When free speech costs human life

As with many of you, my Twitter feed spiked Wednesday with tweets about an anti-Islam film and ensuing murder of U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens. Moments later and likewise, posts demanding an unequivocal condemnation from American Muslims flooded my Facebook.

Though it astounds me that some hold Muslim Americans accountable on behalf of extremists 5,000 miles away, here goes. I can speak specifically on behalf of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community to condemn this senseless violence in the strongest terms. Likewise, I have seen only similar explicit condemnation from my colleagues in countless different Muslim communities worldwide. But this condemnation is not new. We condemned the post-Danish cartoon violence that resulted in dozens of deaths and countless more injuries in 2005. We condemned the post-Terry Jones Koran-burning violence that killed 31 in Afghanistan in 2010. And now we again condemn this senseless violence in 2012.

But if you haven’t noticed a pattern, let me illustrate this sadistic re-run. First, anti-Islam propagandists create and promote anti-Islam propaganda under the guise of free speech—knowing it will incite extremists to violence. Second, extremists react to the propaganda, resulting in the deaths of innocent civilians including U.N. aid workers, American citizens, and what we often callously refer to as “collateral damage,”—i.e. innocent women and children. Third, anti-Islam propagandists sit safely in their abodes, thousands of miles away and innocently shrug, “Too bad. This offensive speech is my right.” Finally, Muslims worldwide are put on trial to again condemn the violence—failure to do so is perceived as implicit approval. Yet, Islam remains maligned and, most importantly, innocent people continue to suffer.

To think this vicious cycle can stop simply if extremists stop being extremists is an extreme view itself.

At this juncture, anti-Islam propagandists typically claim that, “only Muslims are extremists.” This view is entirely ignorant. Former President John F. Kennedy needed to issue an executive order to protect southern Black churches from KKK terrorism in the 1960s. The Sri Lankan government used force to stop the Hindu-Secularist Tamil Tigers from spreading suicide terrorism ideology in the 1980s and 1990s. Just last month, the American Atheists group removed their own billboards prior to the Republican National Convention and Democratic National Convention due to a “large volume” of “vitriol, threats, and hate speech” from Christians. Extremism has no religion.

But to be sure, in comparing a video insulting Prophet Muhammad to Muslims responding violently to said video—the bigger insult to the prophet, and the bigger atrocity to humanity, is the latter. The Koran repeatedly and specifically instructs Muslims to simply “turn away” when non-Muslims insult their faith or prophets. The Koran further restricts Muslims from insulting non-Muslims, instead imploring Muslims to “argue in the way that is best” and with “absolute justice.”

Prophet Muhammad’s example demonstrates this point. When Meccan miscreants threw camel entrails on his back while he prayed, he forbade any offending retort and prescribed no punishment. When the woman who mutilated his uncle’s corpse asked for his forgiveness, he granted it. And the ignorant person who baselessly accused his wife of infidelity—Prophet Muhammad forgave him too, even offering his funeral prayer.

Islam teaches that free speech is a valuable right—but not at the cost of the much higher value of and right to life. Stevens, no doubt, championed free speech and human life. But, because others valued their own right to speech more than they valued his right to live, Stevens’—along with many others—has now lost both.

Qasim Rashid is a leader for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA. Follow him on Twitter @MuslimIQ or email at qasim.rashid@ahmadiyya.us.

Originally Published in The Washington Post.

Reference URL - http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/guest-voices/post/when-free-speech-costs-human-life/2012/09/13/0e70911a-fdf9-11e1-8adc-499661afe377_blog.html
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Category: Op-Ed
2012-09-13T01:41:47-04:00 Op-Ed|