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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Texas Faith: Religion and the right to free speech


Freedom of Speech is understood in two different ways; one group believes that irresponsible statements must be controlled and censored by the government, whereas the other group believes in complete freedom of speech.  It’s an alien idea for us, the Americans to imagine that Government can control free speech.

Of course, freedom of speech is an inherent value of all religions, without which no religion would have come into being, or would have flourished. Islam and Christianity are the biggest beneficiaries of that freedom.

A few representatives of Islam believe in killing the person who insults the prophet, though they sound like loonies, they are not. They are (mis) guided by the books, not the Quraan, or the Hadith (sayings of the prophet), but the books written up in the last 100 years. They have a solid back up in those books, no amount of talking or quoting Quran will do any good.

Hold it, we cannot write them off, we need to work with them for the common good, and we have to be inclusive in finding sustainable solutions for the benefit of all. What is good for Muslims has got to be good for others and vice versa to sustain the goodness.  

The hypocritical righteousness permeates in all religions; no one has a monopoly over it. This past week, I have become an Ambassador of American value in engaging with people from around the world in explaining the ultimate common good that freedom of speech facilitates. I used the phrase "Freedom of expression ultimately triumphs", as a corollary to Mahatma Gandhi's "truth ultimately triumphs".

I have written a few pieces, but was asked by many to write a full paper on the topic with the intention of finding short and long term solutions. I wish I was an Ambassador to the Middle East to seek, initiate and get the Muslims scholars to issue opinions (fatwa) to be delivered in Friday Sermons across the Muslim lands, it would have handled the short term solutions. I am writing the paper to produce long term solution and seek your thoughts to be included as a quote. I am asking people of different faiths to pitch in their thoughts.

Please remember our suggestion must encourage people to consider replacing the old books with the new, they need to see the value in it. 

To give a general idea of where I am going, here is my weekly column at Dallas Morning News

TEXAS FAITH: Religion and the right to free speech

The situation in the Mideast and North Africa has been fluid the last week, and no one knows how exactly events will turn out. But it is clear that a clash of values is sparking at least part of the conflict. As our editorial said last week, if not in Libya, then certainly in Egypt and Yemen, we have seen yet another clash between religion and free speech.

One side saw their faith being defamed and believed that justified a violent response. The other side believes that free speech protects even idiotic films.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this kind of conflict. We saw it, for example, after a Danish cartoon lampooned the Prophet Muhammad. And we probably will continue to see this tension between religion and free speech.

With that in mind, here is the question for discussion: If religion is about ultimate values, doesn’t it stand to reason that some will see it as trumping the right to free speech?

MIKE GHOUSE, President, Foundation for Pluralism, Dallas.

Clash of values is an appropriate phrase in this particular context, it is just not the Muslims, but the entire world differs with us on the value of freedom of speech. It’s an American value and not necessarily a western or a Christian value.

This last week, I have become an Ambassador of American value in engaging with people from around the world in explaining the ultimate common good freedom of speech facilitates. I used the phrase “Freedom of expression ultimately triumphs”, as a corollary to Mahatma Gandhi’s “truth ultimately triumphs”.

Thanks to Google for turning down the request to yank the film clip on Innocence of Muslims from YouTube.  I hope this sends a message to Muslim nations that even the President of America cannot meddle with the freedom of speech guaranteed in our constitution, a good solid enduring system of laws. So, it is not America, it was the individual who made the movie. Most Americans, including American Muslims have condemned the trailer and the idiot who made it, but are willing to defend his right to the free expression.

However, we must value the responsibility of the state to protect her citizens, and if this is what it takes to save the lives of Americans elsewhere, it may be considered as a short measure. In long run, however, we must not compromise on free speech that is a God given right and hallmark of civilizations.

Most of the world has laws restricting the freedom of speech, Europe is no exception. One of the most common challenges I have encountered is restrictions placed on, and the punishment prescribed for questioning the Holocaust.

If religion is about ultimate values, doesn't it stand to reason that some will see it as trumping the right to free speech?

Indeed, if we lived in exclusive societies of a particular brand of Muslims, Jews, Christians and others, their brand of religion would trump the right to free speech. Thank God, America is God’s own country and diversity is an anecdote to extremism.

After so much destruction and ill-will, the Mufti (chief clergy) of Saudi Arabia and the Brotherhood have issued statements that it is un-Islamic to do harm to people and property in the name of the prophet.   The problem with the Muslim world is they do nothing when problems erupt, but American Muslims have responded instantly with advice and condemnation.

I am writing a paper on finding sustainable solutions to the clash of values.  Shamelessly Islamists like Maududi, Banna and others have cooked up books that declare if someone insults the prophet, he can be killed. Over a period of time, we have to replace those books systematically ( through mutual agreements and consensus, no impositions).

There is a clash of ignorance, as Imam of the Ismaili Muslims; HH Aga Khan explains it in another situation. In this particular situation what the Quraan and the Prophet call for is different than it is practiced. A segment believes that if someone insults the prophet, he should be killed, whereas the majority believe in freedom of faith, the God-given freedom and believe killing one person is like killing the whole humanity. The majority also believes that your mind your business and I do mine.

The only good news is that the ones involved in the violence were less than a 10th of 1% of the populace.

Muslims have failed God, prophet and their religion. Quraan (5:32) is  clear - Killing one person is like killing the whole humanity, and saving one life is like saving the whole humanity.  We need to get them and not others. Why should a religion be responsible for your bad acts?

Prophet Muhammad said, “if you are unjust to a fellow being, Muslim or a non-Muslim, by God on the Day of Judgment, I will stand against you and stand up with the victim.” That was a strong warning that these criminals did not heed.

Those who murdered Ambassador Christopher Stevens and his staff members, and those who are vandalizing our embassies were purportedly defending the name of Prophet Muhammad, but have done the exact opposite of their intention; tarnish the name of the prophet. 
Muslims have failed God, prophet and their religion.  

Texas faith is a weekly column, where panelists from different traditions respond to the issues of the day - for all the responses, please visit Dallas Morning News at  http://religionblog.dallasnews.com/2012/09/texas-faith-religion-and-the-right-to-free-speech.html/
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Note the last four paragraphs are an addition to what is in Dallas Morning News.

Mike Ghouse is committed to building a Cohesive America and offers pluralistic solutions on issues of the day. He is a professional speaker, thinker and a writer on pluralism, politics, civic affairsIslamIndiaIsrael, peace and justice. Mike is a frequent guest onSean Hannity show on Fox TV, and a commentator on national radio networks, he contributes weekly to the Texas Faith Column at Dallas Morning News and regularly atHuffington post, and several other periodicals across the world. The blogwww.TheGhousediary.com is updated daily. 

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