A morally wrong notion of rights

Source: New Straits Times:

‘NO’ TO BLASPHEMY: Attacks on things held dear by all faiths are repugnant and merit restraint by law

No society on earth can function, and no international order can prevail, without responsible exercise of the right of freedom of speech.

THE film Innocence of Muslims has become the centre of a storm between the Muslim world and the West. This film is no different from the cartoon of Prophet Muhammad that appeared in a Danish daily in 2006, or another that was published in a Norwegian newspaper in 2010.

All three, as did the burning of the Quran by American pastor Terry Jones, triggered angry street protests in many Muslim cities throughout the world. The latest film is also alleged to have led to the attack on the United States consulate in Benghazi that tragically caused the death of the US ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three other American personnel.


The US government has described the attack on its consulate as a “terrorist” attack.

There are other incidents of a similar nature too, like the burning of 100 copies of the Quran by six US soldiers in Afghanistan earlier in February this year.

The acts against the Prophet Muhammad and the burning of the Quran have been criticised strongly by Western leaders, as have the demonstrations and the attack on the US consulate by leaders of Muslim and Muslim-majority countries.

But the problem is far from resolved. The French magazine Charlie Hebdo just published obscene cartoons of the Prophet. Others are reportedly also in the works in Europe. These acts are sure to fan sentiments in the Muslim world. A small minority will take to the streets again because, in their view, the grave provocations continue unabated and Western governments are not acting to curb such blasphemy.

Speaking of blasphemies, Bernard-Henri Levy, who is hailed in the West as the ideologue who justified and championed the attack on Libya, elevated “the right to blasphemy” to nothing less than “the nuclear core of freedom” in an interview by Christiane Amanpour on CNN on Sept 20.

Levy does not speak for all in the West. There are probably quite a few who disagree with this French philosopher’s understanding of what freedom means. But his remark brings into sharp relief the widespread belief in the West that, however repugnant, denigrating and insulting other religions, including publishing obscene caricatures of the beloved Prophet of 1.6 billion Muslims, is an exercise of free speech that is a universal value and human right that must be upheld and protected.

This notion must be challenged, not only because it is morally and hideously wrong, but also because if the present trend is allowed to continue, it will plunge Muslim-West relations to a new and even more dangerous low. The effects will be enduring, and both the Muslim and Western worlds will pay an even heavier political, security and civilisational price.

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