Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The Limits of Freedom | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Two days ago, I received a phone call from a Danish television station requesting an interview for their main news bulletin that would focus on the matter of boycotting Danish goods. Of course, the Danish argument is that the law ensures the media freedom of expression. The real state of affairs however is different because even freedom of expression has its limits and one of those limits is primarily a moral one.

In the West, ongoing debates revolve around the concepts of “freedom” and “liberty”. Naturally, nobody objects to the concept of freedom as man was granted the right of thought, livelihood, marriage and choice of religion. However, there remains a moral barrier that no one can surpass in fear of harming others. This was exactly the mistake that the Danish made. The newspaper believed that “its democracy” grants it the “right” to insult 1.3 billion Muslims in the name of freedom of expression whilst ignoring the calls of this large population. It soon became clear that even in the West, there are varying moral limits and that not all the standards are the same.

Anti-Semitism is not permitted and the Danish caricature would not have been published had it depicted a Jewish Rabbi for example. In William Shakespeare’s ‘Merchant of Venice,’ Shylock, represented as a greedy, Jewish moneylender and merchant, was described by Shakespeare in a stereotypical manner. The character’s physical appearance was described as having a big, crooked nose with large eyes and twisted sideburns. In a modern attempt to reproduce the play, both on stage and as a film production, the stars of the movie, Hoffman and Al Pacino insisted on changing the protagonist’s appearance and obscuring what they called, the Jewish affiliation. This would ensure that the play would not appear anti-Semitic.

Jews have succeeded in criminalizing any criticism that is considered anti-Semitic punishable by law. What is required today is for the Islamic institutions to exert serious efforts in the international arena to incriminate violations against the Islamic religion and Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) and to define sever punishments for such acts. Otherwise, there will be more attempts made by those who believe that freedom of expression equates the insulting of others.

The limits of freedom is primarily a moral one. Based on that, the violation of religions and their prophets has not only crossed the line but is a crime that has touched the whole world.