Over the last few years, a pattern has emerged that no one working on Islam can claim to ignore: when someone says something negative about Islam and its Prophet somewhere in this world violence will take place. This in itself is not a sufficient justification for banning anti-Muslim speech. But it should, by now, encourage us to question the motivations of those who insist on stirring this hornets’ nest while hiding behind Freedom of Expression? Who are they? Do they, or some of them, have a common agenda? If so, what is it? Is freedom really something they all care about it, even if we think that it is not necessarily served by their actions or words? We need to ask ourselves these questions now, because the next few years will witness more bloody developments related to faith-politics in all our societies, and not just the Muslim World.
At this stage, it seems to me that we are dealing with two subsets of people: the first in the West, the second in the Muslim World, one using Freedom, the other Dignity as covers for their own political agendas. These people are currently being given an underserved free pass to spew their venom and advance their agendas, with little questioning. I think that this is a dangerous trend. The worst of us are hijacking policy because the rest of us are doing nothing.
I don’t raise these points easily or callously. After all, I have long presented myself publicly as a heretic, and an apostate, and have made many public statements and utterances that so many believers would deem offensive, and will continue to do so. Over the last few years, I have been consistent in defending what I called the right to heresy and ridicule. Indeed, I believe that people have the right to criticize and reject their faiths or other people’s faiths even to the point of ridicule. Muhammad himself, if we are to accept the veracity of existing historical records, was not above ridiculing the faith system of his tribe. In fact, this was the main complaint often repeated by tribal elders in the early year. But he never recanted. Ridicule is a form of showing a strong rejection of something. It’s a pretty legitimate avenue for expression, and has been used by most if not all luminaries throughout history.
But it’s a basic right for all and not just the elite. Drawing a red line at certain figures and belief-systems is not an innocent or legitimate demand, as extremists would have us believe and, more importantly, as they would have the average practicing Muslim believe. By putting their belief system beyond the pail of criticism, advocates of political Islam are trying to put themselves beyond reproach as well. Unfortunately, because of the spinelessness and duplicity of our political classes, their recent rise to power in certain countries, and their control over most Arabic media outlets, they will have their way. The Islamists will finally have their much-awaited moment in our region and that large-scale they always wanted to allow them to dream of the return of the Caliphate. The secularist of the right and left will have to wait and work extremely hard for theirs.
But for now, in Syria, the dictatorial regime of Assad is hanging on for dear life, while taking the lives of so many.