Freedom of expression: No ifs and buts
March 27, 2006
* In Iran, Tehran bus workers demanding their rights have been arrested, including their wives and children, and some tortured.
* In Afghanistan, teachers defending the right of girls to an education are threatened with death.
* In Iraq, women's rights activists are threatened for demanding equality and freedom.
* In Iran, journalists who published a satirical article comparing the advent of Khomeini to AIDS are languishing in prison...
* In Yemen, Mohammad Al Asadi, an editor, is facing execution for recounting how Mohammad approved of the killing of a woman who had insulted him.
The list is endless...
Too many more nameless, faceless human beings across the globe are maimed, threatened, killed, bound and gagged for speaking out and expressing themselves.
And it's not just 'over there', but right here...
* A website in Sweden publishing the Mohammad caricatures is shut down.
* Editors are fired in France.
* The Behzti play is shut down after Sikhs are offended by it.
* A Scottish cancer charity is intimidated into not accepting money raised by Jerry Springer the Opera.
* Writers living and writing here, including myself, are threatened to death on threads of umma.net.
* People are arrested and summoned to court for carrying placards or flyers with the Mohammad caricatures on them [in fact Reza Moradi was told he will be summoned to court for 'offending' someone because he carried a placard with the Mohammad caricatures at the March 25 free speech rally - more on this later].
Clearly, free speech and expression are not luxuries or western values. They are essential for people everywhere.
And what more and more people are standing up and saying after government upon government and organisation upon organisation demanded apologies for the Mohammad caricatures and gave them on all our behalves is that they are not up for sale. We know better. Any limits on free speech & expression are really attempts by those in power or vying for power to limit our rights and the rights of the population at large. Don't be duped into thinking otherwise.
And that is why the defence of free speech and expression are so intrinsically linked to the defence of other rights. You cannot defend one without the others. You cannot defend one without also defending the right to asylum, the right to strike and organisation, labour rights, women's and children's rights, the right to live in a secular society, the right to equality and freedom, universal rights, the right to religion and atheism and belief as a private matter, the right to live lives worthy of 21st century humanity and of course vice versa. You cannot defend humanity without defending its right to speak and express itself...
For this, nothing can be deemed sacred except the human being. Defining certain expressions and speech as sacred is merely a tool for the suppression of society; saying speech and expression offends is in fact an attempt to restrict it. And of course what is held most sacred and deemed to offend the most especially in this New World Order is criticism and ridiculing of religion and its representatives of earth. Why do it if it offends? Because it must be done. Because ridiculing is a form of criticism, is a form of resistance, is a serious form of opposing reaction!
Whilst we may all be sometimes offended by some things, it is religion and the religious that are offended all of the time. They alone seem to have a monopoly on being offended, saying their beliefs are a no go area, and silencing all those who offend.
And don't think this reactionary rightwing political Islamic movement is only offended by a criticism of Islam or Mohammad. [I am focusing on this because it is a movement in power.] It is offended if you hold hands on the streets, have sex outside of marriage; it is offended if you are unveiled or improperly veiled; it is offended if you listen to certain music or if you teach evolution and science or if you dare to teach girls; it is offended if you are gay; if you are a woman; -- many of which are by the way punishable by death or at the very least flogging and imprisonment in many countries under the rule of Islam....
It is interesting how the political Islamic movement kills, it maims, it humiliates - with Islam as its banner - and we are not even allowed to ridicule and criticise it. Religion considers a woman as worth half a man, gays as perversions, sex outside of marriage as sinful, and so on and so forth but it is a few caricatures that are offensive! Offensive or not, sacred or not - religion and superstition -- Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Scientology and so on - must be open to all forms of criticism and ridicule.
It must be first and foremost because religion is not something from eras past but because it is as a political movement wreaking havoc across the world. Not a second passes without some atrocity being committed by it. It hangs people from cranes and lamp posts, it stones people to death -- in the 21 century -- with the law even specifying the size of the stone to be used, it amputates and decapitates. It must be criticised and ridiculed because that is how throughout history reaction was pushed back. That is how throughout history society has managed to advance and progress.
Why this should be seen as an attack on Muslims or Christians or Sikhs or Scientologists per se is beyond me. Is an attack on the belief and practice of Female Genital Mutilation an attack on girls who have been mutilated? Is the criticism of Israeli state terrorism an attack on Jews? Is an attack on the BNP that promotes Christian culture or the Christian Council of Britain it has recently established, or the ridiculing of Jesus racism against Christians? No of course not. And the same applies to the Muslim Council of Britain, Hamas, the Islamic Regime in Iran and the Mohammad caricatures.
Islamophobia - and now by the way the Church has asked that Christianity-phobia also be included in UN rights terminology -- none are racism because criticisms of a religion, idea, a belief and even the practices that result from beliefs -- even a phobia and hatred against beliefs have nothing to do with racism against real live human beings.
Saying it is so is merely part of the effort to make it such in order to silence criticism of religion and the political movement that holds it up as its banner.
The world is today threatened and taken hostage by two poles of terrorism. The state terrorism led by the United States on the one hand and the political Islamic movement on the other share a lot more than they let on. After all they were former friends and many of them still are. Both use religion to attack the gains made by humanity in centuries past. Both defend religion and use it.
Freedom of speech and expression are one of the few means at the disposal of many to resist this terrorism and its attack on universal values and norms. We must defend it unconditionally. There can be no ifs and buts.
The above was Maryam Namazie's speech at a free speech march in Trafalgar Square in London on March 25, 2006.