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The “insult”, what it means and what to do
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We live in a dangerous world.  It’s always been that way but it seems to become more so with every passing hour.

Last week’s murder of the American Ambassador and three other diplomats in Libya and the attacks on America’s embassy in Egypt and elsewhere were planned and premeditated – they were not in response to a film posted on YouTube in July.  The film was merely a convenient excuse.  Those who planned these attacks knew that once knowledge of the film was widespread in the Muslim world, those Muslims who view such things as an offense and insult would take it to the next level – indignation, rage and then violence.

This leads me to our subject of this week’s column: a general discussion on free speech.

After the violence subsided, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi told his embassy in Washington, DC to pursue all legal means to prosecute the filmmakers while in Saudi Arabia, the Grand Mufti made a call for governments around the world to criminalize insults to the Prophet Mohammed.

Since 1999, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) a body representing 57 Muslim countries around the world, has attempted to pass a resolution in the United Nations banning the defamation of religion, in other words, banning insults to their prophet, Mohammed, among other things.  Last December, they dropped that attempt but then turned around and passed UN Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18 which includes seemingly innocuous language but at its heart, is yet one more attempt to silence free speech when it comes to Islam.  The irony of the resolution is that a) it was passed without a vote and b) Saudi Arabia (as the country most strongly behind the OIC and its work) is one of the most restrictive societies in the world when it comes to “freedom of religion.”

Even now the UN is still debating and considering ways to stifle free speech.  There is a little-known group within the UN called – brace yourself – the Ad Hoc Committee on Complementary Standards.  Its raison d'être is to “write a new treaty on racism” according to the UK’s Guardian.  In September of last year, the UN Human Rights Council debated “among other issues, the need to take action against or prosecute acts of religious intolerance, hate crimes, discrimination and incitement to religious hatred.”  Are you worried yet?

Let me make this perfectly clear: there is no right not to be offended.  I take offense every day at things I see, read, and hear.  Many of these offences are directed toward my belief system and God Himself.  But I don’t go out burning down mosques or attacking the source of the insult.  Let’s take Pussy Riot, for example.  After they basically desecrated the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow with their punk song, you didn’t see Orthodox Christians burning down punk bars did you?  That’s because those of us in the West have learned that part of living with freedom and responsibility comes the freedom to be insulted from time to time.  We accept it, move on, and work harder at peacefully getting our point of view heard.

Before full-blown violence erupted at the American embassy in Cairo, the embassy released a statement which read, in part, “The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions….Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.”

Granted, many in the embassy were worried about the gathering demonstrators outside the embassy walls and thought, perhaps, that violence could erupt.  They thought that by releasing a statement in effect condemning free speech, that this would placate the demonstrators.  But if there is one thing we have learned time and again, the attempt to negotiate with or placate those who live in an alternate reality never works.  Muslims have every right to believe that an insult to their prophet is wrong.  But to resort to violence every time their prophet is insulted or their faith denigrated is simply evil.

The late writer and thinker atheist Christopher Hitchens wrote about this rage at perceived insults in the Muslim world and what to do about it.  He cites “Rage Boy” (who actually is a real person – Google it), which has now become a euphemism for all of  the Muslim rage that goes on around the world when cartoons of the prophet are published, when a Koran is torn or burned somewhere or when the Pope makes remarks that Muslims think is insulting.  Hitchens rightly sums up his response to this collective action of “Rage Boy” stating “Rage Boy keenly looks forward to anger, while we worriedly anticipate trouble, and fret about etiquette, and prepare the next retreat. If taken to its logical conclusion, this would mean living at the pleasure of Rage Boy, and that I am not prepared to do.”

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Jason Miko
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