Blasphemous Freedom

With poor production quality, a crude and senseless message, and a director whose character is flawed, to say the least, yet still a fourteen minute video has unleashed a flood of rage. From Benghazi to Sydney to Cairo to Toronto, protests are rampant due to a video that few should have seen or cared about.

indonesian-muslims-hold-violent-protest-against-antiislamic-film_1455289But with the powers of globalization at play – the internet and YouTube, of course – Muslims are hitting the streets in numbers to vent their anger at a perceived slight to the Prophet Mohammad, with many protests turning violent. And it’s all in the name of blasphemy.

Freedom of expression is a fundamental aspect of the Western liberal tradition. Without freedom of expression, one could argue that it would simply be Western tradition; liberal would have nothing to do with it.

Freedoms must often be gained through times of turmoil. If history has taught us anything, it’s that those in power are never likely to allow a greater level of freedom without it being demanded of them. If history has taught us anything else, it’s that blasphemers are often individuals or groups fighting for greater freedom.

In 1215, the Magna Carta limited the power of King John of England; in 1517, Luther and his 95 Theses led to limitations on the power of the Roman Catholic Church; in 1615, Galileo championed the heliocentric theory of the universe against accepted Church doctrine, and he suffered greatly; in 1648, the Treaty of Westphalia limited the power of the Holy Roman Empire. These acts and historical events have one thing in common: their main actors were cast by those in power as blasphemers against the accepted truths of the day, and many paid with their lives.

And where would we be without these acts of blasphemy, without the courage to speak truth to power? We would surely not be where we are today. Scientific advancement would be limited. Religious thought would go unquestioned. Progress would be inhibited.

Now, this is not to say that the anti-Islam, Islamophobic video put on YouTube by a hateful individual in the United States is anything like those acts listed above. On the contrary, the video is a despicable show of ignorance. That being said, it remains freedom of expression. The video may not speak much truth to power – indeed, it speaks more falsehood than truth – but, regardless, I will defend its right to be said.

For when society begins to draw lines between blasphemy and acceptable speech, between high-minded decorum and base buffoonery, or between truth and falsehood, where do we end up? Who decides where the line should be drawn? On whose authority should this decision rest? On those who hold the reins of power, whether political or religious? On the will of the people? On the whims of the mob?

This slippery slope is the reason why we preach tolerance in the face of bigoted speech, education and understanding as weapons against ignorance, and non-violence as the highest form of protest.

Voltaire wrote: “I may not believe in a word you say but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” May heaven forbid a world in which one says with reverence: I do not agree with a word you say so I condemn you to death for sacrilegiously saying it.

This article can also been seen at CANYAP.

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5 comments

  1. Courage to speak the truth, and the arrogance to insult another group are two different things.

    We can still have freedom of speech without this kind of dirty behaviour being supported. There should be a law in place which prevents people from making fun of and defaming holy figures; surely such a law would prevent a lot of viloence and misunderstandings.

    So-called Muslims who are creating unrest as a response to the video are not expressing themselves appropriately, or even Islamically, for that matter, but I totally understand where thery are coming from. Many people to whom the concept of Islam is still foggy fail to understand what the Holy Prophet means to Muslims; the Holy Prophet’s respect and dignity is dearer to them then their own lives. For example; if someone made such a video about your father, would you laugh at it and say oh no he’s exercising his freedom of speech, or would you complain and say that the film maker is making a mockery of my father and insulting him? The respect and honour of the Holy Prophet greatly exceeds that of a Muslim’s father, or any other person in this world.

    The guy who made this video didn’t present some kind of Einstein rocket science theory of Islam to the world; he was simply out for revenge due to a personal hatred, and he was intentionally making fun of Islam, and he wanted to create chaos. If he tried to make an intelligent arguement via proof and supported debate, I would support his right to do so. But I don’t support anyone defaming and openly insulting others intentionally. And with religion being such a sensitive topic with so many, we really need to have bolder laws that prevent such insults. Again, this would only stem hatred and insults, not the right to intelligent speech!

    I totally agree that freedom is essential for any successful and happy society, but there need to be bolder lines when it comes to insults and arrogance. Our laws are not set in stone, and we need to learn how to change them according to the times. I’m not trying to promote Islam or extremism or religion here; I’m just saying that we need to promote a deeper sense of common deceny in our laws.

    • Thanks for the comment, lightpuma. You raise some very good points.

      Freedom of expression is something that needs to be protected, whether people are offended by that expression or not, or whether those offended are religious or not. The necessity of freedom of expression is based largely in the fact that it is incredibly hard to be certain of the truth in any matter. I realize that the video is promoted from a position of hatred and ignorance, and that is does not present any “Einstein rocket science theory of Islam to the world.” But, regardless, who should decide the validity of his claims? The government? The ruling powers? Influential or supposedly knowledgeable people on any given subject?

      Consider for a moment that the maker of the video had simply implied that Mohammed was in fact not a prophet, or that Jesus Christ was not the son of God; both statements are inherently blasphemous. If these statements were found to be offensive, should they be allowed? What if the statements aroused no discontent, would they then be considered acceptable? If so, then the value of a statement no longer rests on being right or wrong, true or false, but on whether someone is offended by it. That is a dangerous precedent.

      Consider also that these statements could be true. In fact, I find both statements very likely to be true. But if either statement is regarded as blasphemous – which they would be by either Muslim or Christian doctrine – and we decide as a society that expression will be acceptable based on offensiveness, then these potentially factual statements would be outlawed.

      That is not the mark of a progressive, open-minded society, nor one that believes that the search for truth is the highest good.

      • I agree with you that there’s a very fine line when it comes to opression vs. simple regulation. And I totally agree that it’s hard to decide who is in charge of validating certain claims.
        My point is that this video was very obviously made to offend people. It was incited by hatred for Muslims, not the love of truth or evidence.
        If the video was saying that certain people aren’t prophets, and if it was done via an intelligent, evidence-based approach, I would defend the guy’s right to making it.
        If the same guy had tried to present claims in an evidence-based, civil manner, I wouldn’t find reason to be as offended. Sure, I would disagree with him, but I wouldn’t feel like he was a lowlife just trying to ridicule.
        As a society, we’re smart enough to separate insults from serious theories. It’s a delicate matter but I think we should be able to handle it by now.

        Thanks for your thought-out reply C.C. =) .

  2. I think it would qualify as hate speech in Canada and therefor would not be defendable in court under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I would defend the guys right to deliver his crude message in private, but in public forums is only defendable if clinically insane.

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