During a conversation with one of my friends last week, the issue of Bangladesh as a secular nation came up. Calling Bangladesh a “Muslim country” in essence (not Islamic, mind you), he opined that since it was so, why stir the pot? Non-muslims shouldn’t criticise the primary religion of the region, and if they were of other faiths, or non-religious, they should just keep it to themselves.
It may come as no surprise that my friend was Muslim himself.
During another much more heated argument on social media regarding the Charlie Hebdo attack, I came upon another such individual who had similar sentiments. According to him, Islam teaches peace, and Muslims should let others be and others should let Muslims be. Why try and offend? Is this freedom of speech, to criticise what others hold so dearly? These cartoonists “didn’t need” to publish something they were fully aware would incite backlash. “But what about freedom of speech?” I argued.
His answer, echoing millions: Is this what freedom of speech means, to toy with the sentimentalities of the 1.57 billion Muslims that reside in the world?
It seems that the only people who are sensitive to criticism can be the majority. Till date, the amount of Muslims who have condemned the Charlie Hebdo attacks, and most recently the Avijit Roy and Oyasiqur murders, on the basis of freedom of speech, has been limited. The most I hear is: Of course, violence is never the answer, but ... why provoke?
This line of reasoning is akin to saying that spreading Islamic teachings is offensive to other non-Muslims. Even as I write these words, I am tip-toeing, aware of the precarious nature of the slope I walk on. I can already hear the voices of my family members and friends: “Just let it go, man. Why bring this stuff up? Why offend?”
Why offend, indeed. Isn’t the right to offend one of the most sacred tenets an individual can have? Anything can be construed to be offensive. What will happen to free dialogue, expressions of alternative theories, art and literature, the smooth transition from thought process to spoken word?
In the same breath, the same people will be outraged at the oppression of minorities in the West. If one thing can be said, can’t we say everything else?
Perhaps not. Not everyone is a purist. Perhaps this is lunacy. To quote Orwell: “Perhaps a lunatic was simply a minority of one.”
If one were to be able to say absolutely anything, racist, sexist, and homophobic statements wouldn’t be off limits. As Pope Francis rightly asks: “If a close friend insulted your mother, you might punch him, right?” I’m full of other people’s words these days.
Who knows what the Pandora’s Box of absolute freedom of speech would unleash? People would perhaps be seen posting vulnerable pictures of others, there would be no watershed; who can dare portend what insanity would spew forth from the mouth and writings of us humans, who can’t control ourselves when given the freedom, who need strict rules in place to act humanely?
And in the West, this dilemma remains persistent, with left-wing liberalism dictating what freedom of speech constitutes.
Most recently, intersectional feminism has taken it by the haunches. The debacle regarding Dr Matt Taylor (a scientist and part of the team responsible for the monumental feat of landing on a comet nucleus) and his shirt, which showed scantily-clad women in various positions, is a clear example of how far this sort of political correctness can go.
According to an article on The Verge, written by what the internet calls Social Justice Warriors, entitled “I don’t care if you landed a spacecraft on a comet, your shirt is sexist and ostracising,” Taylor’s shirt was apparently so offensive that it would prevent future women from joining the scientific fields.
It is almost ridiculous to think that these are the same people who strive for women to feel comfortable in their own skin, working to give women the right to wear what they choose (completely covered or à la Matt Taylor’s shirt), and to act as they choose (celibate to promiscuous). It is tragic to witness the crumbling of a great mind at the insistence of a popular sentiment, in which his achievement is overshadowed by the pedantic complaints of a clue mob.
And in another case of feminist justice at work, a Rolling Stone article spoke of the gang rape of a certain “Jackie” by some Greek frat house members during a party at the University of Virginia. Backlash was brutal and inevitable. There were massive rallies and protests citing the presence of rape culture, of how women are devalued in society. Frat cultures were slandered, colleges were deemed sexist pools of cohabitation, statistics of 1 in 5 women being sexually assaulted (discredited and disproved for long before that) were yelled out of metaphorical rooftops.
It was later found out that the entirety of the article was a piece of fiction. There was no rape, no party, no members out for forced coitus. But by then, of course, it was too late. The damage was done. Countless women’s cries may now fall on deaf ears, and the reputation of Phi Kappa Psi, the frat house, is in shambles.
But hey, freedom of speech, right?
Other issues of note in the West include: The banning of swastikas in Western Europe; equating pro-Palestine sentiments with anti-semitism; #GamerGate; the call for the cancellation of the Colbert Report; among others.
It seems that what one says (and does) is constantly being dissected into what one can say, what one should say, and what one can’t say. This blatant lack of consciousness regarding these evident double standards is troubling. Just because we are allowed to say something doesn’t mean we should, does it?
Do we live in a world where a battle constantly rages between two apotheoses of self-righteousness, of false senses of conviction? Which does one choose: Self-awareness or self-deceit?
Also perhaps: These people have a point.
Live and let live. Pithy, succinct, and much easier to follow. Let it go. Cater to the majority, at no risk to oneself. Principles? What are they? Truth? Is there such a thing? Why attempt to turn one’s own world into a mess resembling a post-bombai morichh trip to the bathroom? Yes, keep your beliefs, but keep it to yourself.
But, but, but. What of my heretic pride?