies they always add more legislation and turn a blind eye to the values underpinning their societies. It is as if they have been divinely revealed!
The propagated values in western society are freedom and individualism. How can the overemphasis of my freedoms and the notion of my individuality - which are being forced down our throats via the political and economic structures in western society - actually create a cohesive society? In reality these values are non-cohesive values, and according to psychologists and philosophers, if you propagate non-cohesive values you will get a non-cohesive society. Now compare this to the Islamic cohesive values of mercy, compassion and God consciousness wouldn’t they create a cohesive society? Now, I am not saying that people in the western world do no carry these values, they do. However the difference is that in the Islamic society, these values will be propagated via the political and economic structures - and they will not be in competition with non-cohesive values of individualism and freedom. To conclude how can these Muslims who call for this type of response believe in Islam when they adopt alien constructs and ideas? Wasn’t Islam revealed for our guidance for all all aspects of life - individual, social and political? Doesn’t this show an inferiority complex and no confidence or conviction in Islam?
Don't say or do anything!
The second response is self refuting. What the advocates of this response say is that staying silent is the best path to take. However in order to promote this response the advocates will need to write or publicly state this position. However this would contradict their very position. To say 'do nothing' and yet write or promote the idea of 'do nothing' is actually something! In order for them to promote this idea they have to say something about the publication or offence, which defeats the purpose of what they are trying to say. Its like crying out in a crowded hall "Don't tell anyone that I am here!". The best way for the advocates of this response to be logically consistent is to keep silent and hope others learn by their example. Putting this aside, this response is dangerous, politically naive and is exactly what the western ideologues want.
This publication is one of many publications attacking Islam. Anyone who types 'Islam' into Google will quickly find out how nasty and degrading some internet sites are regarding Islam and the Muslims. Theologically we all know that this is not going to stop, Allah and His Messenger have told us so. However the main concern with this recent publication - including the Danish Cartoons and the Satanic Verses - is that they are being used as a tool by the western ideologues to arm themselves against the ongoing attempt to secularise Islam. This is because this publication sits within a current political context. It is well known that the western ideologues have an ongoing campaign to secularise Islam. This is due to the the fact that all ways of life want to protect themsleves and part of this protection is the use of propaganda, misinformation and negative imagery of the ideological other. There are many examples to prove this in Communist, Capitalist and Liberal nations. The reason Islam is the new target is because it is a valid political alternative with solutions to existing political and social problems - it is a positive challenge. Additionally the global Muslim community is now seeking for this alternative way of life to be implemented politically in the Muslim world.
Therefore it is only natural that these western ideologues adopt a strategy to prevent this challenge to the existing status quo from becoming a reality. One way they attempt to do this is to de-politicise Islam and the Muslims, thereby secularising them. Part of this secularisation is to break the will of the Muslim community and to de-sensitise her to the point of passive submission to the current status quo. They are expecting the Muslims to passively stand by and watch Islam relegated to Friday service, just like what happened to Christianity in the past.
So, if this publication (and many others) is being used as a tool to secularise the Muslims, then keeping quiet will only be falling for the trap and it will send out the wrong messages to the global community. Furthermore, it will do nothing to prevent the potential "The Jewel of Medina: The Movie" or a western rendition of the Qur'an with Chapter Tawba taken out! This response of doing and saying nothing usually comes from those who care what others think - specifically the non-Muslims - and those who know nothing about the process of secularisation and current attempts to ensure that Islam is secularised.
By any means necessary!
Some people describe the third response as a form of jungle justice. This is not what Islam demands or teaches. Without going into the khilaf (theological difference) on this issue, reacting violently without an Islamic authority and courts will not solve the problem or even implement what the Sharia demands. It is well known that there is a Sahih Hadith demanding that the one who insults the Prophet must have capital punishment enforced on them. But where are the courts? Where is the mechanism to do this? Commanding all that is good and forbidding all that is evil is an Islamic obligation but if we do not have the power to fully implement the punishment system of Islam, what do we do? Well, the Prophet told us, if we can’t change it with our hands then we change it with our tongues. Didn't the Prophet face abuse during his struggle in Mecca when he had no power? Did anyone respond with aggression or violence? The answer is no.
Challenging minds and liberating society
This comes to the last response. This response is also in line with classical scholarship as a Hanbali scholar, who summarised al-Ghazali's piece on "Commanding the Good and Forbidding the Evil", wrote that if the the prevention of a specific evil act caused more evil or fitna then the actions must be re-evaluated. What this essentially means is that sometimes speaking out is more powerful and more in line with the Islamic objectives then physically putting an end to it. In the current political context of western attempts to secularise Islam, challenging the western liberal values and secular political framework is far more powerful and effective. This is due to the fact that if Muslims, in the western world, are able to challenge the political philosophy and world view of secular nations and show that the Islamic model is philosophically and practically superior, wouldn't this impact the global Muslim community in a positive way? Wouldn't Muslims rally behind the call for Islam? Wouldn't they feel motivated and energised to implement this beautiful way of life? Additionally, providing an effective intellectual challenge would stir public opinion and actually show that Islam is a positive alternative for Muslims and non-Muslims. This in turn would be a key milestone in showing how degrading and awful these expressions of speech are, and most significantly, it will highlight that the west (and the east) need their values changed to the Islamic cohesive values.
An alternative paradigm
The Islamic model, if presented in the right way, can truly show that Islamic values and the mechanisms to promote them are a positive alternative. People, Muslims and non-Muslims, will see that Islam is not just a set of morals but a comprehensive system whose political framework is founded upon these sublime values. This model will propogate cohesive values and yet acknowledge the fact that, in reality, absolute freedom to say what you want, is detrimental to society. Additionally, truth, accountability and progress will be values in themselves and not the other way round. For in western society free speech is seen as the main value to uphold, with the blind assumption that only free speech can cause progress, accountability and truth. However, this approach does not stop people degrading and abusing others and has actually negated the reason freedom of speech came about in the first place, thus creating a paradox and a contradiction. Take the following example: free speech societies were once allowed to propagate that all Black people were evil, thus creating a social construct and a social norm. In this social climate no one wanted to search for the truth about Black people. This is because western society relegated the idea to the level of a social taboo, something that should not have been investigated or approached; hence preventing the search for truth. It was only when certain values were enforced did people eventually realise that Back people are equal, normal human beings.
Western history is full of these examples and freedom of speech is actually speechless when it comes to these realities and contradictions!
This must agitate those responsible to evaluate this outdated idea of freedom of speech and seek an alternative model that can achieve what freedom of speech was meant to achieve minus the degradation of others and the contradictions apparent to us all in the western world!
In this light I invite you all to the forthcoming debate that will present an alternative model which will facilitate truth, accountability and progress without the need to dishonour and degrade others.
Debate: The Satanic Verses, Danish Cartoons & The Jewel of Medina: Has Freedom of Speech Gone too Far?
Hamza Andreas Tzortzis (International Public Speaker) & Nikolai Segura (National Secular Society)
"Freedom speech is a fundamental pillar of a civilised society". This is what we are constantly told via the influential political and economic structures in the western world. However, in the light of the Danish cartoons, the Satanic Verses and the recent book on the Prophet Muhammad and his wife Aisha called 'The Jewel of Medina', has freedom of speech gone too far and is it the only way forward for civilised society?
Date: Saturday, 8th November 2008
Time: 6pm - 9pm
VENUE: East London University, Lecture Theatre 001,Duncan House, High Street Stratford, London, E15 2JB
For more info please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call +44(0)7988850946