(MENAFN - Arab News) LAST WEEK'S column certainly stirred the pot. I was fortunate to read many readers' comments on it, some of them a bit agitated to say the least; not to say they didn't make some very good points.
The main point was this: How can Muslims accuse the West of hypocrisy and patronizing when they themselves exemplify these traits? They can't accept any criticism of Islam while freely criticizing other religions.
Now I tend to partly agree with this criticism. In fact, I don't remember ever absolving Muslims of anything whether it was hypocrisy, double standards, or other matters. Muslims are part of our human family, and it is only fitting that they would share this family's flaws e.g. fallibility and proneness to racism, intolerance, and double standards. The West is also part of this human family, thus prone to the same ailments.
That being said, I would like to clarify one point: when I usually refer to the West, I specifically refer to the official West (i.e. governments and their supporting institutions, and mainstream media and discourse). I don't believe those are loyal representatives of Western people, since they are regularly attacked, debunked, and delegitimized by many of the people they claim to democratically represent. This is more evident today than ever.
So let's explore why some commentators see Muslims as hypocritical when it comes to free speech. Muslims certainly criticize other religions, there's no denying that. But if we focus on the content of what is being said in western political discourse and media in general, we would find that criticism of Islam and Muslims abound. Accusations of violence, and irrationality are routinely made against Muslims. The prophet (peace be upon him) and his life have been tackled in many different ways, and he has been portrayed as a political leader (a rather manipulative one) rather than a prophet sent from God. This and so much more has been circulating in the Western world for centuries.
Have you seen any protests erupting in the Muslim world over them? No, because it is not about criticism or intellectual debate; it is not that Muslims can't take criticism, because we have been taking it, dealing with it, and ignoring or engaging it and responding to it intellectually since the advent of Islam. So yes, Muslims criticize other religions and vice versa. However, intellectual debate and comparison among religions is one thing; pure insult, name-calling, incitement, and propaganda are entirely different. Do some Muslims engage in this uncivilized way of addressing issues? Absolutely, and they should be condemned mainly because it isn't the Islamic way, even when dealing with adversaries.
The recent Anti-Islam film falls under this defamatory category; something many honorable people in the world have said. One such person, filmmaker Danny Schechter called it "very political from beginning to end. It's not about free expression; it's about propaganda. The film is incitement - it's not information, it's not filmmaking and it's really intended as a technique of war making." It's quite simple really: this propaganda is not included in the right to free speech under international law. Article 20, paragraph 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states: any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law. This distinction is clear to many people because they understand the immorality and danger in propaganda, something history painfully proves. As Karl Mannheim wrote: "in any society a large part of the "moral" judgments reflect the interests of that society's power elites and controlling elements".
In our world, it appears that those in power decided it is moral and of high value to insult, denigrate, and incite hatred against Islam and Muslims; that's not news. But reasonable people realize that "Freedom of expression is indeed a fundamental human right, but it does not stand alone or above other related rights, such as human dignity and mutual respect. All need to coexist and indeed all are indivisible." If Westerners and Muslims don't understand this, the cycle will never end.