Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Action

By A. Hameed Yousuf
The freedom of expression exercised in a mindless way by some individuals prompted some others to practice their freedom of action that resulted in the death of at least 14 people, including four American Embassy staffs, in Benghazi, Libya. This, however, is not the only damage done due to the insane action of the individuals of making a film mocking Islam and its prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Before September 11 incident of Libya, the protestors in Egypt had scaled the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and tore down the American flag and burned it. Later, people exercised their freedom of action throughout the world attacking American missions. Dozens of lives were lost and properties damaged. The world, while supporting the freedom of expression—blasphemous film— strongly condemned the freedom of action—demonstrations—and termed it an act of violence. If a person hurts someone physically he is duly condemned but the person who hurts others emotionally is surprisingly appreciated as he is deemed to be exercising his freedom of expression! Much has been talked about the reactionary protests and the men behind them but there are few who condemned the men behind the senseless provocative film. We have to better think about advocating for freedom of expression and creativity if it does not complete unless we ridicule any entity or religion. Freedom of expression should not be a free license to pass off abusive remarks about anyone you want. We do not tolerate if a passerby kicks us saying he enjoys freedom of action. Freedom, whatever, cannot be absolute. With everyone enjoying absolute freedom we cannot expect a responsible society. It is illogical to hope that someone holds on patience while others are hell bent on annoying him. If we think that provocation in the name of freedom of expression is not followed by reaction ours are senseless expectations. Nevertheless, in the case of provocative film, with the exception of unheard few the majority tends to support it. It is the men behind the film, though, who hold the responsibility for the violent reactions all over the world. They started the drama and now they have gone in hiding due to the perceived threat from individuals. Who produced the film titled “Innocence of Muslims” is still not confirmed, though. According to one account, some Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a Coptic Christian immigrant from Egypt living in America, made this film. This account goes in contrast to the reports which say the producer is an Israeli-American real estate developer. The film shot in the US was shown at a small cinema in Hollywood at the end of June. Two trailers, originally in English, were released on YouTube way back in the first week of July, 2012. Then clips were dubbed in Arabic by Coptic Christian Morris Sadek—an Egyptian-American lawyer and a vocal opponent of Islam—to bring it to the attention of Arabic speaking Muslim world. Interestingly Sadek’s Egyptian citizenship had previously been revoked for promoting calls for an attack on Egypt. It is reported that on September 6, 2012, Sadek sent out mails to journalists containing the link to the 14-minute version of the film “Innocence of Muslims”. On September 8, 2012, a two-minute excerpt was shown on Al-Nas TV, an Egyptian Islamist television station. And on September 11 protests were held in Egypt against the film which soon spread to other nations. Reportedly Sadek was subjected to a shoeing attack by four Coptic women in Washington D.C., who shouted that "If anything happens to a Christian in Egypt, you'll be the reason". The Copts make up a sizeable Christian minority in Egypt. Sadek is the head of the anti-Islamic National American Coptic Assembly. Coptic Christian leaders in the Washington region and across the United States, however, denounced the video as highly offensive and inflammatory, and they expressed concerns that it could further inflame Muslim sentiment against Copts in Egypt. In a statement, the senior Coptic Orthodox bishop in Los Angeles said the church “strongly rejects dragging the respectable Copts of the diaspora” into the controversy over the film. “It is not the Christian way to respond to hatred with hate.” The film is a chain of activities carried out by those aiming at inciting religious sentiments of Muslims for various reasons. While Muslims refrain from saying bad words about any religion or the personalities related to it, anti-Islam elements off and on come up with what outrages Muslims. The Holy Qur’an, the Prophet Muhammad, his character and his mission is often targeted. The people who do this wrongly believe that by doing so they will downgrade the personality of Muhammad and keep people away from Islam. The film, among others, portrays Muhammad as fool, a philanderer, a womanizer, a homosexual and a child abuser. These baseless blames are meant only to irritate the Muslim community. Pastor Terry Jones, notoriously known for his mischief of burning Qur’an, has his share in promoting the film. While the President Barack Obama said that the United States rejects denigration of religious beliefs he made it clear that there is no justification for violence. In a statement after U.S. ambassador to Libya Christ Steven was killed along with three other Americans Mr. Obama said, “The United States condemns in the strongest terms this outrageous and shocking attack.” He, however, insisted that it would not threaten relations with Libya's new government. "... And make no mistake, we will work with the Libyan government to bring to justice the killers who attacked our people,” said Obama. Prior to the attack the U.S. embassy in Cairo had also issued a statement denouncing the contents of the film. It had condemned “the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims”. However, Obama’s challenger in the presidential elections Republican Mitt Romney said the timing of the statement from the U.S. embassy made Obama look weak as protesters were attacking U.S. missions. Romney said it was "disgraceful" to be seen to be apologizing for American values of free speech. Here lies the real problem. If you encourage the mischief mongers in the guise of protecting freedom of expression you are more likely to encounter the elements exercising freedom of action. Reportedly, General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, taking an unusual step telephoned the radical Florida Christian pastor, Terry Jones, and asked him to withdraw his support for the film. Jones in the past had caused violent reactions throughout the Muslim world through his burn Qur’an campaign. He is roaming freely. The United States is unable to control its citizens. A handful of individuals are defaming the whole of America and the American government is a helpless spectator.

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