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Friday, September 25, 1998 Published at 15:30 GMT 16:30 UK


Talking Point


Should Islam allow more free speech? Your reaction

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In order to allow a free speech one must understand what free speech is. Are we talking about a free speech that would violate the very basic rights of one's faith? The answer to your question is "no" if it is going to disrespect or insult one's belief or culture or values. And that is what Salman Rushdie did.
Said Farah, Canada

There's a big difference between freedom of speech and what Rushdie did. In Germany, proclaiming that "the Holocaust never happened" in your writing will land you in jail. Rushdie's book should not have been published
Ya'kub Jasinski, Canada

Islam does allow full freedom of speech but a Muslim is not allowed to say or write bad words about God or His Prophet Mohammad. If one says or writes things like those written by Mr Rushdie or Ms Taslima Nasreen it is a blasphemy and is called Dhariya and there is death penalty for Dhariyas only in Islam.
Qamar Ahmed, Pakistan

There should be more free speech...it's our birthright
Aneesh Bhatia, India

This question is nonsense. It already assumes that Islam does not allow freedom of speech. Islam allows freedom of speech to a great extent. One of the basic teachings in Quran is to 'think and question'. Obviously, there has to be a limit to how "free" your speech should be. Keep in mind that "Your freedom ends where my nose begins".
Abu Adil, USA

If one does not accept that Islam should allow free speech, then one must accept that it is all right for religious leaders to condemn to death those whose speech is considered to be offensive. Within the framework of a particular religious belief system it may be argued that since the particular religion is an absolutely correct model of existence -the ultimate truth - it is justifiable to kill those who cast doubt on the validity of the religious orthodoxy. Witch burners and Spanish inquisitors no doubt felt that their deeds were completely justified. And it is precisely the fact that witches were burned and heretics tortured and murdered by members of a particular orthodoxy that makes the right to free speech more important than the right to be protected from offensive speech. That which is considered to be offensive in a particular here and now may later be considered no more offensive than the suggestion in modern day Spain that the earth rotates around the sun.
Alan Murphy, USA

I think the question should be that writers such as Rushdie should have a better understanding of what they are writing before putting it to paper. Freedom does not mean the freedom to do or say anything. It means having and providing respect to each other. Without respect for each other such instances will continue to occur.
Khurrum Bhutta, USA

In my opinion Islam does allow free speech. But, free speech does not in any manner mean ridiculing or making a mockery of any religion. Religion is people, and we should respect people's ideologies and beliefs. What Mr Rushdie did was hurt people's feelings. Freedom of expression is not hurting people's feelings but actually understanding them and making proper judgements about them.
Srimal, USA

The question should not be whether or not Islam should allow more freedom of speech, but whether or not Islam should allow people to insult or disrespect or degrade it.
Every ideological entity will enforce it's right to self-preservation and self-defense when it is insulted or distorted. Freedom is being allowed to do or say as you please, but do not expect silence in return. Rushdie has as much Freedom to Insult as Khomenei had Freedom to Condemn.
Nadeem Ahmed, USA

There are many different kinds of ways people express their ideas, speach being the most common. However, there should be, as with any other form of expression, restraint and respect. True, without free speech many ideas might not have been conveyed. The right to challenge the mindset of the times is a key to changing our world for the better. I as a Muslim believe the Quran challenges the non-Muslims a countless number of times.
However, it has ordered us to conduct discussions in an orderly and respectable manner. Nowhere is it ordered for us to ridicule the Jews/Christians or the Prophets. That is the reason why Islam does not allow offensive remarks by both Muslims and Non-Muslims. How would the people in a funeral feel when outsiders refuse to turn down their radios near a funeral parlor, where the feeling is of sorrow and loss.
How would a Sunday Congregation feel when after receiving its weekly dose of spiritual uplift, once outside find someone yelling obscenities at them. Technically that is 'free speech' also isn't it ?? Would you stand it if your religious services/rituals were disturbed or desecrated? What about someone setting a cross or David Star on fire in front of your places of worship ? I don't see any difference.
In Islam, Muslims are forbidden to insult non-Muslims in a mocking manner. Unfortunately, today many Muslims do not follow these rules. However, this does not let any one off the hook. If your free speech clause was so perfect, why are former spies put in jail for revealing to the public the secret service's dirty laundry ???
Taimur Hassan, USA

The Islamic nations are their own rulers. The West cannot determine what or how these nations do inside their own borders, with their own religion. Only if their actions threaten the peace and stability of the "FreeWorld", then we may act.
Their religion is their business, so we should stay out of it.
JK, US

Islam tends to lean more on scriptures than an individual's experiences which makes it hard for Muslims to ever express their opinions, based on their experiences.
I think every religion had some past rigidities that they have overcome over time, but it seems impossible for Muslims to even mention reform in their midst. It is unfortunate that there is a siege mentality amongst Muslims even in countries with islamic majorities.
Ram Chander, USA

It is not fair to judge Islam by standards established through a Western bias. Western ideals are established by assumed morals and values, subject to the whims of people. Islam's values are of Divine origin, not altered by the whims of the times, but consistent and comprehensive throughout all time.
Rehan Khan, USA

There is a difference between free speech and insults towards God and religion.
Jason Archer, England

Islam is one of the best things that ever happened to human beings. Islam gives us freedom better than so-called freedom of the 90's. Islam gives freedom with respect to others and that is what many non-Muslims don't understand.
Muhammed AL-Ansi, Yemen

Freedom of speech is a relative term. What may be freedom in one country or culture or faith, may be crime in another. It is a universal understanding not to exercise freedom of expression to the extent of hurting or insulting people of different cultures.
Ra Sheikh, USA

As a British Muslim I have very little sympathy for fundamentalism. I believe the Koran should be open to criticism, even though we believe it to be the direct word of God. We need to allow for dissension and tolerance. It harms no one and cannot possibly harm the faith of believers.
Aneeza Pasha, Britain

Freedom of speech is just a theoretical concept that only suits fairy tales. If the speech does not offend the ruling party, nor undermines their ideology, then a person may be "free" to speak. But when it does offend those in power, may it be in the West or West-dominated East, then the government body uses all its forces to take away that freedom of speech. The best example is the ban on Louis Farrakhan while giving a green light to other racist organisations to take part in elections, or Salman Rushdie for that matter.
Abuz-Zubair al-Azzami, UK

Islam is a relatively simple faith that allows free speech; it is not Islamic principles that should be questioned. It is the Muslim leaders and Muslim menfolk that have unfortunately abused their own positions, in the name of Islam or at the expense of Islam, that should be asked this question.
I can sympathise with you for perceiving things that we see or hear around us in a certain way. My regret for the human race as a whole is that even as we approach the 21st Century, we (as the human race) are still not able to understand each other's cultures. I suspect that is because we are still tempted to use one value system against which to measure all other value systems.
Abdul-Gafoor Yakub, Seychelles/USA

I wish to make an interesting observation on the comments received so far on this issue. The stance of the people who support freedom of speech is as strident and unyielding as that of the religious zealots they oppose. Ironically, in their pursuit of "freedom", they themselves assume the roles of oppressors who tolerate no dissent. What we need is a compromise; for the West to realise that different cultures carry different norms that deserve understanding and respect, and for the Islamic world to bring its own house in order. However, an imposition of any standard would only lead to a repetition of sad episodes that human history is full of. Did not Communism or Nazism start with a promise of liberty and the inauguration of a new era? Were the goals of colonial expansionism not justified with the glimmer of a promised land? We, as humans, have enough experience at our disposal not to the take the easy way of generalisations and stereotypes. Instead, we should use the resources available to us at the turn of this century to educate ourselves about each other. Let us not be superficial in our judgements. The diversity of human cultures across the globe is our shared heritage, let us cherish it, and not destroy it.
Wasiq Bokhari, USA

The freedom to express yourself also carries the responsibility of morality and consideration.
H Graff, US

Islam allows all sorts of freedoms within boundaries, including the freedom of speech. But as you mentioned even some of the western countries who claim to be champions of free speech, why put a ban on pornography and racist materials, which show clearly that you have to have some limits for everything. The concept is the same in Islam - FREEDOM WITHIN LIMITS.
Waleed, US

I think your question is asked incorrectly. Islam allows free speech. The question is more, "Should countries that profess to be Islamic allow more free speech?" The answer to this question is YES. Feminist Muslim writers should be able to freely discuss Islam, and question some of the practices carried out by so-called Islamic nations. However, Islam itself is not opposed to free speech.

Something I think needs to be mentioned regarding the Rushdie affair... In Islam, restrictions on fiction and non-fiction differ. Many, mostly Westerners, view the death sentence on Rushdie as ridiculous. They feel that Rushdie simply wrote a story, what harm is there in that?? However, an Islamic perspective says that fiction can be more dangerous than non-fiction. Non-fiction, meaning the supposed truth, can be rebutted, criticized, attacked with facts and numbers and, quite simply, the truth. However, a story cannot be similarly attacked. People read stories and knowing they are stories, intend to view them as truth. Therefore, attacks on Islam or Muhammed in stories are very difficult to respond to. Rushdie knew the importance of his attacks on Muhammad in his book. He knew the response it would generate. He was not innocent. And yet he decided to write what he wrote anyway. In fact, he wanted this response. He wanted to push peoples' buttons. I really do not believe that the Rushdie affair is a good example of "free speech" and Islam.
Kristin Dieng, USA

Islam is about freedom and peace. Islam means peace. When Muslims greet each other he/she says "salam aleykum",which means "peace with you". Unfortunately, western mass media ( I don't know why) have been propagating a wrong understanding of Islam. Religion has nothing do to with killing or terrorism. People very often manipulate innocent religions, they take advantage of what is sacred on behalf of their own personal interests. Unfortunately. Is it freedom or anarchy, confusion or something else? There is no doubt, that freedom exists but it's limited. I think that we talk about freedom but forget about responsibility of what we are doing or saying. Freedom has been guaranteed by God Himself (Islam, Christianity, Judaism) but at same time we are responsible for it.
Farzana, Poland

The claiming by a minority of so-called 'intellectual' writers of the right to free speech demonstrates a great truth. Namely that the taken unto oneself of 'rights' is more often than not at the expense of someone else. No right is absolute - it must always be measured against the 'rights' and values of others - even if they are values that are not shared. I am a Catholic, but I respect my Muslim brothers to the extent that I would never seek to impose upon them my values. Mr Rushdie and his cohorts demonstrate another great truth - there is no one as intolerant of others as a liberal.
Peter Allingham, UK

There is no such thing as freedom of speech. If some one slandered the church for its beliefs and Jesus then I am certain that there would be action against that person. The Muslims are only protecting their religion.
Asma, UK

Islam seems to have a poor image in Europe and the USA. It would be sensible to allow Islam to be able to explain its philosophy more fully to non-Islamics as it would allow greater understanding of the religion.
PJ Hughes, UK

The topic shouldn't be applied to any one party. Free speech, it appears, is a doubled edged sword. Free speech doesn't really appear anywhere in its true form does it? There is censoring everywhere to an extent and I don't think free speech will ever appear anywhere as people will always find too many pros and cons for it. While insults to anybody can be construed as wrong, I think that this issue was taken in the wrong context originally. "The Satanic Verses" is a novel, a work of fiction and the author, while responsible to a degree for the behaviour of his characters, shouldn't ultimately be held responsible for their actions. A bit off-subject I know but it's something I had to say.
Nikki Bennet, UK

If freedom of speech is what the Western world stands for then why is Mr Louis Farrakhan, the leader of Nation of Islam, banned from entering the UK? After all, he is exercising his freedom of speech. On another note why did Maggie Thatcher ban Mr Wright, the author of 'Spy Catcher'? After all he was exercising his freedom of speech.
What we see here are two of the many examples of 'double standards' to be found on the issue of freedom of speech. Wake up believers of freedom of speech; no such thing exists if you analyse it.
S Mughal, England

Islam has its unique freedom of speech that should not be measured by western standards, despite the fact that westerners use a double standard when looking at Islam and Muslims. Westerners look at Islam and say that it does not allow for much freedom of speech and that the freedom of individuals is being suppressed. Meanwhile, Muslims look at westerners and say that they have exceeded the limits of freedom. Although some regimes governing Islamic countries do not allow for much freedom, I believe that Islam (as a religion) has given Muslims the freedom we need. We cannot blame Islam for that and question whether it should allow for more freedom. As I mentioned, ISLAM HAS ITS OWN UNIQUE FREEDOM OF SPEECH.
Mohammad, USA

I am not a Muslim, but as a black man living in Britain I am amused at how the 'west' chooses to tell everyone else how to run their countries and religions. Countries like Britain and the USA, who as nations have no deep religious beliefs, could never understand the depth of the insult Mr Rushdie cast on Islam. Mr Rushdie lives and profits from a religionless society and he and others like him see the rest of the world as Bible or Koran thumping zealots. Clearly the west cannot understand the passion with which Islam is felt by its believers. The amusing side is that westerners are as much zealots in their own way and have proven that they will kill. The recent World Cup finals are as much a religion for Europe as is the Super Bowl for the Americans. Somehow I think Islam is far more useful and important than the two games. Perhaps it is the west that must learn to be more accepting and respectful of other people's traditions.
Paul Lawrence, UK

Freedom of speech that is exercised in a way that takes care of people's sensitivities and that enhances the thinking process should be allowed. Making a mockery of the belief of Muslims in the name of freedom of speech and novel writing is nothing more than lame excuses. There are better ways to express one's artistic abilities than to write and talk.
H Kanani, Canada

I definitely think, as an Arab-American, non-Muslim, that Islam does indeed NOT allow enough freedom of expression as it should by the tenets of Islam. The fringe elements, and a religious establishment that is indulging in non-democratic views are the tarnishing element in Islam. Hopefully modernisation will help the Muslims out of their current predicament.
Mark, USA

Followers of Islam must be more secure with their religion. After all, the religion has been around for 1400 years and a few comments will never hurt their faith so long as they are more open and responsive to free thought.
Salmon, Malaysia

You have to differentiate between what Islam says and what some ignorant fanatics say who do not even know the basics of Islam.
Dr Elmasri, USA

I am a Muslim and I personally think that Islam as a code of life and as a religion offers freedom of speech. However, insulting the religion in one way or the other is not acceptable to followers of any religion including Muslims, Christians, Jews etc, and should not be permitted. I have not read Mr Rushdie`s book and have no desire to read it, but his book definitely expresses total disrespect to a large number of Muslims who firmly believe in their religion, and he surely cannot expect to be respected for disrespecting others. As Muslims we are not allowed to insult other religions but we cannot let others insult Islam. Now about the freedom of speech! In the United States, where there is freedom of speech, a basketball star, Dennis Rodman, was fined thousands of dollars and suspended from a number of games after he made insulting comments about the Mormon religion in Utah. He was officially made to make an apology. Why double standards?
Ghazanfar Khadim, USA

When a religion and a basic human right come into conflict, there is no question as to which side should yield. Freedom of speech is an inalienable right.
Akhlesh Lakhtakia, USA

Of course they should, but before we get too righteous, let's remember that McCarthy's hearings took place within living memory, and that a US serviceman can still be discharged merely for saying he or she is gay. Meanwhile in Germany you can be prosecuted for displaying Third Reich symbols, while being a Scientologist in Germany can be bad for your career, and in France two rap singers were given prison sentences last year for singing songs that "insulted the police". And if you mock the IRA, you'd better get ready to move to the mainland UK. It's wrong to suppress speech, but every society has speech it can't tolerate. It's just that every society think that its own case is different and special, and not like other examples of the suppression of speech.
Jon Livesey, USA




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