Denying that the Holocaust took place is actually illegal in many parts of Europe. If they pride themselves on the freedom of speech why curtail it in this particular instance and criminalise it? With the problems Muslims have with Facebook these days, it’s quite important to understand this. For starters, neo-Nazis and anti-Semitic groups used free speech as a mask to disguise their hatred by questioning historical accuracy of the Holocaust taking place at all, in effect claiming a conspiracy of historical fabrication by Jews for their own benefit.
On the surface, what may seem like an academic position (Holocaust denial) is often simply the cloak of those who preach hate. In this respect, Holocaust denial and the effort to draw cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) are quite similar. Those who seek the right to express their freedom of expression in the west to draw pictures of the Prophet (pbuh) make it look like an innocuous assertion of right; they claim no inherent hostility to Islam. However, what really happens is that it becomes an excuse for Islamophobes and racists to ply their trade. The resulting cartoons are not your typical Tom and Jerry variety, but bile and antagonism. The Danish Jyllands-Posten cartoons are a well-known example, as are now the “Draw Mohammed (pbuh) Day” ones.
Muslim articulation of this argument has been very poor and inconsistent. The manner of the Muslim disagreement has proven the assertion that Muslims are unthinking and inherently violent. If that was some Islamophobe’s aim since the very beginning, then he or she has achieved it. Why do I say this? The campaign against Facebook in Pakistan is based entirely on incorrect facts that can easily be disproved. In their emotional turmoil over the religious affront they have believed what they wish was true, rather than what is.
The Islamic lawyer’s movement that instigated the ban on the social networking site claimed there were more than 45 million Pakistani users of the website. That is blatantly untrue, that’s more than double the number of people with internet access in Pakistan.
Second, they say they wanted to send a message to the owners of the website. But for what? It was not an officially sanctioned contest, but user generated. Of course, they did manage to send a message because of the publicity this generated, but again some things need to made clearer.
Blasphemy is criminalised in Pakistan, as it is in many other countries. We have jurisdiction here, so a ban is legal (though not correct, as I shall argue later), but we do not have control over other countries. The real issue? Hate speech is actually constitutionally protected in the US. While forms of hate speech are illegal in parts of Europe and Canada, America’s laws are different.
Arguing only from a Muslim point of view is futile; it will need to incorporate larger principles that encompass everyone. Muslim perspective arguments will fail, even when change has been affected it is because of fear of violence which does the Muslim reputation more harm than good.
Respect for religions goes every way, even if it is a religion one does not believe in. Pakistan has declared Ahmedis non-Muslims, it is a fundamental freedom of right not to believe in their religion. Yet, Facebook is also populated with communities from Pakistan that argue for their destruction, hatred and ridicule for their beliefs. But no Islamic lawyer’s movement would agree that those pages should be banned too. The argument then by Muslims for respect for religions is easily countered as opportunistic, undermining the effort to get the world to understand why depicting the Prophet (pbuh) is so hurtful.
(To be continued)
Published in the Express Tribune, June 1st, 2010.
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