Of the freedom of expression -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Of the freedom of expression

By: A B SHAHID

No one can deny the importance of freedom of expression – the fundamental human right. But what many forget is a bigger reality: one’s freedom ends where the tip-off his nose ends because exercise of freedom must not hurt the feelings of others. But, in recent years, exercise of this freedom by people in the West caused frequent unrest and prolonged disruption of economies in the Muslim world.

Beginning with a book by Salman Rushdie to the latest instance – the sacrilegious video – this trend continues unchecked. US Secretary of State is right in saying that “The United States government had absolutely nothing to do with this (reprehensible) video.” No one is accusing the US government of this crime, but how did it react after coming to know about the video?

She said, “We absolutely reject its content and message … To us, to me personally, this video is disgusting and reprehensible.” Fine, if that’s the case, why couldn’t any judge in the entire US judicial system take suo motu action against it? ‘Reverend’ Terry Jones always finds it his ‘religious’ duty to lead efforts that Muslims everywhere consider sacrilegious; he has an established record in this context, but was he ever questioned, let alone punished for his actions?

These atrocities continue courtesy the ‘freedom of expression’, and are not punishable under Western laws because respect for religion is no more sacrosanct, and so doesn’t bother governments but insulting the big wigs and the royals does. No matter how many ‘rationally evolved and realistic’ (according to the West) arguments may be advanced to justify sacrilegious acts, a refusal to mend the ways of the “free expressionists” will only widen the Christian-Muslim gulf.

Sacrilegious acts – disowned by governments of the countries they were committed in – hurt the image of those countries over the years and the Christian-Muslim divide (a shameful failure of regimes everywhere) only widened. Yet, no Western government curbed this trend.

Even the UN didn’t feel obliged to act. This has more to do with the belief that, in its present divided and dependent state, the Muslim world can’t hurt Western interests. Upholding the freedom of expression is a ploy, otherwise Julian Assange would be free.

But realities are changing. Indeed the resource-rich Muslim world supplying the West with not just raw materials and energy, but also value-added goods, is in turmoil (courtesy the West-inspired Arab Spring), but so is the near-bankrupt West (except in lethal weaponry). It is time governments everywhere limited the freedom of expression in the context of religion so that, together we focus on real issues – population rise, water and crop shortages, pollution, and the spread of deadly diseases.

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