Freedom of the press in the Muslim world cannot be separated from freedom of expression in general. Journalists, due to their conspicuous public role, risk their lives everyday. They have been targeted and killed in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine, Somalia, Sudan and other countries. The Muslim world is not a friendly place for freedom of speech at all.
Journalists, creative writers and artists all share the same fate. The writer in a Muslim society is in shackles. Every time I put pen to paper it is a struggle against the tyranny of community-imposed self-censorship. Nowhere is Rousseau’s statement that “Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains,” truer than in the House of Islam.
Everything is a taboo. Whenever a Muslim writer takes up a pen he starts tiptoeing in a minefield. You have to follow the flag signs of religious, cultural and social taboos. You should tread carefully avoid shame, social estrangement or even death.
An interesting insight; my general reservation is the use of the term â€œMuslim worldâ€ Iâ€™m not completely convinced lumping all those countries and peoples together is wise or accurate. That aside the piece touches on something Iâ€™ve been thinking a lot about lately. The (over) reactions of the â€œMuslim worldâ€ is fast eroding serious debate, journalistic freedom and community relations.
Not a week goes by it seems without some latest outrage angering a bunch of placard waving Muslims somewhere. Of course the numbers may tell a different story but the growing perception is telling. More and more I hear people talk about â€œMuslims over reactingâ€ or â€œWhy can every religion but theirâ€™s be criticised?â€. Shamefully Iâ€™m finding it harder and harder to disagree let alone counter the views with anything remotely intelligent. Iâ€™ve heard it in conversations from random strangers, Iâ€™ve heard it in hushed tones from within the political sphere and Iâ€™ve heard it often from friends and family.
The constant curtailment of freedom of speech and expression by reactionaries is doing all Muslims a serious disservice. The fear of offending is almost becoming offensive in itself. There is a growing intolerance of the sensitivities of the communities and its peoples. Put simply, it canâ€™t go on. This doesnâ€™t mean the individuals deserve attack or abuse but it does mean that rational and humane intellectual discourse, critical or otherwise, must be tolerated if the religion is to be also. Thereâ€™s nothing wrong with making an argument against a religion or its practice as long as itâ€™s not a thinly veiled excuse to treat a group of people badly.
These are dangerous times and Iâ€™m acutely aware that my thoughts here might be perceived aggressive or even rightwing. Theyâ€™re not intended to be, Iâ€™m attempting to be honest about a growing discontent and itâ€™s implications for our countryâ€™s future. I donâ€™t want anyone to feel like they arenâ€™t a part of things, I believe weâ€™re all in this together and collectively we must struggle to find news ways of co-existing. It has to be recognised that outrage, constant and uncompromising, will give the reactionaries (of all persuasions) their ideal state of affairs.
This means more honesty and directness than certain â€œleadersâ€ or idiotic groups can cope with. It means recognising that religion has its place in peopleâ€™s lives but no one religion should determine our countryâ€™s future. It means knowing where you stand with each other will sometimes result in uncomfortable and inconvenient truths. It will also mean bravery on all sides to challenge old ideas, formulate new ones (and practical plans to implement them) and strangers actually talking with each other.
It will be hard, it will be open to abuse by the reactionaries but it will be worth it because it will be one more step towards a New Britain.
(Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan)
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Filed in: Civil liberties,Moral police,Race politics,Religion