The argument of violence

Salman Latif has sent us his rational views on the Facebook saga. I am glad that PTH is attracting the wise and the sanguine. Yet, we seem to have invoked the ire of our zealous compatriots who think that by opposing the ban, we are (God forbid) guilty of blasphemy. We condemn the myopia of those who want to provoke Muslims and display lack of respect for the Prophet (pbuh) who is central to our belief system. At the same time, PTH holds that banning of information flow in the 21st century is not acceptable. Today it is ‘blasphemy’ excuse, tomorrow it will be something else. There are other ways of protesting and we should employ them before resorting to blanket banning of the Internet. (Raza Rumi)

Guess what? The cartoon controversy is back. And this time with a bang because of the celebration of a ‘Draw Muhammad Day’ on May 20th in reaction to the death threats received by certain cartoonists. The day has drawn a lot of noise, more so because of the Muslim reaction than perhaps the original participation of those supporting the cause.

One is yet again to witness a very interesting phenomenon in the Muslim protests against the said act. Not only is it a vivid picture of the average Muslim take, it also is a clear answer to the fake claims made by pseudo-intellects about the moderation of Muslim Ummah. The issue has sparked a grand controversy within Muslim circles, both home and abroad, with eager preachers forwarding bulk of messages condemning and often, abusing it.

Intriguingly enough, this time, the axe has grinded on Facebook.  Apparently, the cause of such sudden resentment among FB’s Muslim users is over its refusal to remove certain pages inciting the message. Much to the chagrin of Muslims, FB’s policy allows for a freedom of speech and so would not take a page off on the grounds quoted by the followers of Islam. And our Muslim brethren have then resorted to the regular course – boycotting FB, claiming that’d bring it million-dollar repercussions in revenue and inflict a heavy loss. A rather misplaced hope considering a recent history where Telenor suffered a boycott on the same grounds in Pakistan though coupled with a much more violent backlash by Pakistanis and yet again became a mainstream mobile operator company within no time. No doubt FB would have had it offices burnt had there been any within Pakistan.

While that pretty much depicts the state of affairs, we shall now turn to the rhetoric that deals with the issue. Muslims, believers in Allah and His Prophet, Muhammad [P.B.U.H], find it highly offensive that the personality they hold in the highest reverence is ridiculed by the non-Muslims. According to the common Muslim perception, such an act committed within an Islamic state and under the rule of Islamic law should meet immediate death. And for that reason, many a believers are witnessed as eager candidates for murdering any cartoonist who’d draw these sketches. However, there are dissenting interpretations where the aforementioned punishment is considered to be the one decided by Prophet himself during his life and which needs intellectual reconsideration in the light of Ijtehad in a modern-day world.

The issue is specifically popular, almost uniquely, in Pakistan where there’s been a major campaign launched both offline and online to boycott FB. Not only that, the issue moved beyond the digital realm and into real-world politick when a High Court ruled against FB in a case, moving PTA to block it until May 31st, as per the news and thus granting the entire affair a legal status.

Here we need to consider the chief argument put forth by Muslims in favor of the rather volatile behavior they exhibit every time such an incident happens. According to Muslims, drawing sketches of a personality holy to them is offensive to them, a vast majority, and thus should be condemned and banned. What they fail to understand is that such a ban would strike at the very heart of freedom of speech. Obviously, such a ban could not be imposed merely because a sufficiently large group’s interests are served since human rights precisely means upholding what’s right and not what the majority says.

When we consider it in theory, such a ban does seem an absurdity indeed. To my Muslim fellas, I would like them to consider this argument and decide for themselves how rational their demand is: suppose a ban is imposed on such sketches because Muslims are offended. Shouldn’t such privileges then also be extended to Christians, Hindus, Jews – in fact, every religion. And what about factions other than religions? Human rights surely extend beyond the realms of religion’s followers. And the chain doesn’t end here. Gandhi is not a religious figure, yet his fan-following which surely counts up to a large number, may be offended on any ridicule done to his name and would demand similar prerogative? And then, for the followers of every popular personality? And every holy book, and every faction, and every ideology? That truly dissolves down to the restriction of the freedom of speech to such diminished domains that it would be anything but universal facts, since they can’t really be disputed (I’m supposing for a moment that certain facts indeed are not disputed – like the expedition to Moon, though some Muslim friends once tried to convince me that it was a hoax and an American conspiracy).

Also, it’d have been a mere another day had Muslims not retaliated in their usual mood and made a mountain out of a mole. It was indeed the reaction that erupted throughout the Muslims that lend both credence and fame to the event and brought to it the attention of the entire international community and media. Consequently, it’s Muslims who suffer. Those claiming to give FB a million-dollar rebuff in Pakistan ought to know that according to PTA’s statements produced in the court, this ban would also incur damages on our economy which won’t be nominal at all. But of course this was counted by the lawyers’ zestful rhetoric they came up with, in spite of any real argument, proclaiming they could lay their lives, let alone some financial damage.

It’s because of this that I don’t agree to the plight of Muslims. Not only is it a direct threat to the freedom of speech, it shall inflict the totalitarian notions of middle ages yet again on the society which would extend far beyond this single type of freedom. And the whole thing could’ve been done away with, had it been let to itself. It’d have passed silently without really offending the Muslims had not the passionate brathers not circulated the message over and over.

What’s much more troubling in this entire saga is the violent, and nearly bloody, attitude that Muslims love to wear when talking about this particular issue. Nearly every Muslim, brought up in a religious environment, considers it a part of faith to love Holy Prophet [P.B.U.H.]. Not only that, illiterate religious scientists then also drill is into their minds, as part of faith, that they ought to kill or do away with anyone insulting the Prophet. Such violent injunctions, which clearly fringe upon murder and inhumanity, are so consistently drilled into minds that you wouldn’t find four out of ten Muslims who don’t strongly believe in it. At least not so in Pakistan.

Such a dangerous trend is a rather disastrous element in society’s moderation. If indeed an individual has the realization that he can always resort to violence and physical abuse where argument and logic won’t work, he most certainly would always use the former, both out of convenience and out of a feeling of being a ‘real’ believer. And that’s not what I am writing as a logical deduction, but rather based upon facts, evident in the many zealot Muslim youth who tried to take a go at the Danish cartoonist and the threats made to every person who has the slightest to do with the sketches. FB is also included in the list apparently – at least for now.

We need to do away with such non-peaceful tactics, not just in practice, but in theory too. There have been frequent incidents of religious intolerance in the past, including the burning down of Christian settlements. This and many other happenings quite reflect the mental stop of our society.

Such acts clearly undermine all claims and efforts made to construct a moderate, tolerant image of Muslims. The brass is heavy on them already and such moves only aid in inciting a more radical image towards followers of other religions, isolating us Muslims all the more internationally and thus making it hard both for them and the world.

P.S. As a concluding note, I must state here I by no means endorse the event, as I anticipate shall be the earliest objection to this write-up. I rather consider them an act in real bad taste and am offended by such sketches. But I believe I should really not give a damn and concentrate my energies on something more constructive for the world and humanity. Lesser still do I support the notion of inflicting inhibitions to freedom of speech.



Filed under Islam, Islamism, Liberal Democratic Pakistan, Media, Pakistan, Politics, public policy

3 responses to “The argument of violence

  1. Pingback: The argument of violence |

  2. Zulfiqar Haider

    Violence is no means to defend your faith; we need to resort to more peaceful means of protesting against this issue, because somehow we always resort to violent means to protest.

  3. Ammar Zafarullah

    Such incidents reflect on how intolerant we are becoming as a nation, why is that in aftermath of Rushdie controversy or the cartoon fiasco Pakistan burns and such severe emotional reaction was not seen anywhere in the Muslim world? As a nation we need to learn how to channelize our concerns in civilized manner.