Why didn’t the State Department say this?
posted at 10:40 am on September 22, 2012 by Libby Sternberg
A Facebook friend of mine, someone I suspect is not of the same political persuasion as I am, recently posted a link to an article, “A Time for Introspection” an op/ed in the Express Tribune (of Pakistan) by Raza Rumi, director, Policy & Programmes, Jinnah Institute, Islamabad.
Though Rumi is no American cheerleader in the piece, he urges Muslims to look at their own actions before pointing the finger of blame at others for their troubles. One section dealing with so-called anti-Islam works:
Salman Rushdie’s book — Satanic Verses — sparked global outrage in the late 1980s and since then, we have increasing polarisation between those who view freedom of expression as an absolute value, and extremists within Muslims who think violence is the only way to ‘save’ Islam from such attacks. Millions of Muslims are trapped between the two ends of this hate-spectrum. Despite the offence caused by such provocation, they will not resort to violence or support wanton destruction of life and property. But are these voices represented and articulated through credible leadership? The answer is no…
Rumi takes some (to me) gratuitous swipes against America’s drone and missile attacks as well as the Palestinian situation, but then he does go on to say:
The ‘victimhood’ of Muslims is also quasi-mythical. The anti-imperial rants against the US and the West often ignore that there is little resistance to the imperialists within Islam. The imperialists within (monarchs, clerics and plunderers who exploit, suppress dissent and kill without a conscience) are within the reach of Muslims. The battle ‘within’ Islam — for reformation, ijtehad and liberation from patriarchal, violence-preaching clerics — is a far more serious one.
And finally, he concludes with:
There is much that the Muslims need to introspect about before they take bombs and bullets to express their anger on cases of persecution and blasphemy.
It might just help if they were to focus on knowledge, organised political and economic resistance, reforming their societies and reining in the clerics who have no place in Islam to begin with. More importantly, before crying hoarse about the way the world is treating them, how about allowing Muslim women their due rights, enabling non-Muslim fellow citizens to receive the entitlements they deserve; and turning towards inquiry and reason?
It was refreshing to read Rumi’s piece, even if I disagreed with parts of it. But what was even more heartening were the 65 comments, or rather, one in particular. Comments ranged from the thoughtful to the argumentative to the extremist, with more than one commenter discussing Muslim violence against other Muslims.
Pasted below, however, is the comment that stood out to me. When I read it, I thought to myself: why isn’t our State Department articulating these thoughts instead of apologizing for obscure films? Why isn’t our president standing up for an American principle in this way? Why is it appearing in a comments section by an anonymous poster? I reproduce it with typos that appeared in the original:
1. Just as Muslims believe that Quran is revealed by God, Americans believe that freedom of expression is an inalienable riht that flows to them from God and hence cannot be legislatd by a human.
2. Freedom of worship (which also includes freedom to not worship) is seen as a subset of freedom of expression. It is thus unsurprising that in countries which includes most Muslim majority countries where freedom of expression is not absolute, the freedom of worship for people not of majority faith is also severely abridged.
3. Freedom of expression is tested only during times of conflict. IT is not much of a freedom to say ” I love my mother and gaajar ka halwa”. USA does not prevent people from creating videos that offend Christians either. Please google ‘stand up comedians atheist’ and see what you come up with.
4. Freedom of expression is an empowering tool that allowed ordinary Americans to fight powerful clergy whose oppression they escaped (refer Pilgrim Fathers). Today too it has allowed gay right activists to stand up to priests who totally are against homosexuality because it is against what is stated in Bible. The opposition to gays is high among right wing Christians and this also is a huge politicial issue – yet no one has been able to muzzle the rights of gays BECAUSE of freedom of expression.
5. You have a right to be offended. You do not however have a right to ‘never be offended’. Thus a video that offends you does not violate your right.
6. Finally while you have not mentioned it, someone is sure to bring up holocaust denial laws as one form of abridgment to freedom of expression. They should be aware that there are NO holocaust denial laws in USA.
Libby Sternberg is a novelist
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