Saturday, February 11, 2006

Religious Caricatures, and Freedom of Expression

Indeed, the recent caricatures of the Muslim icon have raised heckles around the world, both in the Islamic world, and in the countries that do have true freedom of speech.

As this commentary provided by a local newspaper in Singapore shows, the world is actually far from being tolerant to criticisms and being made fun of. It is a classical situation: If someone writes an article that puts a particular religion under the harsh glare of the spotlight, surely its angry supporters would go all out in arms to put down the author.

But where do we actually draw the line? A thin thread separates satire, and being defamatory; of which individuals themselves are split accordance to their actual tolerance levels. Some might be able to laugh along with a piece on the cliches of their own life, but to others, it is a sacred line, which when crossed, would mean war.

For now, let's just say that Islam as a religion, is inherently less tolerant to dissent, and satire. See how Malays who have renounced Islam in Malaysia find themselves still subjected to an Islamic funeral even after their deaths, and it is apparent that the cartoon isn't going to go down well with the devout Islamic countries around the world.

And Islam is not alone in the field of intolerance. Christianity, and Catholicism are examples of religion that are intolerant towards dissent. For example, Christians believe that non-believers in Jesus would all eventually burn in hell. Extremist strains of Buddhist followers even resort to militancy to impose their laws upon unwilling followers. (Note: I raise these examples not as a criticism of any religion in particular; but to illustrate the current status of the world.)

On the other side, we have people who believe strongly in the freedom of speech, and in the absolute right in expressing them, regardless of the feelings of others. While this is desirable in itself, in no way does the use/abuse of this right serve the world, unless we exercise self-restraint in our words. Yet we see people engaging in hate speech, writing disparaging comments on others, just because "they can".

Of course, the world could choose to side with either one: impose laws similar to that found in Singapore to make religious criticisms illegal, or a compulsory freedom of speech clause to allow people to speak their minds.

But would either way work? I seriously doubt so.

Crippling free speech in any way will most definitely handicap the openness of any given country. Where this is applicable, it is almost inevitable that this same country would find it easier to implement more controls over people's freedom. Like what most law systems go, this is a classic case of a "landmark ruling". Since lawmakers claim to act for the good of the people, they can make the most ridiculous claims, yet pass the muster of scrutiny. Already, the US of A is slipping into this dangerous "Singaporean-ism", with George W. Bush's trumpeting of blatant privacy invasion measures, without proper check and balances.

On the other hand, allowing the freedom of speech would only embolden the outspoken antagonists — people who are out against a certain religion to carry out a legalised hate campaign, to the extreme disadvantage of the victimised.

The bottom line is that nobody has a good answer for the delicate balance between allowing people to speak their mind freely, and maintaining the dignity of religion free from criticism. The solution is for the people themselves to exercise their right to expression with the justification of promoting harmony between different groups. This means determining when something is definitely purely offensive, and avoiding it, and reserving criticisms for constructive ones.

Given the fact that we keep reading about Islamic suicide bombers running rampant in the world, if you ask me whether the Danish cartoon is justified, I would most definitely say: yes. The caricature illustrates the irony of the Islamic majority — slow to condemn their extremist brethren, yet swift in hammering outsider opinion.

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1 Comments:

Blogger averilchan said...

Never has there been absolute freedom and liberalisation of speech and expression...has there?

Towards a more democratic society we shall!!!

Sunday, February 26, 2006 9:43:00 PM  

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