Sunday, September 16, 2012

Freedom of speech divided

They say a week is a long time in politics, and it seems this week has been one of those. Two very different strands of the freedom of speech versus censorship paradigm emerged. On the one hand there is the video produced by Egyptian Coptic and convicted fraudster Nakoula Basseley Nakoula and directed by Hollywood porn film maker Alan Roberts at a cost of a quarter million dollar as yet another attempt to insult Muslims through denigrating the prophet Muhammad. Leaving aside the fact that the Muslim response has hardly been any more mature than when I published David Pidcock's Satanic Voices Ancient and Modern - A Surfeit of Blashphemy Including the Rushdie Report in 1992 as well as the likelihood that much of the violence has been engineered for ulterior motives which have nothing at all to do with Islam as elaborated in the more recent book Surrendering Islam - The Subversion of Muslim Politics Throughout History Until the Present Day  I co-authored with Muslim historian David Livingstone, the general response in the media has been that whilst the film is despicable, Muslims should moderate their response in the interest of freedom of speech. Google, for example, refused to take the trailer for the video off YouTube, describing it as merely an expression of a different opinion.

On the other hand there is the publication of semi-nude photos of Kate Middleton following the earlier publication of nude photos of prince Harry, both in countries who do not regard the British Royal Family as anything more than celebrities. Here the media response took a totally different tune calling for censorship and self-censorship. Of course, the British media also milked the interest in those celebrities being denigrated as much as possible, endlessly discussing the story whilst not, however, publishing the pictures themselves. The Belfast Telegraph, for example, published the front page of Closer, the French magazine originally running the photos, with the offensive pictures blacked out; most other papers did something similar. With the exception of the Sun, which published the incriminating photos of Harry, the other British tabloid papers also published the photos with key areas blurred or covered up. Had the pictures been of some lesser celebrity or a foreign, non-American, non-European dignitary, they would not have shown the same level of constraint even if the photos were taken under similar circumstances.

When contrasting the two, the uneasiness of the demand for freedom of speech as a universal human right becomes apparent. Just like democracy, which is deemed essential as long as the people make the right choices, but overthrown when they want to assert their rights against Anglo-American interests, freedom of speech is a two-edged sword: Western demagogues demand the right to insult, yet want to prevent being insulted. Now why, one ought to ask, should the yet uncrowned children of the monarch of a small island in the North Atlantic Ocean still living off its long gone history be afforded more respect than the prophet revered by a billion contemporaries on our planet? Why can you ridicule and smear Muslims unashamedly yet not voice even the mildest form of criticism of Israeli Jews? Why is the questioning of historic facts relating to the Holocaust narrative outlawed in many European countries, whilst the 20 million victims of Stalin are hardly ever mentioned and the genocide of indigenous Muslim populations continues barely noticed in one part of the world after another, Burma being the latest scene of unspeakable massacres?

The issue goes deeper than mere hypocrisy, however: it demonstrates the bankruptcy of the so-called universal declaration of human rights, which has become just another politically loaded term in the arsenal of cultural domination pursued by former imperial Western powers. Firstly note, that those rights are not universal, but the declaration is, everybody is meant to sign up to the declaration, but not everybody may be entitled to claim those rights. Those human rights postulate to protect the "life, liberty and security of person" of everyone (article 3) as well as against "attacks upon his honour and reputation" (article 12; the "his" in this article would nowadays be considered as sexist by the very same people waving the declaration in everybody's face), but in practice, some rights are "more equal than others". Man-made laws are subject to the realities of power constellations where "might is right".

In Islamic jurisprudence, there has always been the concept of the "rights of God", long before Magna Charta, bestowing upon all humans, whom God has honoured or dignified (Qur'an 17:70), an inviolable right to life, property and dignity. When Muslims demonstrate, therefore, against their prophet and religion being vilified, they are essentially defending and exercising their God-given human rights. They would also defend the right to privacy for a married couple like William and Kate, whereas in the case of Harry they would use the photos as evidence in a prosecution for fornication rather than publish them for the base gratification of tabloid readers. But since in Western media phraseology all Muslims have become subhuman and latent terrorists, we mustn't really let them speak. Let's ridicule their religion and be outraged at their response and let their protests be another proof of their inability to govern themselves, which is why we must continue to interfere and take their land and resources off them. Sure, we don't really want to profit from invading other people's countries, but somebody has to foot the bill for "keeping the peace".