Freedom of speech in the United States is protected by the First Amendment. However, the US Supreme Court has held that this is not an absolute right. Several categories of speech are excluded; some of the exceptions are: the Miller test, slander, speech that incites violent reactions and the use of false allegations (words or acts) with intent to harm others.
The Innocence of Muslims has created an understandable furor in the Muslim world. The film describes Islam “as a cancer,” is vulgar and laden with sexual innuendos against the Holy Prophet (pbuh). The work of a depraved mind, this film is extremely provocative and was designed to enrage. President Obama’s response espousing respect for all faiths and Hillary Clinton’s claim that she finds the film ‘disgusting’ seems, at best, frivolous given the committed affront.
Hillary Clinton asserts in the same breath that “We [the US] do not stop individual citizens from expressing their views, no matter how distasteful they may be.” In plain English we may not like it but the enabling ground shall always be there for more sacrilegious and extremely offensive ventures. Not to be left behind, presidential hopeful Mitt Romney says, “It’s a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values.” Google said: “This video, widely available on the Web, is clearly within our guidelines and so will stay on YouTube.” However, Google had no qualms when it removed 1,710 videos and closed their affiliated accounts because, as Google put it, “a substantial number of those videos concerned Holocaust denial and defense of Holocaust deniers.”
What we in the Muslim world fail to understand are the dual standards followed on this issue by the West, ably led by Washington. It may take a voluminous book to enumerate cases in which the misnomer of free speech has been castigated and punished in the West. Post 9/11 laws have become an enabling guise to perpetrate extreme excesses at will. The dichotomy too is brazenly blatant if one denies the Holocaust.
Tarek Mehanna, a twenty-nine year old American Muslim pharmacist, was sentenced to 17.5 years in prison. He was accused of “conspiring to support Al Qaeda” by “taking to the Internet to try to spread the terror group’s message.” All charges, as are evident from his messages now in public domain, were false. Javed Iqbal, a Pakistani-American and a 25 year resident of New York, was sentenced to 69 months in prison. His sin was to offer to broadcast Hezbollah’s Al Manar television channel for viewership in the US. The Dutch far-right politician, Geert Wilders, was compared to a Nazi guard in a cartoon posted by Joop.nl. It had to be removed after threats to the website. However, Wilder’s fitna and his rant of the Holy Quran being “the Muslim Mein Kampf” was defended as his given right to express himself. One can quote many more examples of the myth of freedom of speech in the West.
The mere denial of the Holocaust is a crime in many Western countries. German author and historian, Ernst Zundel, has spent seven years of his life behind bars as a result of expressing his viewpoints and opinions about the Holocaust. French President François Hollande stripped John Galliano, a fashion designer, of the Légion d’honneur (France’s highest public distinction). This followed his conviction on charges of ‘public insults based on origin, religious affiliation, race or ethnicity.’ He had made anti-Semitic remarks. Actor and director Mel Gibson was branded an anti-Semite when he made the film The Passion of the Christ.
Islamophobic rhetoric, caricatures and movies pave the way for a backlash that has led to world-wide protests and the killing of Americans in Benghazi and Muslims in their home countries. In a decade Muslims will account for nearly 9 percent of Europe’s mainland population. This has led to an increasingly potent group exploiting the West’s post 9/11 fears, and institutionalising Islamophobia. In the US alone, American Muslims, accounting for less than one percent of the population, have been the target of 15 percent of religious hate crimes since the last year. More than a decade after 9/11, polls show that nearly 50 percent Americans believe that Islamic values are incompatible with American ones.
Washington should spare us the freedom spiel. History is a testament to the ‘freedom’ that was wrought upon the indigenous natives of the US and the Western hemisphere. Millions in Iraq and Afghanistan are the latest victims of this ‘freedom’, while Pakistan and Iran are in the cross-hairs. Never have morals and justice seen such a lopsided equation; never did freedom invoke such nightmarish reality. However, our response to the despicable film has led to the death of 23 of our own, with more than 200 wounded and property worth billions gutted. In doing so, we only strengthen the demented Nakoulas and Terry Jones of the Islamophobic brigand. We need to channelise our strength and resources to force Western governments to rectify their biased and lopsided stance on this issue.
With the looming US elections, the Muslim lobby there should create a united stand that makes it clear that their vote is tied to this imperative condition. Muslims in European countries should do the same. The OIC has to take a more pro-active role and get out of its slumber mode. Our diplomatic missions in the West should take an unambiguous and forceful stand. By announcing a holiday and performing their usual disappearance act, the government shares responsibility for the death and destruction. Musharraf played the ‘Taliban near Islamabad’ card to prove his relevance to Washington. Lal Masjid became the beginning of his end. The mysterious presence of masked men bearing the Al-Qaeda flag was something that even Musharraf’s relevance game missed. Playing unholy politics, as seen last Friday, in the name of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) is in itself a sacrilege. It may yet be the undoing of this dispensation too.
The writer is a freelance contributor.Email: firstname.lastname@example.org