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Free speech

The Age of Liberty
I am willing to go to war to defend one Danish cartoonist


February 5, 2006

It is hard to witness all the angry outcries and the commotion that a derogatory cartoon of Mohammad, the prophet, has unleashed and not be moved.  As a writer, who has fled her native country because she wanted to seek freedom in a secular democracy, I feel like I have to put pen to paper and take a stand. 

In Iran and indeed in most of Islamic countries you can either be hanged or killed by a mob for a cartoon like the one published in Denmark and later in many EU countries.  When I came here to France I did not expect the heavy hand of Mullahs to reach this far.  But with all these demonstrations, boycotts, and threats they have in many ways used their bullying techniques to bring about a kind of censorship even here in France, Europe and America. 

The angry bearded mobs have their apologists.  Clean cut Imams and college professor’s who beg the West to “understand” the difference in cultures that they believe is at the core of this crisis.  Again cultural relativism has come to the rescue of the intolerant Muslim fanatics.  It is indeed fanatical to ask for the death of someone for merely publishing something.  When Thomas Paine wrote his, “Age of Reason,” professing his aversion to organized religion, back in the eighteenth century, he angered many devout Christians.  He was ostracized and died a lonely man, but his publisher was not threatened to death and no one died because of it. 

When Paine wrote, “I have always strenuously supported the Right of every Man to his own opinion, however different that opinion might be to mine. He who denies to another this right, makes a slave of himself to his present opinion, because he precludes himself the right of changing it,” he, with this simple and logical argument, paved the way for free thinkers for centuries to come. 

Even though the Declaration of Independence talks about the rights of “man”, this Seyedeh, descendant of the house of the prophet, is more a daughter of Paine than of Mohammad.  Because in the founding fathers I find the arguments behind the freedom that I am right now exercising in writing this piece.  That freedom of opinion and speech is the dearest freedom to me as a writer and a woman.  When I read Paine declaring: “my mind is my church,” it makes me cry it sounds so true, so near, to what I believe and who I am.  Go back as far as you want in the history of my country and you will not find one woman who could have expressed herself even remotely freely.  Now you may find people like me who write either in exile or with a nom de plume or both. 

Here we are more than two hundred years after Thomas Paine wrote his treatise and some bearded mob in Tehran or Gaza can make whole countries and big publications tremble and apologize.  This is appeasement of the worst kind and will only strengthen the enemy --- shame on the Danish authorities and editors for apologizing.  Because Islam, in the way it is being practiced right now, is an intolerant anti-secular entity.  They have declared a war on everything that the secular tradition of the West holds dear: most importantly the idea that people should have a right to believe, say, draw, paint, and write anything they please.

Now you may argue, as Muslim apologists do, that this cartoon “hurt” the feelings of the poor Muslim mobs and as such it should not have been printed at such a sensitive time in the history of Islam and the West.  But I argue that in fact “these are trying times” and it is in times like these that we should be careful not to become lax, for fear of being branded as cultural absolutists, in our defense of liberty.

Democracy is not just about the will of the majority, we saw that at work in Iran, if not for Ahmadinejad then certainly for Khomeini.  Anybody who has read John Stuart Mill knows that Democracy is about the will of the majority with respect to the individual rights of the minority.  Without the latter part of this equation the former loses its meaning: democracy becomes mob rule. 

I am willing to go to war to defend one Danish cartoonist.  Freedom of expression is such an inherent and inalienable right that I believe all secular, freedom loving people, even if they perform their prayers five times a day, should not hesitate to put everything they have in its service.

France Soir re-printed the cartoon with the big headline, “We have a right to make fun of God!”  I moved here several months ago because I wanted to enjoy this freedom.  Because this way of thinking made me feel like a full human being, something I never felt as a woman in a Muslim country.  Do not let their bullying ways and the new cultural relativism that appeases them get away with blurring the lines between our very different political philosophies! 

In the U.S and Europe those people who hate Bush and his cronies feel like they should defend the Muslim fanatics.  How incredibly naïve: I invite those well meaning liberals to come and live in Tehran and then after one arrest for having had a beer, we will talk about tolerating cultural differences.  I believe all these Muslim apologists in the great learning institutions of the West should come and spend some time in the field!

As I have said many times before, freedom is a universal.  Even dogs don’t like to be chained or dressed by men.  Our anthropological understanding of cultural phenomena around the globe should not blur our understanding that certain “truths” are unalienable and such should be non-negotiable.   He/she who denies another the right to an opinion is a fascist!  A fascist is a fascist is a fascist whether in a turban or an SS uniform it does not matter!

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Shahla Azizi




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