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.
But 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.