By Syed Manzoor Alam, New Age Islam
August 22, 2013
Before diving directly into the topic I wish to give a long introduction in the first part, talking about other, but related issues. The first of these issues is about the controversy of the Danish cartoon. People link this issue with the freedom of speech issue, but actually this has nothing to do with free speech. And this is because every singly society in the world has certain issues that it considers taboo.
Sometimes that taboo is legally enshrined and the government says that one cannot talk about that. And every county on the face of this earth has laws directed against certain types of speech like slander, diatribe, hate-speech etc. Sometimes, it is important to note that it is not the government that sets these laws but the societal norms and cultural values. Every single society has certain issues that are considered to be taboos, and that you simply cannot talk about them or if you do, you must pay a price; may be not going to jail but you will have a social stigma attached to you, you will pay a price of your value being lost in that society.
For example in the United States if someone is a racist and in his speech he promotes racism, using the “n” word; then legally he may not go to jail, but socially he will be stigmatised. That person will be socially ostracised. In the case of India, we see a different law. According to the Indian Constitution:
“Article 19 gives all citizens the right to freedom of speech and expression but subject to "reasonable restrictions" for preserving inter alia "public order, decency or morality".
Similarly there are laws in the Indian Constitution restricting the freedom of expression:
Section 153A of the penal code says, inter alia:
Whoever (a) by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise, promotes or attempts to promote, on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community or any other ground whatsoever, disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities, or (b) commits any act which is prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities, and which disturbs or is likely to disturb the public tranquility, . . . shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.
Enacted in 1927, section 295A says:
Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of [citizens of India], [by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise], insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to [three years], or with fine, or with both.
Now coming back to the world stage, anti-Semitism is tabooed in many countries. You cannot just speak against them publicly without facing some kind of consequences. One cannot even deny the Holocaust. In fact there are 13 Western countries, all democratic, in which “Holocaust denial” is a crime, and it is punishable by being put in jail.
Every society, every country has a line that you don’t cross. It just so happens that the honour of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) does not exist beyond that line for them. They have other issues that are beyond that line.
I wonder how many people know of David John Cawdell Irving. People, especially Muslims should know about him to realise that there exists a clear double standards in the world. He is the famous- nay, infamous historian, author of 30 books, including the famous Goebbels: Mastermind of the Third Reich (1996). In some of his books, he talks about the Holocaust and he says that the figure of 6 million is too many. He wasn’t denying the Holocaust, what he was doing was to simply question the history of events( let me make myself very clear, I am in no way supporting David J.C. Irving and I am also not a Holocaust denier).
Now here lies the double standard: there was not a single person who stood up to support him, nobody said that he is a historian, he has the right to question the past, no body supported him in saying that he had the rights to write his books. In fact laws were passed against him (remember there are 13 Western countries, all “democratic” in which Holocaust denial is a crime). It is a crime to even question the number of 6 million, even if somebody says that instead of 6 million the number was 5.9 million, he is legally punishable!
Some of Jews of these countries took David Irving to jail, although he was not living there. And the court all ruled against him so much so that when he visited Austria, supposed to be a democratic, secular country, a law was already passed against him 5. The court case had already been shut, he was declared guilty. When he came to deliver a lecture, the police came and arrested him and put him in jail, only for daring to question the figure of 6 million.
Why was it that no major organisation, no major news agency stood up and said that he has the right to freedom of speech? Why isn’t he allowed to say what he wants to say? I am, once again stating unequivocally, not supporting David Irving, not am I denying the Holocaust. What I am trying to bring to the people’s notice is the double standard. Why is it that when we criticise those who make fun of our Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), we are labelled intolerant, we are labelled backward etc.
I also want to point out that just fifty years ago or a hundred years ago it was possible to say things about black people (at the world stage) or about the Scheduled Castes (in India) that you cannot say now. These people worked, they strived to make sure that these things become a taboo (in the Indian case, the Constitution of India specifically protects them and others against such diatribe). Just over 60 years Henry Ford said and wrote some things that were openly anti-Semitic.7,8 Nothing happened to them, because the time was different. What did the Jews do? They strove, and they educated the people to make these issues culturally taboo. We, as Muslims need to do the same thing.