Muftic: Insulting religion sparks predictable results |

Muftic: Insulting religion sparks predictable results

Felicia Muftic
Courtesy Photo |

Je suis Charlie, a cry raised in support of freedom of the press, was an admirable reaction to the terrorist attack on a French weekly publication that specialized in satirical cartoons guaranteed to insult Muslims, Catholics, Jews, and more. Hats off to the million-plus demonstrating in Paris on behalf of freedom of speech, even if many of those marching did not agree with the editorial policy of the publication, Charlie Hebdo.

No one in the U.S. mainstream media has published or reproduced the kind of editorial content like Charlie Hebdo. Why? After all, doesn’t the Constitution protect free speech like Charlie Hebdo’s? It does. Even hate speech is protected from government action in our country, but with limits.

Hate speech as defined by the American Bar Association offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits. The U.S. Supreme Court has frequently redefined those limits and ruled that hate speech promoting imminent violence against a protected group can be prosecuted. Charlie Hebdo’s offensive cartoons do not promote imminent violence.

Why has mainstream media not reprinted or shown pages from the French magazine? That is not censure by the government, and it is available elsewhere and online. It is their editorial policy not to offend religions of others.

There is a moral reason, too. It is a matter of respect of other religions. Pope Francis said it best on Jan. 15 : “… both freedom of faith and freedom of speech were fundamental human rights” and “every religion has its dignity.” He continued, “… in freedom of expression there are limits. … One cannot make fun of faith” and that “anyone who throws insults can expect a punch.” That is a pragmatic statement.

It is not blaming the victim as some have charged. It is a comment that we should not be surprised if there is a reaction when we insult a religion. These are lessons Europe has not learned very well, resulting in centuries of bloody wars and religious conflict. We in the U.S. carry our own baggage, but our political leaders have set the standards that get it right, though disrespect still boils below the surface in many quarters and some fume against “politically correct speech.”

The causes of terrorism are more complex than theological interpretations. Most Muslim terrorists are angry young people who come from countries with oppressive regimes or areas of military conflict with the West. The concept of free speech is alien to much of the world where governments control and approve all speech. They mistake hate speech by our citizens for officially sanctioned government policy. If we insult the entire 1.6 billion Muslims because of the actions of a relatively few, we should expect a reaction directed at both our government and citizens.

Many Muslim leaders and clerics condemned the Paris attacks and proclaimed terrorism as an aberration of their faith. In reacting to terrorist attacks, we Americans should do more to understand the differences among Muslims and take personal responsibility to condemn and refrain from hate speech.

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