When Hate-Crimes Don the Guise of Freedom of Speech

When Hate-Crimes Don the Guise of Freedom of Speech
By Dr. Tayyaba Qidwai, Muscat, Oman
Published: 2012

Note: This article was addressed by Dr.
Tayyaba Qidwai to the Internet group of Yahoo InterfaithInteraction, InterfaithInteraction@yahoogroups.com

1- The Danish Cartoons were published, end of September 2005, in spite of the advice by Expert Danish Theologians, that they would offend Muslims and cause pointless provocation.

2- 11 Muslim Diplomats in Copenhagen had a meeting and lodged a complaint with the editor of the newspaper, demanding an apology. The Editor refused.

3- The Diplomats requested a meeting with the Danish Prime Minister. The Prime Minister refused the meeting with the Diplomats and told them his government could not interfere with the Freedom of the Press. Advised the Diplomats to resort to Legal Action, if they so desired.

4- Then the Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Conference wrote to the Danish Prime Minister and top officials of the European Union and Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe to stop the hate campaign against Islam. Response – Nothing could be done as Freedom of Expression was the cornerstone.

5- In the meantime, the Ambassadors of the Muslim Nations in Geneva complained to the Human Rights Commission. The Commission agreed to look into the matter and prepare a report.

6- At the Islamic Summit meeting in Mecca in December, the participants discussed the issue and showed concern and emphasized the necessity of all governments to take responsibility for guaranteeing respect for all religions.

7- Finally, after 3 months, the EU Commissioner for Justice said that it was not a wise move to publish these cartoons as it would encourage extremism in Europe.

8- While 22 Danish Ambassadors working in Arab Countries, criticized their government for its stand on the issue, a delegation of Danish Muslims representing 21 organizations, visited Cairo and met the Sheikh of Al Azhar and Secretary General of Arab League. The OIC Secretary General informed Danish Authorities of their decision to boycott an Exhibition called “Impressions of the Middle East”, the cost of which was to be shared by Denmark and some Arab countries.

9- Finally, the Danish Prime Minister’s response came in his New Year Message, in which he said that he condemned any expression or conduct that offended the sentiments of any community. But, until now the wound was getting too deep to be healed by generalized statements issued reluctantly.

10- In the meantime, some Muslim Organizations filed a suit against the newspaper in Denmark.

The public prosecutor refused to accept the case on the ground that freedom of expression enjoys a legal protection in Denmark.The issue became more complicated when the cartoons were republished in Norway.The Chronology of events is excerpted from “Islam and the West – who hates whom?” “It is to be noted that Anglo Saxon and Latin legal systems, apart from the Islamic law, give protection for the freedom of expression as long as it serves the interests of society as a whole and does not lead to inflaming passions and disrupting social harmony.” So, we can ask ourselves – what was truly the motive of the cartoons? What sentiment were they supposed to portray? “

The highest constitutional courts in the United States stipulate that the freedom of expression is guaranteed only as long as it carries a minimum of redeeming qualities.” Clearly, the freedom of expression has to be practiced with some rationale. But, the cartoons were not this freedom of expression we are talking about. This is the freedom to spread hate by desecrating a religious person who is revered throughout the world. Who, in his lifetime, embodied everything against the concept of a Terrorist,” which we have learned to define from the Western media. The cartoons were thus not a social statement but a preposterous and ignorant rendering of world history. I remember that in November, on InterfaithInteraction Group, Dr. M.K Sherwani had written at that time that these cartoons had the potential to cause significant harm and should be withdrawn.

A German Journalist had replied that in Western concepts there was nothing wrong in depicting religious themes in cartoon form. Both Dr. Sherwani and I had requested him to understand the Eastern idea of what is considered sacred and to help us in denouncing this provocative act. But, he did not reply back. The Muslim protests as outlined at the top were calm and decent for a period of four months, after which many European papers went ahead and followed suit by publishing the cartoons anyway. The outrageous acts in the form of burning and death threats that has occurred recently is no-doubt unnecessary. But, the real ingenuity lies in anticipation of such negative outbursts by ordinary men, and for men in authoritative positions to take pre-emptive measures BEFORE the emotions of millions are preyed upon. Nothing concerning human nature is Absolute. So, to expect a restrained reaction from each and every individual is naive. We are all aware that a multi-layered psyche of men exists in every country ranging from the easily aggravated to the morally conscious to the conveniently thick-skinned! From the above we see, that it was just not the cartoons but a lethargic, “don’t care” to “serves them right” reaction from the European Community which deserves censure.

The only heartening fact was the sentiments of the Danish Ambassadors who had spent time in the Muslim countries and voiced their dissent. It is thus our responsibility to reiterate to the masses, the role that such ambassadors can play as bridges between the Islamic Countries and the West and therefore, embassies should not be accessible targets but places to submit one’s petitions. The only prayer is that the country is receptive to the advice of its own ambassadors! In the end, nothing justified the reprinting of those insulting cartoons across many European countries including France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, and Switzerland.

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