By Kunwar Khuldune Shahid
30 Jan 2015
Every time someone in the West ‘misuses’ their freedom of speech to promote ‘blasphemous’ writings, caricatures or amateur videos, the West’s ostensible double standards are highlighted by the incandescent Muslim world. That the ‘West’ criminalises Holocaust denial and does not consider an individual’s right to be anti-Semitic a part of freedom of speech, seemingly showcases that the torchbearers of free speech are endeavouring to promote ‘Islamophobia’ in the garb of freedom of expression.
Holocaust denial is banned primarily in those European countries where the genocide against Jews was orchestrated (Germany, Austria, Hungary, etc.) – where the resurrection of Nazism is still a concern – and not in the ‘West’ per se. Like for instance, denying the Holocaust isn’t illegal in the US, where the notorious ‘Innocence of Muslims’ video originated from, or the UK, where Salman Rushdie wrote the ‘Satanic Verses’.
The equivalent for anti-Semitism would be the anti-Muslim bigotry, oft used synonymously with Islamophobia (the ostensive fear of an ideology), which despite the rise of the likes of PEGIDA in Germany has been unequivocally clamped down by European countries – just like anti-Semitism. The anti-Muslim counterpart for mocking the Holocaust would be ridiculing Muslim tragedies like Karbala and not drawing cartoons that target religious beliefs or personalities. Neither of the two would be punishable in the US or UK, however.
The Muslim world’s discrimination against other religious communities includes barefaced anti-Semitism
In any case, notwithstanding the rather obvious difference between hate speech against a group of people and ridiculing a religious community’s sentiments, the right to not believe in a historical event – as horrific as it might be – still constitutes freedom of belief and conscience. And as long as Holocaust denial continues to be an offense in certain European countries, ‘Islam denial’ will continue to be perceived as an attack by the Muslims, majority of whom still define their existence through the theological beliefs they adhere to.
When the majority of the Muslims believe that their religious identity supersedes their ethnic, national, regional or residential identities, it should come as no surprise that any critique of Islam is perceived as an act of aggression against Muslims as a whole and not just ideological criticism.
This is why Islamophobia is used interchangeably with anti-Muslim bigotry, rendering any criticism of Islam as bigotry against the entire Muslim population of the world.
Despite the Muslim world mastering the art of xenophobia against all other religious communities, with state sanctioned discrimination and skewed jurisprudence, Muslims want a ban on all literature that questions or critiques Islam in the West. The Muslim world’s discrimination against other religious communities includes barefaced anti-Semitism that has reduced the Jewish population in Arab countries to the point of nonexistence.
On the flipside, nearly a fifth of the population of Israel, the only Jewish majority state in the world, is Muslim. Notwithstanding its war crimes, for an ostensible ‘apartheid state’, Israel grants its Muslim population more rights than almost every Muslim country grants its Jewish, or non-Muslim, population. This includes the Ahmadi Arabs who have the freedom to self-identify, and practise their religion with all the freedom that the Muslim world takes away from them. Even though there exists an obvious anti-Muslim bias in the state, the Israeli jurisprudence does not bar Muslims from practising or preaching Islam.
In a 2009 report, 67% of Israeli Jews self-identified as nonreligious or secular. A similar trend can be observed in the Jewish population all over the world, with Jews, like other religious communities, having remoulded their religious identity and united in the form of community, rather than theological adherence.
This is why critique of the Bible or mockery against Jesus Christ or Moses, isn’t considered an attack on Jews or Christians. This, in turn, has further eased the process of questioning the infallibility of religious scriptures for other religious communities, something moderate Muslims still can’t muster the courage or honesty for.
That there can still be a well-knitted religious community even if most of its members question the validity of parts of religious scriptures, or are sceptical of the theological aspects of the religion, is something that the Muslim world needs to learn from adherents of other religions.
There is no concept of a Muslim without the individual treating Islamic scriptures as the be-all and end-all of one’s identity. As long as both the moderate Muslim and the Islamists treat – or are compelled to treat – Islamic scriptures identically, the idea of moderate Islam or a cultural Muslim identity would remain an oxymoronic pipedream.
For the Muslim world to overcome its Islamist inertia, the non-literalists and the moderates need to increase in number and reclaim Islam from the fundamentalists. As long as the only thing differentiating a moderate and a radical Muslim is acting on violent scripture, and not their perception on divinity or infallibility, the moderates will continue to be a fringe minority and the reformists will continue to be dubbed ‘blasphemers’ or ‘infidels’.
The only way a tolerant and moderate Islam can emerge is when the majority of the Muslim world unites as a community that shares a lot more than just religious scriptures. When Islam will only form a part of a Muslim’s identity and not its entirety, offensive cartoons will only be considered distasteful and not incitement for terrorism.
That’s when the ridiculing genocide and mocking religious figures won’t be equated. That’s when Islamophobia won’t be used synonymously with anti-Muslim bigotry. And that’s when a moderate and progressive Islam might emerge from the ashes of Islamism.