Free Speech: Fake News, Hate Speech and Blasphemy?

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Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

If hate speech can be correctly identified and adequately prevented by all tools at our disposal, in the Western countries, whether against the Jews, the Muslims, the Christians, any other faith or lack there of, we would have created a perfect society. But, we are a long way from that utopian ideal at the present time.

A 42-year-old man who burned a Quran and posted a video of it on Facebook has been charged with blasphemy in Denmark, a striking decision by prosecutors in a country that is largely secular but has grappled with the role of Islam in public life.

The decision stunned many Danes: No one has been convicted of blasphemy in Denmark since 1946, and the country has a long tradition of free speech; burning the flag is not a punishable crime.

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We want to preserve freedom of speech yet differentiate it carefully from hate speech

Simmering tensions between religious sensitivities and free speech have been a theme in Denmark since 2005, when the newspaper Jyllands-Posten published 12 cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. The depictions outraged many Muslims, who consider such representations to be blasphemous.

The controversy led to deadly riots, attacks on Danish embassies in the Middle East and a trade boycott against Denmark. But Danish prosecutors at the time refused to charge the newspaper’s editors with blasphemy.

The decision to charge the Quran burner was made by a regional prosecutor in Viborg, on the Jutland peninsula, and had to be approved by the country’s attorney general.

The blasphemy law has been invoked only a handful of times since its creation in 1866, most recently in 1971, when two people broadcast a song mocking Christianity and stirred a debate over female sexuality. They were acquitted.

The very fabric of Pakistani society has been destroyed by the Blasphemy Laws enacted by General Zia-ul-Haq in 1986, to justify his martial law and usurpation of power from duly elected leader, by appealing to the Muslim sentiment of the masses. Denmark does not have to go down that dirty road. The Muslim Times has a large collection of articles about blasphemy and a large majority of those are about Pakistan.

Republican Candidate Donald Trump Takes Part In Televised Town Hall In Green Bay

President Trump has called CNN “Fake News,” and others have accused his team of spreading lies as “alternative facts”

CNN and other news outlets were blocked on February 24th, 2017 from attending an off-camera White House press briefing that other reporters were hand-picked to attend, raising alarm among media organizations and First Amendment watchdogs.

The decision struck veteran White House journalists as unprecedented in the modern era, and escalated tensions in the already fraught relationship between the Trump administration and the press.

The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Politico, BuzzFeed, the BBC and the Guardian were also among those excluded from the meeting, which was held in White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s office. The meeting, which is known as a gaggle, was held in lieu of the daily televised Q-and-A session in the White House briefing room.

President Trump has been accusing these conventional media as “Fake News,” and there is evidence, covered well in main stream media since the USA Presidential election that he may actually owe his victory to fake news created and promoted in Facebook and other social media.

Hate speech and propaganda in 2016 by the right wing politicians during the year and since has created an atmosphere of xenophobia in the country and there has been well documented rise in antisemitism and hate crimes against the Muslims or Islamophobia and xenophobia.

The most bizarre thing happened last week.

BBC reported on Feb 25, 2017 that India has expressed shock after the fatal shooting of an Indian national in the US, amid reports that the attack may have been racially motivated.

Srinivas Kuchibhotla died shortly after Wednesday’s attack at a bar in Olathe, Kansas. His friend Alok Madasani, also from India, and an American were hurt.

Adam Purinton has been charged with premeditated first-degree murder.

The killing dominated news bulletins in India and social media, where some blamed Donald Trump’s presidency.

Mr Kuchibhotla’s wife, Sunayana Dumala, described her husband as a “loveable soul”.
Who were the victims?

Speaking at a news conference, she described the US as “the country that he loved so much” and called the shooting a “hate crime”.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said that any loss of life was tragic but that it would be absurd to link events to Mr Trump’s rhetoric.

The FBI is now investigating possible motives for the crime at Austins Bar and Grill, with race among them. Witnesses said that just before opening fire the gunman shouted: “Get out of my country.”

A barman also told local media that the attacker used racial slurs before the shooting on Wednesday night.

Mr Kuchibhotla and Mr Madasani, both aged 32, were engineers at US technology company Garmin. The two studied initially in India and later took postgraduate degrees in the US.

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Adam Purinton was arrested five hours after the shooting; for shooting the Garmin’s engineers

If Adam Purinton had been a Muslim looking guy with a Muslim name, the main stream media would have wasted no time in investigating, with saturated coverage round the clock for several days, as to what motivated his murderous behavior. But, in this case given his American name and possibly Christian background, it has been three days since the crime and I have not heard any significant discussion in the main stream media about his religion or ideology!

Why this double standard?

What is the solution in our global village with social media and instantaneous spread of news of the menaces of hate speech, fake news and restriction of free and peaceful speech, by accusation of blasphemy? The rest of the article suggests a possible solution to these issues.

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US Supreme Court

The Holy Prophet Muhammad has been  recognized as one of the great law givers, since 1935, by the US Supreme Court, the highest court in the land.

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A frieze, designed by Adolph Weinman, on the north wall of the US Supreme Court depicts 18 great lawgivers of the Middle Ages. This includes the Holy Prophet Muhammad. To me it is a great compliment for the Prophet, but some think of it a blasphemy as a statue of the Prophet has been made. I prefer the positive aspect that it recognizes Muhammad in a very big way

The Prophet is holding the Quran in this frieze, he called the Quran as his greatest miracle, the sword held by the blade depicts self defense and law and order.

May be the Quran has something to tell us to solve the pickle that we are in with fake news, hate speech and blasphemy laws?

The Holy Quran was recently applauded as a landmark contribution in an exhibit to ‘Words of Justice’ by the Harvard University Law School. The verse that they highlighted was the following:

O ye who believe!
Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses
To Allah, even as against Yourselves, or your parents,
Or your kin, and whether
It be (against) rich or poor:
For Allah can best protect both. (Al Quran 4:135/136)

If the two parties in the US Congress and the Senate, namely the Republicans and the Democrats, did not always or at least often, vote along the party lines and stood for Justice and the grieved and the vulnerable, we will not see as much political chaos in the country as we see today. If enough media sources commit themselves to the truth relentlessly, rather than the party line or their own short term interest, to boost the ratings, no such thing as “fake news,” will survive the light of the day.

If the media will not have double standards and as intensely as they investigate the religion of the Muslim lone wolf terrorists, they should also investigate the Kansas killer mentioned above, the Norwegian terrorist or one who recently killed six Muslims in Quebec, Canada. And may I also suggest equal time and emphasis on the national media, to avoid condemning one religion above all others in a subtle fashion.

If the media and courts apply the simple rule that what cannot be said against the Jews and would be considered anti-Semitic and hateful, should not be allowed against the Muslims, for that is hate speech. If funding of terrorism is the worst possible crime and it should be, funding of hate speech against the Muslims should also be outlawed, to ensure the safety of the Muslims and maintain social cohesion in the Western countries.

The holy Quran says about the healing power of the high level of truth, it sates:

O ye who believe! Be cognizant of your responsibility to Allah, and say the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. As a result Allah will bless your works and your affairs will be streamlined. (Al Quran 33:71-72/72-73)

About hate speech Allah says:

Allah likes not the uttering of unseemly speech in public, except on the part of one who is being wronged. Indeed, Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing.  (Al Quran 4:148/149)

In conclusion, let me quote a saying or Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him, against hate speech:

Abu Hurairah relates that the Holy Prophet said: He who believes in Allah and the Last Day should honor his guest; he who believes in Allah and the Last Day should  join the ties of kinship and he who believes in Allah and the Last Day should speak beneficently or keep quiet. (Muslim)[1]

Reference

1. Gardens of the righteous; Riyadh as-Salihin by Imam Nawawi; translated by Muhammad Zafrulla Khan.  Curzon Press, Islam International Publication, 1989. Page 74.

Suggested Reading

Freedom of Speech: A Core Islamic Value!

The Muslim Times Collecting Every Thing Useful about Free Speech

Slandering one is a crime, slandering millions is ‘free speech,’ go figure

Shariah and Constitution: A Personal Journey

Shariah and Constitution by Zia H Shah

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