Exposing Freedom Myths Legally
By Dr Shireen M. Mazari

It is unfortunate that the whole issue of so-called freedom of expression that the West has been throwing at us in defense of the printing of blasphemous cartoons of our Prophet (PBUH) has got lost in the violence that has followed in the Muslim world. Clearly, this violent reaction reflects the anger and frustration we as Muslims feel over our inability to stop the growing Islamophobia and victimization of Muslims in Europe and elsewhere -- which was always there in these parts, but which found a rationalization for overt manifestation in the wake of 9/11.
Strong protest was only to be expected given the offending nature of the cartoons and the almost conspiratorial approach of the primarily European press to keep Muslim passions inflamed by reprinting these. Unfortunately, the debate seems to be shifting away from the real issue relating to the cartoons to one where allegations of Muslim intolerance and violence are taking center stage. This is truly a travesty of justice for it allows the guilty -- the European press and states -- to hide their wrongdoing behind the volatility and violence of Muslim civil societies.
That is why it is necessary now, as never before, for Muslims to get past emotive and violent reactions, and coalesce together to take on those who abuse Islam and Muslims under all manner of guises including 'freedom of expression' on their terms and within their legal frameworks. Because the fact of the matter is that in the context of the cartoon issue, European states and their press are guilty of contravening the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. While guaranteeing freedom of expression, Article 10 of this Convention states:
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.
2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection or rights of others...
So when the Prime Minister of Denmark declares that he cannot do anything against Jyllands-Posten, the paper that began the controversy, he is clearly lying because the European Human Rights Convention was ratified by Denmark in 1953 and is an integral part of the Danish constitution. In fact, before ratification, the Danish government made certain changes in Danish law so that it was in consonance with the Convention. Hence, the government should have sued the paper for breaking the law of the land.
Article 11 of the French constitution states that: "The free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of man. Every citizen may, accordingly, speak, write and print with freedom, but shall be responsible for such abuses of this freedom as shall be defined by law."
And France too is party to the European Convention.
The Norwegian constitution, in Article 100, declares: "There shall be liberty of the Press. No person may be punished for any writing, whatever its contents, which he has caused to be printed or published, unless he willfully and manifestly has either himself shown or incited others to disobedience to the laws, contempt of religion, morality or the constitutional powers or resistance to their orders, or has made false and defamatory accusations against anyone."
Now, on what grounds can the French and Norwegian governments claim an inability to take legal action against those newspapers that have clearly violated their countries' constitutions? In fact, Muslims in Europe should have used the legal route, in addition to their street protests, and sued the various newspapers and the states that took no action against these papers, in their national courts as well as the European Court.
However, to step back further, this whole issue of freedom of expression really does not fit into the Jyllands-Posten case because it was not the cartoonists who of their own volition got the idea to come up with cartoons against the Prophet of Islam (PBUH). Instead, they were deliberately commissioned by the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten -- as the paper itself explained on its culture page, on September 30, 2005, where it carried a statement entitled 'The painting of a portrait of Islam's Prophet':
"In the current season, three theatres have staged satirical plays about George W Bush, but none have contemplated doing a similar thing about Bin Laden ... In Denmark, if we are not careful, it is possible for self-censorship to take on an unpleasant dimension. For this reason, Jyllands-Posten has invited members of the Press Painters Association to paint a portrait of Islam's Prophet."
So let us be clear about this so-called 'freedom of expression' and the claimed legal helplessness of the European governments to take action against the papers printing the offensive cartoons. All this is absolute rubbish and this is where Muslims can take on the guilty in a non-violent and legal manner. That Muslims have been fair game in countries like Denmark has been clear for some time. In April 2005 their Queen declared that Danes should show their opposition to Islam. In September 2005 we saw a member of the Danish Parliament, Ms Louise Frevert, put hateful articles on her website which declared that young Muslims, even if born in Denmark, had fundamentalist leanings which were incompatible with Danish society. According to her, "Our laws forbid us to kill our enemies in public so the only remedy is to fill our prisons with these criminals. Most efficient method would probably be to send Muslims to Russian prisons for a fee of DKK 25 per day."
Is this not an advocacy of hate and violence? Yet no one thought to take legal action against her! This is where the Muslims are found wanting.
There are other avenues for action by Muslim states and societies which also do not need the use of violence, which only detracts from the real issue and the guilty. Economic measures need to be taken by Muslim states such as a refusal to buy products from specific European states and New Zealand. The agricultural sector of these states would surely suffer an immediate blow. Basically, economic responses are also very effective if political and diplomatic responses fail to stir the guilty states into legal action against their nationals, which is required by their own laws. It is time consumer power became more effective in Muslim states.
Incidentally, to give credit to the US, its condemnation of the cartoons should be appreciated. At the end of the day, Muslims need to develop more effective responses to the abuse of Islam and Muslims that is spreading in Europe and parts of the dominion. Violence always backfires.
(The writer is director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad. Courtesy The News)

 


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