Freedom of the press… within limits

Published: January 18, 2015

At times columnists receive a lot of hate mail, especially when they write on a controversial theme like censorship. My last article, which was about the attack on the satirical French journal Charlie Hebdo, stirred up a hornet’s nest. Curiously enough, I welcomed the comments. They assured me of the fact that there is still strong support for a free press and the right to say what one pleases. I also believe in freedom of expression… but, within limits. Nevertheless… I was disappointed in the content of some of the remarks. Apparently, with the exception of Sexton Blake who always makes a lot of sense, none of the others appear to have understood the point I was making and turned up with the usual packed lunch of prejudices.

At no point in the article did I advocate violence or say that I was jolly glad that the 12 racists had been assassinated. What I wrote was that murder is murder and the killers should be punished according to the law of the land. But I also said that Muslims reacted more severely to insults than people of other faiths, and the staff of Charlie Hebdo had it coming. The editor and staff of the satirical journal must have been extremely naive if they thought that they could get away with those disgusting cartoons without inviting reprisals.

No amount of argument or rhetoric will convince me that it is not deeply wrong to criticise and show gross disrespect to a prophet, of your own or somebody else’s religion, especially when past events have demonstrated it is highly likely to cause offence — irrespective of which part of the world the faith originated. Ostensibly, all worshippers pray to the same deity whether they refer to the Supreme Being as Yahweh, God, Allah or Bhagwan. It is just that generally speaking people of different religions have different tolerance levels and react differently to malicious taunts, abuse or provocation. Muslim extremists are not the only ones who have displayed militancy and violence. Extremist Catholics have had their share of expressing intolerance in the past; and in recent times Buddhists, who have enjoyed a universal stereotype of being peaceful and non-violent have also unleashed a wave of terror.

I would urge the critics to read Aakar Patel’s article in The Express Tribune entitled “Should the right to free speech be absolute?” He has quoted T N Ninan who pointed out in an article that in the broad tradition of Sarva Dharm Samabhav (equality of all religions)… it is pretty much inconceivable that any Indian publication would publish a cartoon of the Holy Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) in the full knowledge that it would cause offence to millions… The right to free speech is a fundamental, but not an absolute, right… the Constitution (of India) limits it on grounds of “public order” as well as “decency and morality”, all of which are elastic terms.

In the matter of tolerance of expression, India has shown considerable maturity and I feel that countries like Germany and France could learn something from the world’s largest democracy. There is also a lot of hypocrisy in both countries. The Germans talk about the right to free speech and yet it is a crime to discuss the Holocaust in the Fatherland. I am not suggesting that this horrible display of human depravity did not take place. Of course it did. But why are Germans not allowed to publicly discuss the episode? And why did the editor of Charlie Hebdo fire one of his journalists who wrote an anti-Semitic article? Could this be a case of selective racism?

Published in The Express Tribune, January 18th, 2015.

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Reader Comments (15)

  • Toticalling
    Jan 18, 2015 - 1:42AM

    If we treat all the roads as one way streets, where we can drive but others dare not, things will reach a stage of no return. Millions of Muslims have moved to west and most of them have not accepted the rules of the game. WE kill people for blasphemy, we scare people to criticise this or that, but carry on insulting other faiths without shame. I recall we had to declare Ahmadi leader as imposter to call ourselves Muslims to get a passport. Now in many cities of Gerrmany and other countries unlimited number of people want to fight against Islamization of the west. That scres many who live there. I say have your opinon but accept laws of freedom in countries where we live. Otherwise things might get worse.Freedom of expression can hurt others feeling, but without that the freedom is curtailed


  • John B
    Jan 18, 2015 - 2:28AM

    Freedom of expression is absolute since it is that freedom that has given rise to various thoughts of religion and rejection of them by others. Because the proponent of one idea does not like the idea of others, and therefore others should suppress their views is tantamount to let’s all go in one direction and think alike.

    Freedom of thought is what makes us human. Without freedom of expression, there is no religion.

    The caricature is a reflection of time we live in, and it is the idea of expression of others against the extreme view being universally defended by people of one particular faith. If people of PAK and India wants to limits their own expression of thoughts and ideas, it is their prerogative. But expecting others to do the same because it offends their self proclaimed sensibility is dictatorial.

    The criticism of previous article on this subject by the author is on the phrase that ” they had it coming”.

    The author forgets to ponder that the very idea of that publication (cartoon or movie or article ) is essentially to make people think, as this article is trying to defend the other view.

    No one has any right to criticize others faith and others must abide to the counter- faith sensibilities (and pay poll tax or get killed ) is an archaic human idea.

    May be I will get 1000 lashes for my ideas in some places but not in the land where I live in and I will be first one to defend the authors right to blame me for my insensibilities of his self proclaimed illogical reverence.


  • a_writer
    Jan 18, 2015 - 2:52AM

    A well written article by Mr.Muraj. There are few points I would like to raise.
    1. Since there is photographic evidence of religious figures of any of the major religion, why is it so offensive if someone decides to draw a cartoon of a bearded person?
    2. The argument I have been reading recently is ‘Why is it against to law to question holocaust but a cartoon that may be offensive to some is freedom of speech?” The answer is very simple. That is the law of the land adopted by those countries such as France, Germany etc.Whether one likes it or not, is immaterial. Of course, one can try to change it through democratic process. Beheading some innocent person in the street or shooting up a bunch of children is not the way to change it.
    3. Western countries have graciously and generously accepted immigrants from all over the world to share their riches. Most immigrants, even if they fail to fully assimilate, tend to adapt to the local culture. Immigrants from Muslim countries seem to have this unique distinction of wanting to, no demanding, that the host countries change their culture and customs to be in line with their own beliefs with a mentality of ‘Or Else’

    Finally, isn’t it ironic that these religious terrorists loudly invoke the name of their religion as ‘God is great’ at the very instant they behead a human or blow up innocent children? The simultaneous blood curdling scream ‘God is Great’ and an act of extreme cruelty is definitely not a proof of one’s religious conviction.


  • Vinsin
    Jan 18, 2015 - 4:16AM

    Laws on hate speech in India made by Britishers and Jinnah objected to them as he firmly believed in freedom of speech.


  • David Salmon
    Jan 18, 2015 - 5:12AM

    Nothing in what I wrote tells why Western democracy values free speech so much more than religious feelings. It’s a bloodless argument.

    The West had four or five centuries of religious wars. It endured centuries of abuse by religious authorities allied with power. People were burned at the stake for professing religious beliefs different from the state-supported version. Thousands were tortured by religious authorities seeking heresy and worse. Many of the early colonists to the US went there to escape religious persecution. The proletariat of revolutionary France had suffered from the alliance of Church and King.

    The governments the revolutionaries established required religion to keep its hands off of government, and for government to stay disentangled from religion. But they likewise required government to protect freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Reason and experience led democrats to conclude that freedom of speech, along with freedom of religion, are both vital human rights, –especially– when religious beliefs are involved.

    We learned from dreadful experience. It is a pity you are going through the same experience.



  • SV
    Jan 18, 2015 - 5:12AM

    Equality for all, discussion of all view points, in a respectful manner – like the Constitution of india, how would that maturity come about in Islamic majority countries?


  • numbersnumbers
    Jan 18, 2015 - 8:34AM

    Wow, more ignorance by the author, what a surprise!
    In Germany, “Holocaust Denial’ is against the law!
    In Germany, “discussing the Holocaust” is NOT a crime!
    You can hold seminars about the timeframes, details of targeted groups, government laws at the time of event and death camps involved!
    But if you publically DENY that the Holocaust ever happened then you have broken the law!
    Perhaps the author might look up “Holocaust Denial” on Wikipedia for an educational experience!


  • jim shantz
    Jan 18, 2015 - 8:40AM

    Anwar Mooraj makes a prefectly sensible case in a conversation heat than light!


  • Toba Alu
    Jan 18, 2015 - 9:05AM

    There is a difference between freedom of speech and hate speech. Well documented. All religions pray to the same deity and only have different tollerance levels shows to what religion you belong. Badminton and boxing have only breathing in common, though they are both sports. Your holocaust question has been answered over and over again. Crimes committed by Buddhists in Myanmar are not committed in the name of their religion, would be a contradiction in terms. Well documented. Crimes committed by Muslims in the name of their religion can however very well be linked to numerous Islamic doctrines. Well documented. You may not like those but many litteralists love them.Your reasoning hinders Muslims reforming Islam. Don’t become a novophobe.


  • Ansar
    Jan 18, 2015 - 10:52AM

    @Toticalling: Very well said. We just need to do one thing called “introspection”. But unfortunately we all keep on blaming others for everything.


  • Elementary, Watson
    Jan 18, 2015 - 12:32PM

    Question: When someone calls me a kafir, isn’t it an insult to my religion? It certainly doesn’t sound like praise!
    The whole current debate on freedom of expression is nothing but about a certain set of people who are more than willing to dish it out, but unable to take it.


  • Iron hand
    Jan 18, 2015 - 2:11PM

    The entire free speech debate is a red herring. Cartoons are not the cause of extremist violence; they are an excuse for extremist violence.


  • Rex Minor
    Jan 18, 2015 - 5:56PM

    If the author has missed the point in the critique of his previous article, let me try to explain sir, that Violence cannot be justified or relatavised under any circumstance!!
    The Freedom of individual’s expression and the Freedom of Press are the fundamentals of our civilisation and the democratic order. The former are regulated and controlled by the laws of the land and therefore is the responsibility of the State whereas the latter are controlled by the Press gremium independant of the State authority.
    It would seem that the so called Cartoonist journalists who print caricatures which induce subjective impressions are not subject to any controls and when challenged in French courts of law, receive a biased support from the guardians of the law. This must change since the French republic cannot sustain the status quo over a long period.

    Rex Minor


  • BlackJack
    Jan 18, 2015 - 7:04PM

    Depressing op-ed by Mr. Mooraj that justifies the Charlie Hebdo attacks in a roundabout fashion. The logic applied is that while it was wrong to kill the cartoonists, they deserved it for not figuring out that Muslims are more touchy than adherents to other religions and would thus be more predisposed to exact this kind of revenge; so people should tiptoe around them to avoid injuring their tender sensibilities and then receiving a disproportionate but expected response. And then you wonder why Muslims are viewed differently – when you are singling yourself out for differential treatment.


  • omkar
    Jan 18, 2015 - 9:16PM

    In this respect,Pakistan and India are on the same page.Both are intellectually intolerant.India was first to ban Satanic Verses because they did not want any trouble with Muslims.Then they banned Wendy Honiger’s well researched book on Hindus because they feared RSS. Ours are deeply impoverished countries with enough more pressing problems.Freedom of speech amid so much cacophony? Doesn’t seem to affect aam admi.


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