09 January, 2015


Our Groups, TAHZEEB and PAC, have hosted threads, that saw spirited participation, dedicated to square and unqualified condemnation of the Paris shooting. I am and our Groups are stoutly opposed to violence in any form, and to promotion of discord and hatred in any manner.
See, for instance:
However, tragic occasions like the Paris carnage also serve as occasions to objectively assess the issues involved. Involved today is the issue of the nature and scope of freedom for free speech, and the manner of protest if offended.
Personally I will not even contest the accusation that Muslims in general are far more intolerant to any criticism of their faith than are most other believers of organized and structured religions. And I will also readily agree that their protest has often been violent.
Islam is the most recent of the major religions. Just as Christians have learnt to tamper their opposition and protest over the centuries, Muslims, I hope, are on the learning curve.
But are Muslims alone in restricting such free and unhindered speech? Are there other forms of press censorships? Why just faith, how about holding to scrutiny a culture, a political ideology, a state, its agencies and machinations?
Muslims have been jailed for criticizing Israel and Zionism, and for questioning the holocaust. A media mogul like Murdoch had to apologize for a mere cartoon against the Israeli PM. Can you imagine a critical, no-holds barred article, however truthful, and much less a derogatory cartoon, against Bal Thackeray in Mumbai? TV channels and newspapers have regularly censored articles against one or the other issue. Which issues do they regard as holy cows may differ but censorships, restrictions did apply most of the time?
But how do the others protest? Do they go, kill the writers?Mostly no. But often enough they preempt such publications, muzzle the press, suffocate inquiry, and distort the truth. For a chronicler of times, this is no less heinous.
Arguably no other major religious community has been subjected to such turmoil and injustice lately as were the Muslims, perhaps due to historic geo-political factors, specially due to European colonialism of the last three centuries. Most of the territories we see burning with violence today have been brutally exploited by the colonialists that today preach us tolerance and co-existence. Entire civilizations have been extinguished from Australia to Latin America by the plunderers, reducing the natives to heritage specimens. Power play takes many forms. Violence is just one.
If Iraq’s was a completely unjust invasion and massacre, Afghanistan’s was an excessive and misdirected retaliation to 9/11. Palestine – now a sort of nursery for cradling Muslim terrorism - has been a gory example of European immorality. The vulgar interference and manipulation by US and Europe in the political affairs of the Middle Eastern people and their subjugation through puppet regimes for the sake of oil and other business opportunities, has generally set the Muslims globally against the West - literally shaping up a sort of clash of civilizations.
Israeli / Zionist manipulations and sway on the international press has often withheld the truth and distorted our perception. We are either given half-truths, or sometimes completely false accounts.
Also, we notice a hugely imbalanced news coverage and disproportionate emphasis on the European white. Boko Haram, for instance, is said to have burned down an entire town killing about two thousand people this same week. This news, however, made no more than a fine print. Contrast this with even the coverage of the search of a missing accomplice in the Paris incident, and one wonders how killing can be so different, how human lives can be valued so disproportionately. Isn’t such racism an extreme form of violence, too?
Many an account has since appeared from questioning the very veracity of the Paris incident as reported, to completely justifying it. More balanced and reasoned responses have, however, agreed on the need to nail extremism, promote tolerance, and also on nuancing the criticism of faiths and its leaders.
If Mohammed’s admirers commit a crime, caricaturing Mohammed is probably not a fair thing to do. Deliberately hurting a community – and enjoying ridiculing its scriptures and icons - for no constructive purpose, is another form of violence. Ultimately, it is the intention and the sincerity of purpose that determine the validity of the action.
Freedom of speech is not an absolute, unqualified construct, and must be subjected to reasoned and dynamic restraints, quite like freedom of action, movement, stay and ownership, of keeping and using weaponry etc. Consider for example that ridiculing sitting judiciary, a mere state construct, is taboo in most countries and is subject to contempt proceedings.
Here is an alternate point of view. More citations are welcome.
In Solidarity With a Free Press: Some More Blasphemous Cartoons - The Intercept

The professed affection for offensive cartoons aimed at religions and their adherents dissipates fast when some groups are the targets rather than others.

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