An African Perspective 2: Religion and Free Expression

If you are in need of $3 million there is a way to make it. All you have to do is kill Sir Ahmed Salman Rushdie, a British Indian writer whose 1988 novel, The Satanic Verses, was deemed to be insulting to Prophet Muhammad. As a result a fatwa was issued against him by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989. The bounty for his head was this week incresed by another $500 000, bringing the total to an awesome $3.3m.

Salman Rushdie’s bounty was increased by an Iranian institution because they feel that had the fatwa been carried out, we would not be seeing other publications that are irreverent or insulting to The Prophet.

Muslims across the world are protesting against an American film which insulted the Prophet Muhammad, with property being destroyed in Sudan, Egypt, Lebanon and other regions where there are significant Muslim populations. In other places, particularly Libya, lives have been lost including the American ambassador to Libya and the death toll from the protests exceeds thirty.

To add more wood to an already blazing fire, a French magazine published another cartoon insulting Muhammad prompting French authorities to increase the security around their embassies worldwide.

Whilst I find the Islamic reaction to these insults unacceptable and extreme, it is also very irresponsible for citizens of Western countries to continue producing pictures, articles and films that mock the values and religious beliefs of other people. It is especially stupid when such actions are followed by violent retributions and, inevitably, loss of life.

Like all other cases, there are two sides to this story:
1. Those who think continued publication of material of incendiary nature is not only unnecessary and irresponsible but also dangerous to many innocent people and
2. Those who favour free speech and defend it in whichever form it manifests itself.

The second group says that the Muslim world overreacts over the most harmless slights, blowing minor issues out of proportion and furthering the belief already held by many people: that Islam is a cult of violent, barbaric and intolerant extremists. After all, we occasionally read about Jesus being mocked yet no one has lost his eye for that.

In fact, this past week there was a report that some prominent historians had determined that Jesus had a wife. To us Christians, such statements- and books, like Dan Brown’s ‘The Da Vinci Code’- are to be ignored because they do not change any fundamental part of our beliefs.

Other people say religion itself is the problem,Christians, they say, perpetrated some of The most heinous crimes in history- the Holocaust, Slave trade etc. In the middle ages Christians burnt at the stake countless people for being heretics and suppressed ideas and teachings that were not in agreement withered church’s own.

Furthermore bowing down to Islamic pressure will be the beginning of censorship. The cornerstone of democracy- free expression- would be threatened. It would be the beginning of the end of political, historical and religious debate.

In so many ways Islam is an immature religion which resorts to force rather than logical persuasion and the biggest victim of these protests is Islam itself. The violent protests do Islam’s reputation and it’s claims to be a peaceful religion irreparable damage.

But is it really necessary to insult the convictions of a billion people in the name of free speech? More so when, inevitably, protests follow and people die further straining Muslims relationships with the West?

Can one man’s act of free expressions be forgiven when it leads to the death of fifty people across the globe?

And freedom of expressions does have limits, for example, denying the Holocaust is a crime in some European countries. Shouldn’t it be the same for mocking the way of life of a billion people?

Whatever people think, if I see an hornets’ nest and have to choose between poking it with a stick and walking away I know what I’d do.

4 thoughts on “An African Perspective 2: Religion and Free Expression

  1. Islam is an immature religion? Maybe so but there is justification for insulting an entire religion and putting lives in danger because the law is on your side.
    Violence does the muslim world irreparable damage in the west’s eyes, why should they care what the west thinks of them if that same west thinks nothing about respecting their deity

    • A religion can only be judged by the actions of the people who follow it, thus if Islam has immature and irresponsible followers it can be said that Islam itself is immature.

      But you do have a point, insulting a whole people’s way of life is grossly irresponsible.

  2. It is time for the Muslims of the world to mature in their understanding of Islam. It is also time for the world, to realize the sensitivities of the Muslim people as a whole. The Belief, in the inerrant word of the world scriptures, Qua ran, Bible, Torah etc needs to be reexamined in all religions. No book or books, can ever contain the complete word and will of God. No religion of the world, has Authority over God himself. If any world religion was the true religion of God. We would have already reach World Peace. When any religion, believes they are the only Children of God. This religion, or religions are in error. We are All God’s Children! Each religion has, only a portion of the Truth of Whom God is. It is religious arrogance to believe otherwise. This Arrogance of Religious belief’s is and has been the major Problem of the World. No one should ever Die, because of a Film, or a comment, a book, what so ever. This type of radical belief, is the evil of this world, and not the will and the word of God. It is the will and the word, of Mankind, and their misunderstanding of God’s Will, in scriptures. Scriptures Are Not without Error! Our relationship with God, is a Personal one. Not an institutionalize belief!

    • That is so very true, God is over and above all religions. He was there before any religion and will be there long after they are gone.

      What the world needs is tolerance and people who respect others’ beliefs.

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