Are Muslims entitled to be offended?

I’ve been involved with a couple of conversations simultaneously about the ongoing saga of the cartoons of (the prophet) Mohammed (pbuh) and thought I’d share my thoughts.

Some bloggers have been posting some of the cartoons to protest; one blogger actually told me that although he acknowledges that it is rude to insult people’s beliefs and wouldn’t choose to wear a T-Shirt with the insulting cartoons, if the government infringed his freedom of speech by making it illegal, it would be his ‘civic duty to wear the shirt, regardless of the offence caused.’ This sentiment and view seems to be widespread amongst non-Muslims all over the world.

Is this a tenet of civilised society?

Is free speech is a greater and a more sacred value than tolerance or respect?

When the cartoons were first published, the people protested all over the world. They demonstrated to show their anger and disgust. To the non-Muslim this may be a trivial thing to get worked up about, but to the Muslim it’s not.

Isn’t ‘civilised’ society supposed to hear all points of view and be all inclusive?I was shocked to read that many of these bloggers were appalled by the petty responses of some Muslim governments over the repeated publications. The Muslim governments haven’t done anything to represent their people’s sentiments but even so their comments beg the question: how do the non-Muslim bloggers out there expect the Muslims to respond?

Ignoring the insult is not an option. If Muslim governments are supposed to be representing the Muslims, then surely these governments should take whatever measure is appropriate, according to the majority Muslim view. Boycotts hardly damage the west. If they did, I can assure you there would be more activity between politicians on all sides. The economic climate is far too fragile to risk any real waves.

So here are a few questions I’d like to ask the non-Muslims out there:

1. If the West holds free speech as sacred, why should the Muslims have to conform to this?

Islam doesn’t allow insulting people’s beliefs and insulting the prophet of God is offensive. Free speech may be a sacred value to you, but it’s not to the Muslims.

2. Why should they measure things from the western yardstick and accept the insults?

3. If governments are supposed to be representing their people, why do Muslim governments not have the right to take any response necessary or considered appropriate?

4. Boycotts are individuals deciding to protest whilst governments sit idly. What would be your response if Muslim governments decided to listen to their people and stopped pumping out oil to benefit economies of the West?

5. If it meant dire economic consequences for western economies, would the non-Muslims out there still defend their sacred free speech

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24 responses to “Are Muslims entitled to be offended?”

  1. abuhunain says :

    Peace,

    The issue of freedom of speech, as far as I’m concerned, is simple. Freedom of speech is limited by necessity and should be. People just like to obscure and wiggle with the issue based on biases and person preferences.

    Why should it be allowed to malign and degrade religious figures? Just because Chrisitians and Jews accept this sort of thing in the media, Muslims are supposed to lower their moral standards? I think not!

    Unfortunately, Americans are too loose with their tongues and act under the guise of, “sticks and stones will break my bone but words will never hurt me”. Word hurt quite clearly. Slander, back bitting, mockery and lampooning all have their limits and conditions which should be enjoyed by those in a civil society.

    None of us would sit in a professional meeting at work and take shots and each othes beliefs. It would be considered “politically incorrect” and perhaps even a violation of Human Resources policy resulting in discplinary action or even being fired. So, why is it outside of institutions that within public media people are allowed to be far more irresponsible?

    Is nothing sacred?

  2. honestdebate says :

    Thanks for the comment abuhunain,

    good point about the work ethics, and i agree people within media especially shouldn’t be allowed to be irresponsible as their actions and choice of words have implications on public opinion.

    honest debate

  3. MarkCh says :

    honestdebate, your first four questions seem to be rhetorical, so I won’t try to answer them. As for the others (numbering them would make this easier):

    If the West holds free speech as sacred, why should the Muslims have to conform to this? – In Western countries, we have free speech. If Muslims want to live in Western countries, they must accept free speech. In Muslim countries, they need not allow free speech.

    Why should they measure things from the western yardstick and accept the insults? – Similar answer: Muslims living in the West should accept free speech as a condition of moving here. If they don’t like it, they can move to or remain in a Muslim country.

    If governments are supposed to be representing their people, why do Muslim governments not have the right to take any response necessary or considered appropriate? Muslim governments do have the right to take any response necessary, in their own countries. However, there is a diplomatic convention that embassies should be immune from attack or violence. If Muslim countries don’t want to abide by that convention, they should clearly notify Western countries to that effect, so we may remove our embassies.

    What would be your response if Muslim governments decided to listen to their people and stopped pumping out oil to benefit economies of the West? I would acknowledge their right to do so. I would not feel much sympathy when they ran into difficulties due to the consequent lack of money, however.

    If it meant dire economic consequences for western economies, would the non-Muslims out there still defend their sacred free speech? – Absolutely. My government’s duty is to secure my right to free speech. Any peaceful attempts by Muslim countries to curtail my rights should be ignored. Any violent attempts to curtail my rights should be met with force, preferably overwhelming force.

    My own view is that is not the job of governments to “represent their people”. The government’s job is to secure the rights of the citizens, individually.

  4. honestdebate says :

    thanks for the advice mark, will number them.

    So if Muslims want to live in the west they have to accept insults as part of free speech… where is the ‘freedom of thought’ here?

    this is my problem with western ideals – they’re frequently contradictory. it’s either tolerance, respect or it’s right to insult. It’s either freedom of thought, or it’s ‘think like us or leave’. And it’s surprising, because this is the criticism dictatorships get – when they (dictatorships) try and enforce ideals upon their people.

    and this is common amongst non-Muslims in the west – their attitude is, if you don’t like it here – leave! go back where you came from coz no other western country will have ya!

    the sad truth is that most people would be happy to go back if their countries weren’t such dictatorships supported by western governments.

    why should Muslim countries allow free speech if free speech means allowing people to insult beliefs?

    FYI, Accounting the leadership in Islam is a duty, not just a right. A common misconception is that free speech is the only tool to account governments. Accounting is a must in Islam and leaders in the past used to order the people to account them if they saw injustice. Compare that to the so called muslim governments now! they’re all ruling with iron fists oppressing their people. and somehow when muslims speak against free speech, it’s interpreted to mean that we want dictatorships – it’s not the case at all.

    regarding the point about diplomatic convention – well they are telling Europe aren’t they? it’s not like they’ve decided to abandon their protection and allowing people to target foreigners – they’re warning them that this is a dangerous path!

    i don’t know if you read my post about ‘who am i?’ and clash of civilisation – it may be of interest to you.

    thanks for answering the questions – glad to hear you think muslims have a right to use their resources anyway they wish.

  5. MarkCh says :

    The free speech ideal isn’t really contradictory. When Muslims come to the west, they do need to accept insults in that they need to accept that force or threats of force, either personal or through the mechanism of the state, may not be used to prevent insults. However, Muslims (and anybody else) are welcome to peacefully protest, to write letters to the editor, to boycott, to buy (or start) newspapers, etc. Only coercion is off the table. If that is unsatisfactory then, yes, people shouldn’t be here.

    Certainly some Muslim countries (eg Sudan, Iran, Syria) are not dictatorships supported by Western governments. Malaysia and Indonesia might also count as Muslim countries too – what do you think?

  6. MarkCh says :

    Now, I have a question for you: is it true that Islam doesn’t really allow for the idea that some areas of life are simply not legitimate areas of concern for governments, regardless of how large a majority of the population wants it to take action?

  7. Ben says :

    From our discussion over at my place: governments of predominantly Muslim countries are most certainly entitled to impose economic sanctions on countries they don’t like, or to withhold oil shipments for any reason whatsoever — freedom of commerce and property rights govern.

    It mightn’t be the wisest thing for them to do, economically, but there are probably enough buyers in China, India, and elsewhere that they’d do just fine.

    They’d have every right to do it (well, depending on the property rights regime in their own bailiwick — but that’s between them and their own citizens). And I’d still be just as vigilant about my fellow countrymen’s right to express themselves freely.

    (Of course, if oil prices suddenly jumped, I bet a few other people would become much, much politer very quickly.)

  8. honestdebate says :

    Hi all,

    well, i’m still not convinced the free speech deal isn’t contradictory. it’s free speech with boundaries surely (where those boundaries lie is a matter of debate). So it’s either freedom to say whatever, or not.

    But more importantly, the ‘civilised’ world shouldn’t be speaking to what’s considered the ‘uncivilised’ world about tolerance, respect, mutual respect, etc, when in their own countries insulting peoples’ faiths is defended upon grounds of free speech.

    You said when Muslims come to the West they have to accept insults – why? becuase you said say? or your government says so? Where is the freedom of thought here? So why are parts of the western world so critical of Iran when they want people living in Iran to accept what the Iranian government says? Or what the people in iran say? I’m no supporter of the iranian government, but simply trying to highlight what i see as unfair.

    the styles of protests that you seem to allow Muslims to undertake that would give them the privilege to stay in the west (write letters, boycott etc) – well we both know these won’t achieve anything. They’ll be allowed to protest and then told to feel grateful for being allowed to protest as back in the Muslim world, governments would never allow protests to take place. And then the islamophobic sentiments will be fueled by others who want to protest to show anger towards Muslims getting angry and it only leads to an acceleration of tensions – if you’re still able to follow this!

    dictatorships in iran, syria and sudan are also there with the backing of other western countries. what takes behind the scenes is usually unbelievable to the masses – and many times, we just won’t know. but i can assure you, they are not implementing islam – and many political prisoners in their prisons consist of scholars and muslims who try and exercise their duty in islam: account their rulers.

    saddam hussein was backed by the west, islam karimov of uzbekistan has wonderful relationships with both the US and the UK, pakistan is backed by the west, the rest of the middle east is no exception. how close the relationships are depends on how much of a benefit that country is to the west. Musharraf of Pakistan was the west’s best friend for a while, until he lost popularity in Pakistan and was of no interest to the western governments.

    thanks for the comments though. I dont’ mean to undermine the other bloggers – it’s just nice to be able to chat to someone without hearing swears and insults or ‘I can say this coz this is my blog’. am trying not to judge all non-Muslims as people who hate islam – and i hope you’re one of them.

    honest debate.

  9. honestdebate says :

    Hi again Mark,

    Islam doesn’t have rules where the state is the be all and end all – like in communism – where the state interferes in everything. It neither considers the individual as theh be all and end all, like under modern civilisation – where the protection of the individual and his rights is most important.

    islam sees the individual as a part of society – certain rules affect society and are necessary to regulate to ensure the smooth functioning of society. for example insulting people’s beliefs is not healthy for society, and in the public life – this is prohibited. similarly, sexual promiscuity etc are also examples that affect society.

    at the same time, the individual has a right to believe in what he believes, worship as he wishes, buy, invest, do business etc… all without involvement of teh state – however there are rules of economics that are implremented by the state . there is a verse in teh quran that states that it is prohibited for the wealth to circulate in the hands of a few. THe state has to ensure wealth is distributed (as opposed to modern capitalist states that just protect the individual causing such gaps between teh rich and the poor).

    a lengthy discussion indeed and don’t know if i answered your question – but there are some areas that are regulated by the state and others that aren’t. if it’s unclear, please ask again.

    honest debate

  10. honestdebate says :

    Hi Ben,

    glad to see an acknowledgement that some people would change their stance.

    Sadly, I’m still convinced that all this palava is not about free speech, it’s about a climate of fear – a tactic commonly used by politicians to convince public opinion. Islamophobia is very real. Fair enough you’re a staunch supporter of free speech, but as mentioned many times before, if you’re now going to tell Muslims accept it or leave, my way or the highway – then that’s not ‘freedom of thought’. So whilst you’re trying to defend one ‘civil liberty’ you’re denying some of another.

    I admit I’m a new blogger and haven’t been doing this for a while, but in the past few weeks i’ve seen and read enough to get a sense that things are far worse in the online world than out there – perhaps because people can say what they like ‘free speech’ at its best i guess. but it’s surprising that so many are so passionate about these civil liberties, but i have yet to see people critical of ‘Guantanamo bay’ – is that not a violation of the same liberties you feel strongly about? don’t you think there is a disproportionate amount of energy when it comes to criticising Islam and not enough done for other violations?

    I’m not saying you personally, i’m sure you feel strongly against guantanamo too, as do many people out there…. I just think it’s better to channel our energy on such injustices rather than fuel tensions.

    just my humble opinion though.

    thanks for contributing once again.

    honest debate.

  11. MarkCh says :

    Honest Debate, you keep objecting to us saying that when Muslims come to the West, they have to accept insults. Would it help if I pointed out that, when _anyone_ is born in or comes to the West, they too have to accept insults? Because that is what free speech means. The discussion tends to focus on Islam, but that is mainly because Muslims seem to be disproportionately threatening free speech – although Human Rights Commission bureaucrats in Canada are threatening it as well and are being insulted regularly.

  12. honestdebate says :

    that may be the case MarkCh, but the fact that other people are willing to accept things shouldn’t be the criteria for others – just because westerners born in the west take that attitude, it doesn’t mean Muslims have to.

    you’re right the discussion tends to focus on Islam, because Islam like other religions has a view on how society should be governed – not just in a general framework of love thy neighbour, but specifying (like explaining the rights and responsibilities of the neighbour in this case). make sense?

    you still haven’t answered my question about ‘freedom of thought?’ by trying to preserve one civil liberty are you not compromising another?

    honest debate.

  13. letterstoadyingdream says :

    es they have to endue the insults just as every ones else does. People insult every one’s religion in the west. Art work that is nothing more then the virgin marry smeared with elephant manure, a crucifix emersed in Urine. While I don’t agree with the sentiment it is their right to do that. Freedom of Speech has not contradictions. You have the right to say whatever you wish as long as you are prepared to take the consequences. The only appropriate consequences would be, boycotts or letters of denunciation and such. Further more while they want to compline about people making fun of their religion they are perfectly fine with the constant smearing of other religion especially Judaism. What they are doing it saying that is is OK when they do it but not OK when it is done to them that is hypocrisy. Look I think it would be a better world if people where more civil to one another but I would rather be insulted now and then rather then live under censorship. I am also an adult and won’t fly into a rage and start burning down buildings and killing people because my feelings get a little hurt. I will however fly into and rage burn down building and start killing people when they try to take away my freedoms.

    They do have freedom of thought they can think whatever they want and say it as well. No one is trying to say they can’t. However they have to except others freedoms and therfore the My way or the highway” is appropriate because you either except the freedoms and laws of the society and the country or you can move. If a law is unjust you can try to change it but to try to change a law to make it unjust (ie. taking away or limiting freedoms) then you are simply trying to denied others their freedoms, and are tying to make a unjust laws.

    On the topic of “Gitmo” they are not U.S. citizens or legal residents or even tourists and are not covered under the constitution. They are not lawful combatants, i.e. regular uniformed troops or volunteer militia covered under the Geneva Convention.

    GC 4 Article 4 states:

    A. Prisoners of war, in the sense of the present Convention, are persons belonging to one of the following categories, who have fallen into the power of the enemy:
    1. Members of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict as well as members of militias or volunteer corps forming part of such armed forces.
    2. Members of other militias and members of other volunteer corps, including those of organized resistance movements, belonging to a Party to the conflict and operating in or outside their own territory, even if this territory is occupied, provided that such militias or volunteer corps, including such organized resistance movements, fulfill the following conditions: (a) That of being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates; (b) That of having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance; (c) That of carrying arms openly; (d) That of conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.

  14. honestdebate says :

    yes they have to endue the insults just as every ones else does. People insult every one’s religion in the west

    you’re still missing the point here. Just because other people accept insult doesn’t mean Muslims have to too. Why do you insist on this? where is the freedom of thought here?

    why should muslims need your approval of an ‘appropriate response’. You suggest that Muslims can boycott or write letters as if they need yours or the wests approval before they respond to insults. this is surely bullying?

    Muslims are entitled to be offended. They are entitlted to rally their governments to take any measure they feel appropriate. The US has imposed many sanctions on countries in the past – why are Muslims not allowed to act in independence and hurt other countries economically in protest. You haven’t answered this question – would you still defend free speech if it meant dire economic consequences.

    The discussion is not whether you feel the cartoons are offensive or not. They’re not offensive to you because you’re not Muslim. They are offensive to Muslims because of their belief. Muslims don’t need approval from the West every time they want to feel offended. it’s quite arrogant of you to suggest that don’t you think?

    you admit you would burn flags and riot to defend your belief (defend free speech). But Muslims aren’t allowed to do the same to defend theirs? and you’re blaming the muslims of hypocrisy?

    It is not allowed to criticise or ridicule anyone’s religion or belief in Islam. If an individual does so, he’s fallen into the trap of acting in anger and it’s wrong. Please don’t criticise Islam on the basis of individual actions that are clearly defined as wrong in Islam.

  15. honestdebate says :

    I’m not quite sure of the point your’e trying to make about Guantanamo? Are you suggesting that there’s nothing illegal about this because they don’t fall into the categories you mentioned in your comment?

    honest debate

  16. JP says :

    I think you missed the point of what letters said he said he would riot to protect his “rights” not his beliefs, there is a difference a rights are non negotiable they are well rights beliefs are something you think and feel. You have the right to defend you beliefs but not necessarily through violence unless you are defending yourself from violence.

    Freedom of Speech is a Right not a belief. If you are not allowed to criticize any ones else’s religion in Islam why the hell do they always call every one else infidels and yes there is constant horrible things said by Muslims about other religions.

    You want offe3nsive read anything ever written by a Muslim about the Jews. That is way more offensive then any of the cartoons were and I didn’t see any one burning embassies over it.

  17. JP says :

    I think you missed the point of what letter’s said when he said he would riot to protect his “rights” not his beliefs, there is a difference, Rights are non negotiable they are well Rights beliefs are something you think and feel. You have the right to defend you beliefs but not necessarily through violence unless you are defending yourself from violence because of your beliefs. You don’t have the right to get violent over words. Well you can but some people a civilized.

    Freedom of Speech is a Right not a belief. If you are not allowed to criticize any ones else’s religion in Islam why the hell do they always call every one else infidels and yes there is constant horrible things said by Muslims about other religions.

    You want offe3nsive read anything ever written by a Muslim about the Jews. That is way more offensive then any of the cartoons were and I didn’t see any one burning embassies over it.

  18. honestdebate says :

    Hi JP,

    we’re obviously having trouble understanding one another here.

    I think you’ve missed the point JP. Leaving semantics out of it, to you free speech is a sacred principle. To Muslims their belief is sacred. there may be a difference for you as you consider belief to be variable whilst free speech is not. to muslims, belief is not variable, and free speech is a ridiculous notion as there are boundaries required in practical life.

    Nevertheless, you’re still imposing your views upon the Muslims – by telling them how to react, and not discussing the root cause of the problem – the cartoons itself. Letter is allowed to riot to defend his principles, but Muslims cannot. I don’t think i’ve missed the point here at all.

    the word ‘infidel’ has come to mean something else in modern life. if you look up the dictionary definition, it is someone who does not acknowledge your god, or rejects the fundamental tenets of your religion. the word has been translated from the FusHa (classical arabic) word ‘kuffar’. if you consider the meaning, it’s not offensive but has become to be interpreted so. I take it you’re a non-Muslim, you don’t believe in the Prophet, or Islam and hence you don’t believe in the central tenets of Islam. So you fall in that category of people. But the word is used differently today, whilst people are quite often still translating the texts literally to get the closest meaning of the Quran.

    Muslims aren’t commonly saying horrible things about other religions. Isolated incidents that you may bring out will no doubt amount to nothing in front of the collective islamophobia present in the west today.

    The occupation of Israel is what Muslims dislike about Israel and sometimes refer to them as Jews. The topics are often on political grounds and nothing to do with the belief of the Jews or Jewish religious practices. An honest research will reveal that.

    If Muslim governments represented their people, I can assure you Muslims wouldn’t feel the need to take to the streets and resort to burning embassies. (even though i’m still against violence).

    I find your patronising comment that ‘some people are civilised’ somewhat distasteful. Surely a civilised world wouldn’t insist on its right to insult people’s beliefs? And then insist that people conform to this view or leave?

    And you still haven’t explained how this enforcing of views upon the Muslims is ‘freedom of thought’?

  19. letterstoadyingdream says :

    OK how about I say it like this. In the west Freedom of thought and Freedom of Speech are held sacred and cannot in any way be censored. If Muslims do not like this aspect of the west they can remain in the countries they are from, or they have to learn to deal with it. Telling someone you don’t like there beliefs or insulting them is not censorship and they are not forcing you to change your beliefs. If freedom isn’t important to Muslims that is fine that is their belief however they cannot force others to change their beliefs or force them to be censored because they disagree.

    It is the old adage that “I might not like what you have to say but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.

    On gitmo if you take that these are Legal or even illegal combatants in a conflict while the war is still going on it is fine to keep them in camps (POW) until the end to hostilities, there is no need for trials. Unlike us when we get captured and get our heads cut off on video.

  20. honestdebate says :

    If Muslims do not like this aspect of the west they can remain in the countries they are from

    i don’t know how to keep rephrasing this.

    So you’re basically saying Muslims must accept this idea or go back from the countries they came from. So you’re telling them what to accept and what not to accept. This is not freedom of thought. This is no different to dictatorships saying to their people, if you don’t like this way of thinking, or this principle and if you don’t accept it, leave.

    Unlike us when we get captured and get our heads cut off on video.

    you’re still not making a distinction between individuals acting (albeit wrongly) and states who are supposed to be leading the world, acting. It’s a bit ironic when the US frequently criticises dictatorships, but at the same time sets up an inhumane torture camp just outside the legal jurisdiction to justify its actions. This is no different to a dictatorship changing laws to suit its needs.

    there is no rule of law. there is no tolerance. there is no respect. there is no regard for democracy in the Muslim world if democracy means people have a right to self-determination and choose their system, there is no justice and there is no equality in the world.

    There are just distractions to cover up the only single thing that really matters: hegemony and control of the rest of the world, to subjugate them to their bullying.

  21. letterstoadyingdream says :

    Yes if you don’t like the west why the hell would you move here? That is exactly what I am saying if you don’t like it why the hell would you move here?

    If you are going to move to a different country you have to except how they run things there that is the fact of life.

    You guys can keep your own countries how you like them but leave ours alone!

  22. honestdebate says :

    save your breath dying dream, i’m not living in the west.

    but that’s one hell of an intellectual debate you’ve put forward: if you don’t like it leave. that’s what iran might say to americans wanted to control it.

    you can have the last word if you want, i’m not interested in continuing this discussion. we’re clearly not succeeding in finding any platform to debate with respect.

    happy blogging.

    honest debate

  23. MarkCh says :

    Freedom of thought and freedom of action are different. In the West you are free to say that you think free speech is a bad idea. You just can’t make threats or use force to quash free speech. Is that what Muslims living in the West want to do?

  24. honestdebate says :

    no mark,

    i’ve said it many times before, i don’t wish to change the laws in the west.

    i do wish however, to highlight to the westerners to not assume the moral high ground and consider themselves as ‘more civilised’ when they choose to allow people to insult.

    I also wish to highlight that there are contradictions here – when you’re telling muslims to accept insults under free speech, you’re telling them how to think. this is not freedom of thought. there are also other contradictions on principles that the west claims to have: respect and tolerance.

    there is a trend. an islamophobic one. every thing in Islam is being attacked and trends are controlled (as much as the free world would like to think they arrived at their thoughts completely independent of other thoughts). Anti-semitism is shunned, racism is shunned, islamophobia is left to the media – which makes a lot of money by sensationalism.

    and I do agree, some Muslims react in an inappropriat way – inappropriate in Islam, which doesn’t help the situation. i’m just a Muslim trying to get people to have an honest debate and acknowledge that insulting is wrong.

    what kind of generation is going to follow when this one vehemently wants to defend its right to insult islam?

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