Iffat Mirza, London
In every walk of life, freedom and responsibility go hand in hand. The two are inseparable. However, when it comes to freedom of speech people can be quick to forget this. Perhaps it is that they feel protected by the law or bolstered by their own convictions that they forget that actions have consequences. Freedom of speech seems to have become an increasingly complex concept in modern society. When it comes to attacking religion, it is easy to do so in the name of freedom of speech and often go overboard in patronising, and even abusive, terms, all whilst having no regard for the sentiments of millions of people across the globe.
It seems that Geert Wilders is one of these people. Having recently declared a contest to draw the Holy Prophet Muhammad (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) he has made a calculated decision to offend the Muslim world. In Islam it is forbidden to draw the Holy Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). To justify this under the guise of ‘freedom of speech’ is a complete misunderstanding of the concept. To play with the sentiments of nearly 2 billion Muslims across the globe is to make mischief, not to protect the sacred rights of speech or expression. In fact, if Mr Wilders is so concerned with the freedom of speech, surely it makes no sense to then try to ban the Holy Qur’an as he famously alluded to in the past. Surely, to ban literature is the greatest violation of freedom of speech. In this Orwellian society that Mr Wilders is devising , the words ‘freedom is slavery’ are certainly beginning to seem increasingly true, as the state will inevitably believe that government approved religions and literature are ‘correct’ and anything else deserves silencing and banning. The hypocrisy of his ‘defence of freedom of speech is astounding’.
As a student of language and literature I am very passionate about the concept of freedom of speech. I am even more so passionate about it because as a Muslim I believe that God has gifted us with the power to reason and therefore analyse situations and articulate them. The power that words and other art forms have is inspiring and it is for this reason that whilst freedom of speech must be defended, so must the sentiments of the populace.
John Stewart Mill, known to be one of the best thinkers of the 19th century, was a great pioneer of freedom of speech. In his 1859 work On Liberty, he writes:
He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion.
Mill explains the necessity to understand both sides of an argument in order to justify your beliefs. One must know the ins and outs of his opponents’ views to fully affirm why he is in opposition. It is not enough, in this right, to look towards the actions of a few so-called Muslims, nor is it enough to base his view on the stereotypes of Muslims.
Indeed, to criticise the teachings of Islam, as with any concept, one must first learn, and then understand the teachings of Islam. Perhaps then Mr Wilders would learn that he is not the first leader to defend freedom of speech, but in fact the Holy Prophet (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) stood for the populace, and not only encouraged the minorities to live and worship freely, but also instructed all Muslims to allow them to do so.
- https://www.alislam.org/library/books/Islam-and-Freedom-of-Conscience.pdf page 31
- John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1859.