COMMENT : Fighting hate with hate — Dr Mohammad Taqi
Keeping peace should be an end in itself and not contingent upon someone’s expression and another’s reaction to it
One was hoping that at least Pakistan would weather the storm that an absolutely abhorrent, shoddy video clip has unleashed. However, with the protests outside the US Consulate in Karachi turning violent and claiming at least one life, perhaps it was not meant to be. It is still too early to say if the protests would subside or snowball into something more ominous.
Leading a protest earlier this week, the Jamat-ud-Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed has demanded that the Pakistan government should push the US government to get the maker of the offensive and hateful movie punished by death. He also suggested that a way to ‘lean’ on the US administration would be to shut down the US embassy in Islamabad until such US action that he and his colleagues desire. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government is apparently under tremendous pressure and was reportedly threatened with a bloodbath should it not shut down the California-based video-sharing website YouTube and other services run by its parent company, Google. The PPP government, after being unable to block only the offensive video, did ultimately shut down YouTube in Pakistan.
Anyone who has seen the video would perhaps agree that it is a clumsy but quite malicious attempt at igniting interfaith rifts. I would call the effective message of the 14-minute trailer — no one knows if a full-length film was ever completed — as extremely hateful. The question, however, is whether it incites a hate crime no matter how poisonous and repugnant it is. The answer to that might be no, unless someone was already preparing to perpetrate a hate crime. By itself, the clip did not lead to any copycat acts or non-Muslim extremist groups acting out. A viciously crude attempt at driving a wedge between Christians — especially Egyptian Copts — and Muslims, it does appear to be, but in all probability would fall short of incitement or the closely-related concept of ‘fighting words’.
On the other hand, those protesting the video have set upon property and life from Morocco to Bangladesh. While the outrage of most Muslims against such an offensive video is spontaneous, the way such protests always get violent, without fail, suggests an infrastructure ready to exploit any perceived or real slight to Islam. The manner in which the Salafist-associated Egyptian television channel al-Nas and its televangelist, Sheikh Khalid Abdullah televised the till then obscure video suggests that the idea was to inflict maximum political damage on US-Arab/Muslim relations as well as to gain political ground lost to their domestic rivals, the Muslim Brotherhood. The role al-Nas television and Abdullah played in disseminating the nasty video has conveniently been ignored by those bent upon burning US diplomatic missions and killing its diplomats.
Up until al-Nas televised the video almost no one had heard of it and with merely a handful of online hits, its developer Morris Sadek aka Sam Bacile and his backers were clearly failing in what they had set out to do. But the way clerics across the Islamic world drew attention to it almost instantaneously is a replay of the reaction to Salman Rushdie’s book back in 1989 when leaders and cadres, none of whom had actually read the massive book, went on a rampage leading to several deaths. The dissent thus manufactured and manipulated and the violence it breeds is then used to impose the religious interpretation of a few to corner and silence the others, especially the intelligentsia.
Freedom of speech is perhaps the ideal most cherished by liberals. It was surprising to see one presumably liberal Pakistani English newspaper saying in its editorial: “Surely, some provision must exist within US laws to reprimand derogatory attacks on particular religious or ethnic groups, intended to incite anger. It is difficult to imagine that such false and offensive diatribes against African-American, Jews or other communities would be tolerated to any degree had it occurred in the US itself.” The paper is effectively calling for curbing freedom of speech in the US, but more than that it is taking almost the same line adopted by several clerics who say that Holocaust denial is prohibited in the US.
It may be news to some but the fact is that the First Amendment to the US Constitution does indeed guarantee freedom of speech and extends the same protection to the Holocaust-deniers and to their anti-Semitic hate speech as to anyone else so long as there is no imminent threat of or actual violence. Consider this anti-Semitic vitriol by the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, carried on one of its websites:
“As the Apostle Paul (who himself was a Jew) teaches in this verse, the only true Jews are Christians. The rest of the people who claim to be Jews aren’t, and they are nothing more than typical, impenitent sinners, who have no Lamb. You may have a Jewish heritage, but that doesn’t make you a true Jew in the spirit; that only makes you a Jew in the flesh. As evidence of their apostasy, the vast majority of Jews support f*gs.”
This is the same church that is known to picket against the funerals of US troops and for its virulently anti-homosexual views. Indeed, several countries in Europe have laws that criminalise Holocaust denial and hate speech to varying degrees. However, the Europeans did not arrive at that juncture by jettisoning the liberal principles under the threat of violence and open calls to murder as issued in Lahore by the JuD leader. In fact, many of the videos of Pakistani clerics and sectarian terrorists circulating on the internet would also fall under the ambit of the laws they wish to invoke when it suits them and that too by perpetrating and threatening violence.
If the threatened breach of peace and public order were accepted as a sufficient reason to curb free speech, the extent of freedom of expression would then be totally subservient to the whim and power of some to act violently against real or perceived affronts. Keeping peace should be an end in itself and not contingent upon someone’s expression and another’s reaction to it. There is absolutely no excuse for violence and indeed murder most foul, as committed in Benghazi. Fighting hate with hate is sure to beget more hate. The way out is drowning the odious voices with voices of sanity, not curbing free speech and calls for murder.
The writer can be reached at email@example.com. He tweets at http://twitter.com/mazdaki