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  • Aslam Abdullah

Does the World Care for Free Speech?


The next few weeks belong to Satanic Verses and the author Salman Rushdie. People will discuss the need to defend freedom of speech, and many will identify Islam as the main impediment in this struggle. Muslims will quote the Quran and the saying of the prophet to reject the accusation. The UN and the world's major countries will condemn Muslim's attempt to silence free speech, and liberals and conservatives will congratulate each other for identifying the natural enemy of freedom: Islam.

Violence against people with whom you disagree was never an appropriate response. It makes no difference if one tries to justify it in religion, ethnicity, culture, or nationality. Violence is beastly, and it negates the idea of civil society.

Yet our world promotes and encourages violence under any pretext. For example, you become an outcast if you criticize Israel and question its apartheid policies in the US and the Western world. In India, if they catch a Muslim or Dalit with a cow in certain states, they lynch you, and in the Middle East, you dare criticize the power elites; you spend the rest of your life in prison if you are lucky.

Murders of opposition leaders, incarceration of people with the voice of dissent, banning of books, harassment of writers, and constant attack on them are some common tactics the power elites and intelligence agencies have applied for several centuries. When they fail to silence free speech, the power elites resort to violence, always.

Last year, the United States banned 1586 books, and the world killed 11 journalists while detaining over 200 of them. India's Hindus killed hundreds on suspicion of smuggling cows, and in Pakistan, scores lost their lives and property for alleged blasphemous statements against Islam and Muslims. Israel does not allow its challengers to survive, as it kills them at will.

What happened with Salman Rushdie was wrong. Regardless of his ideas and opinions about Islam, he has a right to express himself fearlessly. The response to negative thoughts is not violence or banning or burning the books.

But, our world is selective in choosing who to ban, imprison and kill. No religion or ideology is immune from making this choice based on its interests defined by its dominant power elites. Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Communism, and liberalism have their share in killing dissidents and banning books. Still, the power elites have chosen Muslims as the main enemy of freedom and violence.

It is a power play, and Muslims must be aware of it. Islam asks its adherents to take a principled stand on human life. It condemns violence and calls for the security of life. It is the simple message Islam promotes because it believes that life is a gift from God and deserves to live.

The one who attacked Rushdie forgot this simple Islamic message, and he will now face the consequences of his action in this world and the hereafter.

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