On the offensive cartoon day
So humanity has come down to this level: we are engaging in insulting internet exchanges on what millions regard as sacred. To taunt and deprecate the religious symbols of others is as vile an offense as to terrorize those who think differently about God and Holy Books.
As one who respects whatever is good in all religions, I feel ill-at ease seeing some of the caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed (pbwh) that are splashed all over the world. I am not a Muslim, but if I were one, I would feel even more hurt and enraged. I believe Islam has as many noble principles at its core like other religions; I also know that many of its followers have perpetrated shameful acts like their counterparts in other religions. Why? Because we are all humans, striving to live up to our highest potentials, sometimes uplifted in the process and sometimes mired in the ugliness of our lowest urges. And also because the interpreters of Holy Books (of all religions) often instigate their followers to denigrate others on the constraining conviction that theirs is the only true religion and holy book there is.
Free speech is the precious protection of people in some nations. Like science and enlightenment, it is not the intrinsic strength of any particular culture or civilization. It is not a genetic trait but an acquired capacity, a cultural conditioning that arises from value-instilling education. Freedom from the terror and fear of the Inquisition, of being burnt at the stake, of being ostracized or beheaded for blasphemy, apostasy, and atheism: freedom from such fears is quite recent, barely two centuries in the millennia of human history. Through the ages, people in various cultures have tried, but Europe and America were the first to achieve this fearless state, this emancipation from terrorizing tyranny that ruthlessly chastises anyone who says anything against the state-sponsored God. They achieved this after generations of struggle, for the zeal of true-believers is enormous and perniciously oppressive when they get to hold sway on the thoughts and minds of others.
Once this spiritual freedom is acquired, one feels like one has been transported into fresh and wholesome air from the stench and stifle in a dark dungeon. Not so long ago, some people naively hoped that beheading for blasphemy would soon become a historical embarrassment for all peoples, and that the freedom to say what one thinks would become as universal as vaccines and TV and other goodies that have flowed from science and enlightenment, and have been happily adopted even by those who rightly hate the West for its various misdeeds.
Every group bears responsibility for this sorry state of affairs. The West intruded into other regions of the world, largely for economic exploitation, and in the process it also marginalized and trivialized the religions and cultures of other people. The rage of Muslims provoked by the presence of armed forces from the West on their soil is understandable, no matter how much good the West may have done to enable them to exploit their own natural resources and to benefit from its technology and medicines.
A major fear now is that the Facebook explosion is but a mild version of more formidable confrontations to come between the protagonists of free speech who (from their perspective) are resisting courageously efforts to terrorize everybody in all countries into accepting Islamic rules of blasphemy, and the defenders of traditional religions who (from their perspective) are fighting back the intruders who desecrate their religious worldviews. [God knows there are many in theocratic Islamic nations who would like to breathe a freer air, and many in the secular world who would like to see greater respect shown to religious values and symbols.]
Perhaps the time has come for all to recognize that none is without a blemish. We have all sinned: inflicted pain on others, and forsaken the basic tenet of all religions: to regard fellow humans as children of the same God, described differently by different people. The time has come for humanity to proclaim itself as a single global family confronting a myriad common problems, and to engage in an embrace of mutual love and respect, while granting one another the freedom to think and behave the way one chooses, on condition we don’t intentionally hurt or harm a brother or sister.
March 23, 2010