Freedom of Speech and Expression – Hypocrisy of the Liberals.
The recent beheadings in France and the continued bigotry in India by the so-called defenders of Religion on account of any perceived insult to their Prophet has shaken the world.
Reactions – India
This is nothing new for us in India. We have been facing this situation since ages. It was as early as in the year 1927 when a book “Rangila Rasul” was published containing instances of marriages and sex life of Prophet Muhammad. The publisher was arrested but later acquitted in April 1929 because there was no law against insult to religion. Later the Publisher was murdered in Court by one Ilm-ud-din. The Indian Muslim community demanded a law against insult to religious feelings. Thus, British Government enacted section 295(A).
As recently as in October 2019 Shri Kamlesh Tiwari a politician from Uttar Pradesh was killed. These are the circumstances which led to his killing. In about December 2015, Shri Arun Jaitley, Union finance minister, issued a statements in support of decriminalization of homosexuality, in India. On 2 December 2015, in response to Shri Jaitely’s statement, Shri Azam Khan, from the Samajwadi Party, remarked that all RSS members were homosexuals because they don’t marry. The next day, Kamlesh Tiwari retaliated to Azam Khan’s statement and describing Muhammad in similar terms.
Immediately, Muslims protested all over India and demanded death penalty for Tiwari. Tiwari was arrested in Lucknow on 3 December 2015 by Uttar Pradesh Police. He spent one year in Jail being charged under the National Security Act by the State Government in UP under Indian Penal Code sections 153-A and 295-A of IPC. His detention under National Security Act was revoked by Allahabad High Court on 30th Septembe 2016.
On 18 October 2019, Tiwari was murdered by two Muslims, Farid-ud-din Shaikh and Ashfak Shaikh, in his office-cum-residence at Lucknow. The assailants came dressed in saffron kurtas to give him a sweets box.Tiwari’s aide Saurashtrajeet Singh was sent to bring cigarettes for them and when he returned he found Tiwari lying with his throat slit. According to police officials, the assailants kept a revolver and knife inside the sweets box. During the attack, one assailant slit his throat while another fired at him.According to the post-mortem report, he was stabbed 15 times. It was confirmed during investigations by the Police that Tiwari’s comment on Muhammad was the motive for his murder.
Reactions – France
The recent acts of violence in France also have the roots in the perceived insult to Prophet Muhammed.
Charlie Hebdo a French satirical weekly magazine,featuring cartoons,reports, polemics, and jokes in its edition of 9 February 2006 published on its front page, under the title “Mahomet débordé par les intégristes” (“Muhammad overwhelmed by fundamentalists”), a cartoon of a weeping Muhammad saying “C’est dur d’être aimé par des cons” (“it’s hard being loved by jerks”). The newspaper reprinted the twelve cartoons of the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy and added some of their own.
The Grand Mosque of Paris, the Muslim World League and the Union of French Islamic Organisations (UOIF) sued, claiming the cartoon edition included racist cartoons.
The suit was filed by the Grand Mosque and the UOIF in the French Court in February 2007 contending “Two of those caricatures make a link between Muslims and Muslim terrorists. That has a name and it’s called racism.” This was suit was defended by the publishers contending “It is racist to imagine that they can’t understand a joke.”
Nicolas Sarkozy, who later became the President of France, sent a letter to be read in court expressing his support for the ancient French tradition of satire. François Bayrou and François Hollande who also later became the President of France also expressed their support for freedom of expression.
On 22 March 2007, executive editor Val of Charlie Hebdo was acquitted by the court holding that two of the three cartoons were not an attack on Islam, but on Muslim terrorists, and that the third cartoon with Muhammad with a bomb in his turban should be seen in the context of the magazine in question, which attacked religious fundamentalism.
On 31 October 2011, issue No. 1011 of the magazine Charlie Hebdo was retitled Charia Hebdo (pronounce Shariya Hebdo). Muhammad, the founder of Islam, appeared on the cover saying, “100 lashes if you do not die laughing!” in a caricature by cartoonist Luz.
The issue announced, “To fittingly celebrate the victory of the Islamist Ennahda party in Tunisia … Charlie Hebdo has asked Muhammad to be the special editor-in-chief of its next issue”, the magazine said in a statement … The prophet of Islam didn’t have to be asked twice and we thank him for it.”It featured an editorial purportedly by Muhammad “Halal Aperitif” and a women’s supplement called “Madam Sharia”. This issue had been a response to recent news of the post-election introduction of sharia law in Libya and the victory of the Islamist party in Tunisia. It especially focused on oppression of women under sharia, taking aim at domestic violence, mandatory veiling, burquas, restrictions on freedom, forced marriage, and stoning of those accused of adultery. It also targeted oppression of gays and dissenters, and practices such as stoning, flogging, hand/foot/tongue amputations, polygamy, forced marriage, and early indoctrination of children. “Guest editor” Muhammad was portrayed as a good-humoured voice of reason, decrying the recent elections and calling for a separation between politics and religion, while stating that Islam is compatible with humour.
In November 2011, the newspaper’s office was fire-bombed and its website hacked in retaliation to the publication of “Charia Hebdo”. Mohammed Moussaoui, head of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, said his organisation deplores “the very mocking tone of the paper toward Islam and its prophet but reaffirms with force its total opposition to all acts and all forms of violence. François Fillon, the prime minister, and Claude Guéant, the interior minister, voiced support for Charlie Hebdo, as did feminist writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who criticised calls for self-censorship.
In September 2012, the newspaper published a series of satirical cartoons of Muhammad. These cartoons depicted Muhammad in a derogatory form.
The French government decided to increase security at certain French embassies, as well as to close the French embassies, consulates, cultural centres, and international schools in about 20 Muslim countries. In addition, riot police surrounded the offices of the magazine to protect it against possible attacks.
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, US President Obama and many others criticised the magazine’s decision saying that this amounted to unnecessary provocation and should have been avoided. However, the newspaper’s editor defended publication of the cartoons, saying, “We do caricatures of everyone, and above all every week, and when we do it with the Prophet, it’s called provocation.”
On 7 January 2015, two Islamist gunmenforced their way into the Paris headquarters of Charlie Hebdo and opened fire, killing twelve staff cartoonists Charb, Cabu, Honoré, Tignous and Wolinski,economist Bernard Maris, editors Elsa Cayat and Mustapha Ourrad, guest Michel Renaud, maintenance worker Frédéric Boisseau and police officers Brinsolaro and Merabet, and wounding eleven, four of them seriously.
During the attack, the gunmen shouted “Allahu akbar” (“God is great” in Arabic) and also “the Prophet is avenged”. President François Hollande described it as a “terrorist attack of the most extreme barbarity”. The two gunmen were identified as Saïd Kouachi and Chérif Kouachi, French Muslim brothers of Algerian descent.
The day after the attack, the remaining staff of Charlie Hebdo announced that publication would continue, with the following week’s edition of the newspaper to be published according to the usual schedule with a print run of one million copies, up significantly from its usual 60,000. On 13 January 2015, the news came on BBC that the first issue after the massacre would come out in three million copies. On Wednesday itself it was announced that with a huge demand in France, the print run would be raised from three to five million copies. The newspaper announced the revenue from the issue would go towards the families of the victims.
The French government granted nearly €1 million to support the magazine. The Digital Innovation Press Fund (French: Fonds Google–AIPG pour l’Innovation Numérique de la presse), partially funded by Google, donated €250,000, matching a donation by the French Press and Pluralism Fund. The Guardian Media Group pledged a donation of £100,000.
The front cover of edition of 14 January 2015, with a cartoon in the same style as 3 November 2011 cover, uses the phrase “Je Suis Charlie”. (Headline translation: “All is forgiven.”)
After the attacks, the phrase Je suis Charlie, French for “I am Charlie”, was adopted by supporters of Charlie Hebdo. Many journalists embraced the expression as a rallying cry for freedom of expression and freedom of the press.The Je suis Charlie (“I am Charlie”) slogan became an endorsement of freedom of speech and press.
The website of Charlie Hebdo went offline shortly after the shooting, and when it returned it bore the legend Je Suis Charlie on a black background. The statement was used as the hashtag #jesuischarlie on Twitter, as computer-printed or hand-made placards and stickers, and displayed on mobile phones at vigils, and on many websites, particularly media sites. While other symbols were used, notably holding pens in the air, the phrase “Not Afraid”, and tweeting certain images, “Je Suis Charlie” became more widespread.
A series of rallies took place in cities across France on 10–11 January 2015 to honour the victims of the Charlie Hebdo shooting, and also to voice support for freedom of speech.
During unrest all over the world a number of deaths, church burnings, violent demonstrations, were reported, in Niger, Niamey, Karachi in Pakistan, Algiers, Jordan, Khartoum, Sudan, Russia, Mali, Senegal, Mauritania, Grozny etc.
On 1 September 2020, Charlie Hebdo announced that it will republish caricatures depicting Muhammad that sparked violent protests, ahead of a trial of suspected perpetrators of the mass shooting in January 2015 scheduled the following day.
On 25 September 2020, weeks after the Muhammad caricature republications, two people were critically injured by an assailant during a stabbing attack outside the magazine’s former headquarters. The perpetrator fled the scene but was arrested nearby. Six other people were arrested in connection to the attack.
A day later, the perpetrator was identified as Zaheer Hassan Mehmood,a 25-year-old from Pakistan, who claimed to have arrived as an unaccompanied minor refugee in France in 2018. He confessed to his actions and said he had acted in vengeance for the Muhammad caricature republications. He also reported that “he didn’t know that the headquarters moved to another location”.
Interior minister of France Gérald Darmanin called the attack “fundamentally an act of Islamist terrorism”. Prime minister of France Jean Castex said “the enemies of the republic will not win” and pledged to escalate the fight against terrorism.
Emmanuel Macron faced backlash when he defended the caricatures. Many Muslims called for French products to be boycotted in their countries, while European leaders supported his remarks. Supermarkets in Kuwait and Qatar boycotted French goods.
One Samuel Paty, a teacher had shown pupils cartoons of Prophet Mohammad caricatures of the prophet Muhammad, which were published by Charlie Hebdo, to his students as part of a lesson on free speech while teaching in class.
On 16th October 2020 a Muslim migrant of Chechen origin beheaded Samuel Paty. The French government, backed by many citizens, saw the beheading as an attack on freedom of speech, and said they would defend the right to display the cartoons. The French President, Emmanuel Macron called the teacher a hero, and he pledged to fight “Islamist separatism”, saying it was threatening to take over some Muslim communities in France…..
The outrage in the Muslim world over cartoons of Muhammad should be an eye-opener to those who have been denial about Islam. Muslim countries are coming out one by one to condemn the cartoons, including Saudi Arabia, and many are not condemning the beheading of French school teacher Samuel Paty; many are also insisting that terrorism has nothing to do with Islam.
The former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamad, took to Twitter to declare that “Since you have blamed all Muslims and the Muslims’ religion for what was done by one angry person, the Muslims have a right to punish the French. The boycott cannot compensate the wrongs committed by the French all these years.” Twitter took down another tweet from Mahathir that explained what he thought would actually compensate for those alleged wrongs: “Muslims have a right to be angry and to kill millions of French people for the massacres of the past.”
Even “Russia’s Chechnya region said Paris was pushing people towards terrorism.” In other words, any country that stands for the freedom of speech, even speech that offends Islam, and cracks down on the proliferation of the jihad ideology is considered to be “pushing people toward terrorism.”
The rage against France has become so exaggerated that the French government is now warning its citizens in Muslim-majority countries to “take extra precautions.”
An Islamic jihadi in France just days ago murdered three people in a church, apparently to punish France, which jihadis regard as a Christian country, for the Muhammad cartoons.
In Lyon, France on 31st October 2020, an Orthodox priest was shot and wounded, perpetrator is on the run.
Like so many non-Muslims who assure us that Islam is the most peaceful, benign and cuddly of religions, clearly have no clue about what Islam actually teaches.
Islamic laws on insult to Prophet
Islam mandates death for non-Muslim subjects of the Islamic state who mention “something impermissible about Allah, the Prophet. (Allah bless him and give him peace), or Islam” (‘Umdat al-Salik, o11.10), and such laws are based upon passages in the Hadith and Sira in which Muhammad orders the murders of people who have insulted him.
These include Abu Afak, who was over one hundred years old, and the poetess Asma bint Marwan. Abu Afak was killed in his sleep, in response to Muhammad’s question, “Who will avenge me on this scoundrel?” Similarly, Muhammad on another occasion cried out, “Will no one rid me of this daughter of Marwan?” One of his followers, Umayr ibn Adi, went to her house that night, where he found her sleeping next to her children. The youngest, a nursing babe, was in her arms. But that didn’t stop Umayr from murdering her and the baby as well. Muhammad commended him: “You have done a great service to Allah and His Messenger, Umayr!” (Ibn Ishaq, 674-676)
Then there was Ka’b bin Al-Ashraf. Muhammad asked: “Who is willing to kill Ka’b bin Al-Ashraf who has hurt Allah and His Apostle?” One of the Muslims, Muhammad bin Maslama, answered, “O Allah’s Apostle! Would you like that I kill him?” When Muhammad said that he would, Muhammad bin Maslama said, “Then allow me to say a (false) thing (i.e. to deceive Kab).” Muhammad responded: “You may say it.” Muhammad bin Maslama duly lied to Ka’b, luring him into his trap, and murdered him. (Sahih Bukhari, volume 5, book 59, number 369)
Likewise Islam QA used to call for death for blasphemers, using both Qur’an and Hadith to make its argument, although now it has removed this. “The scholars are unanimously agreed,” the site explained, “that a Muslim who insults the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) becomes a kaafir [unbeliever] and an apostate who is to be executed. This consensus was narrated by more than one of the scholars, such as Imaam Ishaaq ibn Raahawayh, Ibn al-Mundhir, al-Qaadi ‘Iyaad, al-Khattaabi and others.”
Liberal reaction in India
Now let us see the attitude of our so-called liberals operating in our country who day in and day out shout from the roof tops about the presumed bigotry of the Hindu right for even petty acts of petty goons by branding the same as saffron terror / Hindutva bigotry etc. They do try to create a false equivalence with on or the other incident of hate in India and equate the same with the Muslim barbarian acts. They absolutely refuse to admit the bigotry contained on the face of it in Islam Rana Ayyub a self-proclaimed activist who is presumed to fight against the so-called Hindu Bigotry says “Thoughts with France. There is no place for such brutality and savagery in Islam and I say this as a proud Muslim” Total Hypocricy. Arfa Khanum Sherwani another similar type proclaims “There must be unconditional condemnation of French terror act coz it’s barbaric & inhuman, and goes against the cardinal principles of Islam. But Hindu fundamentalists who never speak on Gau-Raksha killings and elect Pragya Thakur to Parl demanding the apology is most hypocritical” They play the card of reverse hypocrisy. So on one hand there is supposed to be an unconditional condemnation then there is a condition being imposed that those who are supporters of Gau Raksha have no right to demand any apology. Madam, what has gau raksha to do with the acts of terrorism being committed by your Muslim brothers in France?
Concept of an Idea and Thoughts
Should these violent acts which may be in retaliation to a non-violent act like drawing and publishing a cartoon or writing an article or propounding an Idea howsoever silly and / or critical to a particular leader, prophet or a personality who is treated as a religious head or even God be tolerated? A simple answer is a resounding No.
Let us analyse the whole concept of an Idea in the human mind. An Idea arises in the human mind through our own thoughts. The following questions then arise.
Whether there can be any control over thoughts?
Can thoughts be censored or prevented?
Can thinking ever be a punishable offence?
Even if my thought is not acceptable to any section, community, nation or entire humanity, my thought/s cannot be prevented or become punishable under any circumstances.
Thinking is, therefore, and cannot be an offence by any stretch of imagination.
What happens if I put a though on a piece of paper and put it in my pocket? Can it be an offence?
Howsoever unacceptable a particular thought maybe, just putting it on the piece of paper cannot by any stretch of imagination be treated as an offence under any law.
Now suppose I collect a bunch of such horrible and unacceptable thoughts and write down such thoughts on different pieces of paper and put it in a folder or a file and kept it on my table with a warning on the cover “Private and Confidential”, will this act on my part be treated as an offence under any law?
The obvious answer is in the negative.
Now consider this situation.
If my neighbour comes to my place and opens this file and reads my collected thoughts without my permission and finds these thoughts to be absolutely offensive and not socially acceptable, will he have any cause of action against me?
Suppose he comes and reads my disclaimer and asks for my permission and I grant him the permission to read my thoughts with a specific condition that he may be offended and that he would be reading this material entirely at his own risk of being offended and that I shall not be responsible for his reaction and that he will maintain his cool and not get angry or provoked in to any action.
Now extend this logic further. What if I publish all my unacceptable and provocative thoughts on a website or a newspaper and put up a similar disclaimer about it being provocative and offensive to the public at large?
Despite the above, if my neighbour or anyone else for that matter opens the file or the website or the news paper and reads what I have written and does not like it?
If he is offended on reading what I have written will he be able to take legal action against me under the existing law?
Will he have any legal cause of action against me?
Will this act on my part amount to any offence under any law?
Even if he is offended, obviously he will not be legally entitled to assault me physically.
Can he claim any such right to take law in his hand because something that I may have thought or put on paper is not acceptable to him?
Can he claim a right to get provoked and beat me up?
In case if he does assault me physically, will he be able to take a defence that he assaulted me because he was provoked by my writings?
Will I have a cause of action against my neighbour for having intruded on my privacy despite the warning published by me on top of the collection and reading it without my permission?
Will I have a cause of action against my neighbour for having assaulted me physically.
Where does my right to put my thoughts on paper stop?
Where does my neighbour’s right to stop me from putting my thoughts on paper begin?
Whether does my neighbour’s right to get provoked and takes law in his own hand, start?
Can there be any limit to free thought.
Can there be a right to get provoked by anybody else’s thoughts illustrated by way of writing, drawing or cartoon howsoever offensive.
Law relating to Blasphemy in India
In the above background, let us analyse the law relating to blasphemy or prevention of publication of material which is likely to cause adverse reaction in the mind of a section of our population. Let us also examine various provisions of law which curtail freedom of speech and expression in our country India that is Bharat –
Section 95 of the Code of Criminal Procedure gives the government the right to declare certain publications “forfeited” if the “publication … appears to the State Government to contain any matter the publication of which is punishable under Section 124A or Section 153A or Section 153B or Section 292 or Section 293 or Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code”. These provisions are not being reproduced here as the same can be read by downloading the readily available versions of the IPC from the internet.
Our Courts have repeatedly held that these two provisions i.e. Section 153A and 295A also described as Blasphemy laws are constitutionally valid and amount to imposing reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression in the interests of public order. It is also held that “a law may not have been designed to directly maintain public order and yet it may have been enacted in the interests of public order”
On 3rd March 2014, the Supreme Court bench headed by Justice R M Lodha dismissed a PIL seeking a direction to restrict hate speeches by politicians. The Supreme Court held that “We cannot curtail fundamental rights of people. It is a precious rights guaranteed by Constitution,” adding “we are a mature democracy and it is for the public to decide.”
Section 295A of IPC has been a threat and has been used and misused against scholars, artists, activists, actors and reformists. There is no definition of religion or religious feelings. What would one mean by insult? What is a religion? is Hinduism a religion? In 2005 Supreme Court ruled out that it is not a religion but a way of life. In 2016 the Supreme Court refused to entertain a Petition seeking to revisit its observations regarding Hinduism and Hindutva. Similarly there are so many contradictory and controversial sects of Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism which have non homogenous and contradictory religious beliefs. Even the Supreme Court has recognized that the term religion is “incapable of specific and precise definition”. The Court has held that it is not something that has a “rigid definition”, and by its very nature “difficult, if not impossible to define”.
The concept of reasonable restrictions over freedom of expression guaranteed in Article 19 of the original constitution is in total derogation of the idea of freedom of speech. What is reasonable? There are a number of judgements and theories about what can be “reasonable”. The theory of a prudent man is always referred to while describing reasonableness.
In 2014 while dismissing the PIL seeking intervention by the court in directing the Election Commission to curb hate speeches. The Apex court said, “We cannot curtail fundamental rights of people. It is a precious right guaranteed by Constitution. We are a mature democracy and it is for the public to decide.” The Court further observed “We are 1280 million people and there would be 1280 million views. One is free not to accept the view of others. It is a matter of perception, a statement objectionable to a person might be normal to another person”.
Dr. Ambedkar in the constituent assembly once said that constitutional values have to be given more importance whenever they clash with social prejudice. To surpass these social prejudices which are coming in our way after every passing day, we should ask ourselves do we need section 295A in its present form?
The majority religion in India, Hinduism which by nature is polytheistic never had any concept of blasphemy, No Idea, theory or philosophy can ever be treated as unacceptable. Even Atheism has its place in Hinduism. Thus such laws based on the concept of blasphemy were absent culturally and traditionally. It is time that the world should wake up and get rid of such archaic laws which curtail freedom to think and express those thoughts in a free and frank manner without caring for the consequences.
It is high time that these archaic laws should be repelled. It is high time that we all should evolve to take criticism in our stride and develop tolerance in true Hindu spirit. A religion or philosophy which cannot stand on its own legs and requires protection of Section 295A is inherently weak. All other laws are adequate to take care of the people who would take law in their own hands in response to any idea which is offensive to them.
We have tolerated peacefully the depiction of our Gods and Goddesses done by many in order to provoke without getting provoked. We have protested and condemned these acts which most of us have treated as silly and ridiculous in spite of which we have been branded as intolerant. On the other hand as seen above, even the acts of violence by Muslims as a reaction to the cartoons and other caricatures have been attempted to be excused as rightful angry reaction to provocation.
Any limit or imposition of restriction on the freedom of speech and Expression is totally against the process of human evolution.
Our culture and traditions are strong and cannot be weakened by a mere film or book when inspite of constant and persistent attack since last more than a thousand years we have survived. There is no reason to be offended by an idea or a concept. The only way to fight it is to properly counter it by an open exchange of ideas and debate. In a debate on any issue whether historical or religious, ideas which are logical and scientific are bound to prevail. Irrational, unreasonable, illogical ideas which do not appeal to our common-sense will fall apart.
To conclude, it is high time that the people should learn to live with cartoons and caricatures as also with rank provocative criticism of any and every icons and Prophets.
The facts narrated above have been culled out of various articles and publications published on the Internet including generously borrowed narrations from wikipedia.com and are easily verifiable. A detailed bibliography would have been too exhaustive.
DISCLAIMER: The author is solely responsible for the views expressed in this article. The author carries the responsibility for citing and/or licensing of images utilized within the text.