The innocence of free speech

The world has gone crazy in the last couple of weeks. What could be the reason for such sudden turbulence? Is it due to any conflict between two super powers of the world? Did some popular leader get assassinated? Or is it a revolution against an autocratic military rule? No, it isn’t. The reason is the 14-minute amateur video in YouTube of an anti-Islam film named “Innocence of Muslims” made by a Coptic Christian in America. It has turned the world upside down.

There are two kinds of people in the picture. Those who are in support of the film wants to uphold the principles of freedom of speech, which is an integral part of a democracy. Those who are protesting against it, they are deeply offended by the depiction of Prophet Muhammad in the film. Whichever side you wish to join in, this film has caused violence and unrest in many countries for real.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran said, “In return for (allowing) the ugliest insults to the divine messenger, they-the West- raise the slogan of respect of freedom of speech.” Freedom of speech is the most cherished and precious rights of a man. We can opine, criticize, and talk freely on any subject without any fear or punitive action. But freedom of speech does not give the license to spread hatred, bigotry and Islamophobia. It is a very fine line between criticism and insult. For a mere criticism the right of free speech cannot be denied to anyone. But insult in the pretext of freedom of speech is unethical.

“The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic”, the most famous opinion on free speech written by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. To get offended by something is subjective. For so many people around the world to take to the streets and run riot, you sure have crossed the line.

When a mere depiction of Prophet Muhammad has a history of violence, the issue is highly sensitive. It is a spark waiting to ignite a ravaging fire. By equating “man plus X equals Islamic Terrorist”, calling Muhammad – the bastard, and ridiculing him as a womanizer, child molester and homosexual, it is highly unlikely that there won’t be any reactions. No one has the right to insult Islam even if they do not follow the prophet. So the only point in making this film is to disrupt the peace and harmony.

But violence in the streets is not the answer for discontent. The right of peaceful protest is a vital part of democracy. No religion in the world encourages violence. All those rebels who are protesting and killing people in the name of God, are insulting the Prophet themselves. The way they are reacting they are giving an impression that Islam is a religion of intolerance and war when actually it is not.

When Pakistan observed ‘Love the Prophet Day’ what actually unfolded was violence in the name of the Prophet. At least 23 innocent lives and livelihood were lost as the protesters went on a rampage. Some reports suggest that Ghulam Ahmad Bilour, a Pakistan cabinet member offered a $100,000 reward for the death of the filmmaker. Is death the solution to all the world’s problems? The Muslim extremists are creating instability in their own regions by rioting in their backyard. They themselves are the real losers in this whole episode.

Every American is now looked upon with suspicion. Some lunatic American made a film about the Prophet and the US Embassies came under attack. But should Americans complain? After 9/11 every Muslim was being looked upon with suspicion by the Americans. The tables have turned now. Just as every Muslim is not a terrorist every American is not anti Islam. But in the midst of all the ruckus people are dying. Just spare a thought for them.


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