Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Unacceptable Freedom! | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Following the crisis of the cartoons insulting the Prophet of Islam, our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), and their repeated publication in a provocative and despicable way comes a film by the right-wing fanatic Netherlander Deputy Geert Wilders.

It is a film that is very insulting to Islam and the Holy Koran and was released on the internet so as to ensure the largest possible unrestricted audience. A Netherlands website has now followed its example and is releasing a video also insulting the Prophet, and is getting material and moral support from the right-wing and Christian fundamentalist forces.

One must say that there is a difference in the reaction of the government of Denmark and that of the government of The Netherlands. The latter immediately condemned and censured Deputy Wilders’s actions and said it does not present the true picture and does not help. But there is a fundamental problem in the relationship between the principle of “freedom of opinion” and insulting religious symbols. Insulting the Prophet, the Koran, and the religion of Islam “alone” time and time again cannot be considered freedom of opinion when it in fact turns into a freedom for insulting and the right of contempt. This (freedom of opinion) argument cannot be acceptable when it is codified. For example, any insult to the Jews as a people or religion and considering this “anti-Semitism”, the official term adopted as argument on which the first world agrees, is criminalized and anyone who does this is undoubtedly considered a criminal par excellence.

This issue does not stop here. In the 1980’s, outlawed gangs from the extremist right-wing American fundamentalism bombed quite a number of abortion clinics, killing and injuring the doctors and nurses working in them, on the pretext of defending the teachings of the Bible and Isa [Jesus Christ], may the peace be upon him. When a newspaper prepared a cartoon of Christ with a crown of dynamites on his head, the chief editor expressed his deep dismay with the idea and prevented publication of the drawing on the pretext that this would wound and insult the Christians, which was therefore an attack on a religious symbol and unacceptable. There are many “precedents” in the Western judicial legacy illustrating that there is no absolute “freedom” without a ceiling and there are many precedents supporting the view that the punishment of any crime against any religion or a symbol of it should be as the one for this kind of crime.

Yes, there is a difference between the reactions of the Danish and Netherlands Governments. There are yet other steps that need to be taken. The EU, which has a population of more than 490 million and preparing to receive 60 millions more should Turkey join it, has to lay down the bases for coexisting with Islam and respecting its symbols (from the premise of the same freedoms given to the Jewish religion for example). The freedom of opinion argument which turns into the freedom to insult deliberately becomes a cause and a policy that cannot be accepted and therefore cannot be defended.

Dialogue between Islam and Christianity is needed. The results of the meeting between the custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and the pope of the Vatican are appearing one after the other and therefore the least that the EU must do is follow a moral approach in which it announces the criminalization of any attack on a religious symbol, including all kinds of Islamic symbols. This is a step for which there has been a long wait.