Faraz Rana, a lawyer based in New York, has authored this exclusive piece for PTH. We welcome his contribution and hope that he will contribute regularly. (Raza Rumi)
Depictions of the Prophet (pbuh) are banned in Islam so people (presumably, Muslims) don’t idolize the images. The lawyer in me will tell you that a non-Muslim drawing a similar image, especially in jest, will not violate that rationale. Nor will Muslims ever confuse a cartoon with a serious depiction. Of course, using technical legal arguments to quell incensed religious rhetoric is about as effective as eradicating objectionable content on cyberspace by blocking it. Oh, wait.
The debate on FacebookGate and the underlying arguments on the limits of free speech will never be resolved by rational minds. So, in case you missed it, here is just a quick sampling of the conversations sprouting all over, coincidentally, Facebook.
The Facebook group was a collective effort to malign Muslims. The group was intended to be a demonstrated exercise in free speech by some bloggers, as a direct response to the decision by the producers of another TV show to curtail their creative outlet in the face of death threats. As often happens on the Internet, the ones with the most pent up vitriol for just about everything under the sun tend to have the most free time to vocalize it. The group was hijacked and the posts became offensive. What is interesting, though, is that the group was not very popular until people started pointing fingers at it. After that, it went Facebook viral and the offensive content just perpetuated itself. It is as if Muslims snatched the offensive content from the jaws of obscurity and brought it back to life for the whole world to see.
I don’t believe in free speech when it offends my religion. You are out of luck. Free speech is a concept that exists outside your belief system. It even exists outside the legal limitations imposed on it by the United States Supreme Court. It will continue to exist so long as humans are capable of free thought. What makes free speech so vexing, however, is that it becomes important to people only when it manages to offend someone. Otherwise, you call it, in legal parlance, “small talk.”
Think about what your mother told you when you were bullied as a kid. She was a playground sage and understood that fighting back only worked if the bully wasn’t twice your size. Even then, how many times were you going to fight him? It is a fact known for hundreds of playground years that bullying someone is only fun if you can get a predictable reaction out of the bullied. Ignore them, she would lecture, and the bully has no raison d’etre.
They don’t make fun of other religions. Everyone is against the Muslims. Two words: Family Guy. If you are not a fan of the American cartoon show, the “I dream of Jesus” episode is a particularly funny episode. It is available on Youtube. The irony is free, as well. Find mocking Christianity to be too 8th century? Spend some time on the Internet, and you will find a website dedicating to ridiculing virtually every race, religion, ethnicity, nationality, belief and preference known to man. There are even Facebook groups dedicated to hating women. Yes, the entire gender.
We need to fight back when people attack our religion. We are soon going to run out of people to fight. Muslims are not winning any popularity contests (Miss USA Pageants, a different story), which means finding a more effective way to vocalize our presence. The history of Islam is filled with parables about how being a good Muslim is an effective way to fight ignorance. Perhaps highlighting our meaningful contributions to society, rather than staging protest after protest, might be a better way to spend our free time.
Boycotting Facebook will show them our collective strength. Not even close. We created Facebook groups about how we were going to quit Facebook. We could not help but make use of the powerful and innovative forum Facebook has created for people to communicate and launched our own protest groups on Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg was just sitting back and smiling that everyone showed up to play in his own backyard. When a Muslim creates an innovative way to communicate on the Internet, perhaps a kitab-e-shaqsiat for you Urdu speakers, we can then perhaps think about dictating the rules of the game.
Well, I’m just bored and need to fight for something. Great! Last time I checked, Muslims were going through an existential crisis, marred at the very least by poverty, illiteracy and the inability of all of us to agree on anything remotely relevant. Islam is a beautiful religion. Lets spend our free time practicing it, helping others follow it and helping the poor. When we have overcome our collective troubles and fed and empowered even the weakest amongst us, we can shift our attention to figuring out how to celebrate Eid on the same day.
As an appointed bureaucrat, supreme court justice or elected official of a country with a majority Muslim population, it is our duty to dictate what is morally acceptable to our population. Shame on you, the government of Pakistan. Once the dust settles, you deserve the greatest blame for turning a farce into an international incident. It is your job to transcend the knee-jerk sways of your people and implement the functions of a government, much like how every other government acts in the face of impassioned protests. Never mind that you once again managed to associate our country’s great name with a message so myopic that it was barely comprehensible to the outside world. Lets not even bother to romanticize the message of a nation’s founder who, in his inaugural address, promised that the state would not interfere in the religious affairs of its citizens, much less dictate to a nation of 170 million what they should consider “sacrilegious.” All of this pales in comparison to the amazingly swift manner in which you acted. You may have noticed our country has had some problems as of late. If you could only use the same efficiency to value and save human lives, we might not care so much about your moral inclinations.
On the bright side, when it is time to eradicate corruption from the halls of our government, we do know how to get your attention.
I am a spiritual leader or Imam and I found the views on Facebook to be offensive so I instigated a protest in my neighborhood. What in the world were you doing on Facebook in the first place?
The author can be reached at Farazarana@gmail.com