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A lesson for Macron: Freedom of expression is not absolute

Islam doesn’t oppose the freedom of expression. However, to ridicule and insult the sacred elements in the name of freedom of speech can under no circumstances be condoned, writes author.

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Once again, the Muslim world has been deeply saddened and enraged by the heart-wrenching comments of French president Emmanuel Macron about Islam and its adherents. His remarks are the vivid depiction of his prejudice and bias towards more than a billion peace mongering Muslims of the world. He, by passing such anti-Islam remarks, rather uniting his people, has created deep fissures in French society and furthered polarization and islamophobia.

He, in a long-awaited address on Friday, insisted “no concessions” would be made in a new drive to push religion out of education and the public sector in France.

Read more: Op-ed: Macron’s myopic views about Islam need to change

He announced that the government would present a bill in December to strengthen a 1905 law that officially separated church and state in France. The law permits people to belong to any faith of their choosing, Macron said, but outward displays of religious affiliation would be banned in schools and the public service. Wearing the hijab is already banned in French schools and for public servants at their workplace. He also refused to discourage the repeated practice of publishing blasphemous caricatures of Prophet Mohammad (SAW) by Charlie Hebdo- a French satirical weekly magazine.

By attacking Islam, clearly without having any understanding of it, President Macron has attacked & hurt the sentiments of millions of Muslims in Europe & across the world

Encouraged by the head of the state, French people are now hanging the blasphemous cartoons by the walls of their homes which indubitably amounts to grievous hurt to the sentiments of nearly six million Muslims living in France and roughly more than a billion Muslims living all around the world.

Read more: #BoycottFrenchProducts: What does Pakistan import from France? The answers are worrying

Reactively, Muslims all around the globe are registering their protest in their respective ways against Macron’s malicious and unfounded propaganda against Islam.

Macron faces backlash 

In a backlash to Macron’s malicious comments against Islam, Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan commented “What is the problem of this person called Macron with Muslims and Islam? Macron needs treatment on a mental level,” Erdogan said in a speech at a provincial congress of his Justice and Development (AK) Party in the central Turkish city of Kayseri on Saturday.

Every country that claims to be a part of a civilized and democratic world has put its own limitations on freedom of expression in order to regulate a certain level of human behavior

“What else can be said to a head of state who does not understand freedom of belief and who behaves in this way to millions of people living in his country who are members of a different faith? First of all, have mental checks.”

Read more: Protests against France spread as Erdogan condemns Macron’s attack on Islam

Another popular and charismatic leader of the Muslim world Imran Khan, Prime Minister of Pakistan tweeted ”This is a time when President Macron could have put healing touch & denied space to extremists rather than creating further polarization & marginalization that inevitably leads to radicalization through encouraging the display of blasphemous cartoons targeting Islam & our Prophet(SAW).” He added “By attacking Islam, clearly without having any understanding of it, President Macron has attacked & hurt the sentiments of millions of Muslims in Europe & across the world.”

Further, Ali al-Qaradaghi, the secretary general of the International Union for Muslim Scholars (IUMS) said, “We pity a ruler who is still living in crisis and the specter of religious wars of the middle ages,” al-Qaradaghi said, adding: “If there is a real crisis, it is due to the double standards of some western politicians.”

He added, “President Macron; you are in a crisis of a moral, humanitarian and political crisis; and Islam cannot bear the burden of fake cartoon leaders who created crises with your sponsorship.”

Read more: ‘It causes Muslims pain’: PM Imran explains blasphemy issue to French President Macron

Rim-Sarah Alaoune, a French academic, tweeted: “President Macron described Islam as ‘a religion that is in crisis all over the world today’. I don’t even know what to say. This remark is so dumb (sorry it is) that it does not need any further analysis … I won’t hide that I am concerned. No mention of white supremacy even though we are the country that exported the racist and white supremacist theory of the ‘great replacement’, used by the terrorist who committed the horrific massacre in #Christchurch.”

Islam doesn’t oppose the freedom of expression. However, to ridicule and insult the sacred elements in the name of freedom of speech can under no circumstances be condoned

Unfortunately, Islam and its founder have repeatedly been subjected to such attacks many times before. Previously, in 2005, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten provoked the protests across the world and riots in many Muslim countries by publishing several cartoons of Mohammad (peace be upon him), including one depicting the prophet with a bomb in his turban.

Limitations on freedom of expression

Sadly, all that happened earlier and what is happening now is under the pretext of ‘freedom of expression’. However, in fact, the issue is not one of curtailing the right to freedom of expression since this a right that is not absolute, nor anyone can claim so. Rights are reciprocal and their enforcement is interdependent on other fundamental rights.  “I also respect the right of freedom of speech.” Remarked Kofi Annan the then Secretary-General of U.N “but of course freedom of speech is never absolute. It entails responsibility and judgment”.

Read more: Macron outlines new law to prevent Islamic ‘separatism’ in France

Every country that claims to be a part of a civilized and democratic world has put its own limitations on freedom of expression in order to regulate a certain level of human behavior and thereby protect the dignity of their moral, religious, social, and societal values. The free propagation of child pornography, for instance, or the stimulation of religious or racial antipathy in the media, is banned in many countries.

To encapsulate, defamation of sacred elements under the pretext of freedom of expression cannot be justified

Further, in many European countries like Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Poland, Romania, Switzerland, and Israel; it is a crime to deny holocaust. Moreover, in many countries it is illegal or at least discouraged to degrade or abuse the constitution or certain national institutions such as army, courts of law, or parliament. Contempt of the court also exists all over the world which severely limits the freedom of speech, violation of which can lead to imprisonment.

Read more: Emmanuel Macron does not need to build an Enlightenment Islam, because that already exists

If the right to freedom of expression is absolute, why are there no objections to laws like these? Interestingly, some U.S States do have blasphemy laws in their statute books. The U.S state of Massachusetts General Laws (chapter 272 section 36) states:

“Whoever willfully blasphemes the holy name of God by denying, cursing or contumeliously reproaching God, his creation, government or final judging of the world, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching Jesus Christ or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching or exposing to contempt and ridicule, the holy word of God contained in the holy scriptures shall be punished by imprisonment in jail…”

In addition, when the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi compared himself to Jesus Christ, the Vatican including Italian politicians reacted to his statement with colossal shock and disgust. A senior official of Catholic Church added, “I know he will say he was speaking in jest, but such things should not be spoken even in jest”.

Read more: Turkey accuses French President Macron of sowing Islamophobia

Besides, Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper that published the caricatures of the prophet Mohammad (SAW) few years back reportedly rejected cartoons mocking at Jesus Christ because they would provoke an outcry and proudly declared it would “in no circumstances publish holocaust cartoons”. It is indubitably a blatant manifestation of sheer duplicity on part of the newspaper and a reflection of its bias towards Islam and its founder.

Islam doesn’t oppose the freedom of expression. However, to ridicule and insult the sacred elements in the name of freedom of speech can under no circumstances be condoned. The similar views were expressed by Pope Francis while speaking about the Paris attacks in January 2015. He said: “there are so many people who speak badly about religions or other religions, who make fun of them, who make a game out of the religions of others. They are provocateurs.”

Read more: French President Macron provokes Muslims worldwide by defending publication of blasphemous cartoons

Responding to the publication of blasphemous caricatures of Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) by Jyllands-Posten; some dignitaries not only condemned the publication but also emphasized the restriction of the right of freedom of speech too. Jack Straw, British foreign secretary remarked: “there is freedom of speech, we all respect that. But there is not any obligation to insult or to be gratuitously inflammatory. I believe that the republication of these cartoons has been insulting; it has been insensitive; it has been disrespectful, and it has been wrong”.

The U.S state department condemned: “these cartoons are indeed offensive to the belief of Muslims.” Spokesman, Kurtis commented: “We all fully respect freedom of the press and expression but it must be coupled with press responsibility. Inciting religious or ethnic hatred in this manner is not acceptable”.

Read more: Turkey accuses French President Macron of sowing Islamophobia

Islam too teaches the principles of tolerance and co-existence, to live and let live. It discourages the defamation of other Gods and religious symbols teaching respect to mankind (Quran, al-Anam, 6:108).

To encapsulate, defamation of sacred elements under the pretext of freedom of expression cannot be justified. Therefore, the U.N, the European Union, and international human rights commission in order to resolve this highly sensitive issue should exert their clout to inhibit and discourage such practices in the future.

Abdul Rasool Syed is a Legal Practitioner & columnist based in Quetta. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

 

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