Friday, 23 January 2015

Is there a right not to feel insulted? Or freedom to offend? A critical Muslim's view

The Paris shootings of 7 January 2015, at the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and in a kosher supermarket, have rekindled the debates on how contemporary multi-cultural societies can reconcile the freedom of speech and expression with respect for other people's beliefs and convictions.

The Malaysian-born British activist and academic Farouk Peru, who divides his time between the Muslim Institute in London, pursuing postgraduate studies at King's College London, and maintaining the Quranology Blog, responded with a provocatively titled and thought-provoking essay, published under the title "Why I support the freedom to offend me". Originally published on The Malaysian Insider website, it deserves to be posted her in full:

"I grew up in a culture of ultra-reverence. As Malay Muslims who grew up in Malaysia, we had more than just a healthy respect for our religious elders. In retrospect, I would even say that we idolised them. Even polite criticism towards these men (never women) of God was frowned upon.

They were self-proclaimed inheritors of the Prophet and so going against them was tantamount to betraying the Prophet himself. This is why the irreverence on the level displayed by the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists would have been a massive culture shock to my adolescent self.

The Charlie Hebdo massacre was blamed on irreverence. I say “blamed” rather than “caused” because that’s just an excuse. What really caused the massacre were firing guns. These people could not handle the irreverence towards their faith shown by Charlie Hebdo.

In 2011, Charlie Hebdo published cartoons of Prophet Muhammad and was firebombed as a result. Irreverence was something they peddled and did so with pride.

The irreverence people show to our respective religions act as a test of faith. To me, the people who meted out these violent reactions towards Charlie Hebdo failed their tests.

Of all the human endeavours in life, religion is the one towards which we should expect the most irreverence. Why? Because its very fundamental manoeuvre is to sell something intangible. It promises salvation if you believe and practise. Yet this salvation isn’t visible. So how can religionists expect submission and docility from those who disagree with them?

Judging from the past cartoons Charlie Hebdo published about Prophet Muhammad, they aimed to offend the Muslims. Of course they did. But who really determines if they succeed or otherwise? We do.

The Muslim themselves. We have a choice of whether to take offence or not. I choose not to. Those cartoons do not represent Prophet Muhammad to me so why on earth would I be offended?

Instead, Muslims should take these cartoons and any other form of criticism towards Islam, the Quran and Prophet Muhammad as a challenge to their faith. Why should we have the privilege of being shielded from criticism? What gives us the special right to be exempt when we ourselves criticise other faiths and ideologies?

If we would be truly just, we would have to censor the Quran itself because it denigrates the status of Jesus – thought to be God and/or son of God by Christians – to a mere Prophet. Why is it all right for us to criticise a major religious figure yet we expect sanctity from the rest of the world towards our founder?

We should take any form of criticism, even mockery and satire to be a test of our faith. Ask ourselves, why would these critics and satirists publish their work? Is there any truth to what they say?
Oftentimes, their mockery has some loose relations with elements in our tradition. We should also ask, why did they interpret Islam in that way?

Has it something to do with us and the way we ourselves practise the faith? If we practised Islam in the right way, should any person have the moral right to insult us? These are all pertinent questions to ask.

Let's not pretend as if they are impossible to fathom.

This is why I support the freedom to offend me. It is a freedom, not a necessity. The people who seek that freedom may have legitimate grievances with my beliefs.

If so, I should investigate these grievances to see whether or not they have a point and if so, is it perhaps my interpretation which is at fault. If not, then they are not forcing me to swallow their fruits of expression. I have every right and prerogative to simply not buy their newspaper, open the webpage or listen to them.

We human beings – as the "earth as spaceship” analogy goes – have to live in a shared space. As such, we cannot afford to be hypersensitive but must rather instead by magnanimous and show good will towards people. It may be that the criticism masks deeper resentments with which we must engage with love, kindness and compassion."

This opinion article appeared first on the website of the Malaysian Insider – January 9, 2015.



grew up in a culture of ultra-reverence. As Malay Muslims who grew up in Malaysia, we had more than just a healthy respect for our religious elders. In retrospect, I would even say that we idolised them. Even polite criticism towards these men (never women) of God was frowned upon.
They were self-proclaimed inheritors of the Prophet and so going against them was tantamount to betraying the Prophet himself. This is why the irreverence on the level displayed by the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists would have been a massive culture shock to my adolescent self.
The Charlie Hebdo massacre was blamed on irreverence. I say “blamed” rather than “caused” because that’s just an excuse. What really caused the massacre were people firing guns. These people could not handle the irreverence towards their faith shown by Charlie Hebdo.

In 2011, Charlie Hebdo published cartoons of Prophet Muhammad and was firebombed as a result. Irreverence was something they peddled and did so with pride. The irreverence people show to our respective religions act as a test of faith. To me, the people who meted out these violent reactions towards Charlie Hebdo failed their tests.
Of all the human endeavours in life, religion is the one towards which we should expect the most irreverence. Why? Because its very fundamental manoeuvre is to sell something intangible. It promises salvation if you believe and practise. Yet this salvation isn’t visible. So how can religionists expect submission and docility from those who disagree with them?
Judging from the past cartoons Charlie Hebdo published about Prophet Muhammad, they aimed to offend the Muslims. Of course they did. But who really determines if they succeed or otherwise? We do.
The Muslims themselves. We have a choice of whether to take offence or not. I choose not to. Those cartoons do not represent Prophet Muhammad to me so why on earth would I be offended?
Instead, Muslims should take these cartoons and any other form of criticism towards Islam, the Quran and Prophet Muhammad as a challenge to their faith. Why should we have the privilege of being shielded from criticism? What gives us the special right to be exempt when we ourselves criticise other faiths and ideologies?
If we would be truly just, we would have to censor the Quran itself because it denigrates the status of Jesus – thought to be God and/or son of God by Christians – to a mere Prophet. Why is it all right for us to criticise a major religious figure yet we expect sanctity from the rest of the world towards our founder?
We should take any form of criticism, even mockery and satire to be a test of our faith. Ask ourselves, why would these critics and satirists publish their work? Is there any truth to what they say?
Oftentimes, their mockery has some loose relations with elements in our tradition. We should also ask, why did they interpret Islam in that way?
Has it something to do with us and the way we ourselves practise the faith? If we practised Islam in the right way, should any person have the moral right to insult us? These are all pertinent questions to ask.
Let's not pretend as if they are impossible to fathom.
This is why I support the freedom to offend me. It is a freedom, not a necessity. The people who seek that freedom may have legitimate grievances with my beliefs.
If so, I should investigate these grievances to see whether or not they have a point and if so, is it perhaps my interpretation which is at fault. If not, then they are not forcing me to swallow their fruits of expression. I have every right and prerogative to simply not buy their newspaper, open the webpage or listen to them.
We human beings – as the "earth as spaceship” analogy goes – have to live in a shared space. As such, we cannot afford to be hypersensitive but must rather instead by magnanimous and show good will towards people. It may be that the criticism masks deeper resentments with which we must engage with love, kindness and compassion. – January 9, 2015.
- See more at: http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/sideviews/article/why-i-support-the-freedom-to-offend-me-farouk-a.-peru#sthash.Fr9TMmUk.dpuf
grew up in a culture of ultra-reverence. As Malay Muslims who grew up in Malaysia, we had more than just a healthy respect for our religious elders. In retrospect, I would even say that we idolised them. Even polite criticism towards these men (never women) of God was frowned upon.
They were self-proclaimed inheritors of the Prophet and so going against them was tantamount to betraying the Prophet himself. This is why the irreverence on the level displayed by the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists would have been a massive culture shock to my adolescent self.
The Charlie Hebdo massacre was blamed on irreverence. I say “blamed” rather than “caused” because that’s just an excuse. What really caused the massacre were people firing guns. These people could not handle the irreverence towards their faith shown by Charlie Hebdo.

In 2011, Charlie Hebdo published cartoons of Prophet Muhammad and was firebombed as a result. Irreverence was something they peddled and did so with pride. The irreverence people show to our respective religions act as a test of faith. To me, the people who meted out these violent reactions towards Charlie Hebdo failed their tests.
Of all the human endeavours in life, religion is the one towards which we should expect the most irreverence. Why? Because its very fundamental manoeuvre is to sell something intangible. It promises salvation if you believe and practise. Yet this salvation isn’t visible. So how can religionists expect submission and docility from those who disagree with them?
Judging from the past cartoons Charlie Hebdo published about Prophet Muhammad, they aimed to offend the Muslims. Of course they did. But who really determines if they succeed or otherwise? We do.
The Muslims themselves. We have a choice of whether to take offence or not. I choose not to. Those cartoons do not represent Prophet Muhammad to me so why on earth would I be offended?
Instead, Muslims should take these cartoons and any other form of criticism towards Islam, the Quran and Prophet Muhammad as a challenge to their faith. Why should we have the privilege of being shielded from criticism? What gives us the special right to be exempt when we ourselves criticise other faiths and ideologies?
If we would be truly just, we would have to censor the Quran itself because it denigrates the status of Jesus – thought to be God and/or son of God by Christians – to a mere Prophet. Why is it all right for us to criticise a major religious figure yet we expect sanctity from the rest of the world towards our founder?
We should take any form of criticism, even mockery and satire to be a test of our faith. Ask ourselves, why would these critics and satirists publish their work? Is there any truth to what they say?
Oftentimes, their mockery has some loose relations with elements in our tradition. We should also ask, why did they interpret Islam in that way?
Has it something to do with us and the way we ourselves practise the faith? If we practised Islam in the right way, should any person have the moral right to insult us? These are all pertinent questions to ask.
Let's not pretend as if they are impossible to fathom.
This is why I support the freedom to offend me. It is a freedom, not a necessity. The people who seek that freedom may have legitimate grievances with my beliefs.
If so, I should investigate these grievances to see whether or not they have a point and if so, is it perhaps my interpretation which is at fault. If not, then they are not forcing me to swallow their fruits of expression. I have every right and prerogative to simply not buy their newspaper, open the webpage or listen to them.
We human beings – as the "earth as spaceship” analogy goes – have to live in a shared space. As such, we cannot afford to be hypersensitive but must rather instead by magnanimous and show good will towards people. It may be that the criticism masks deeper resentments with which we must engage with love, kindness and compassion. – January 9, 2015.
- See more at: http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/sideviews/article/why-i-support-the-freedom-to-offend-me-farouk-a.-peru#sthash.Fr9TMmUk.dpuf
grew up in a culture of ultra-reverence. As Malay Muslims who grew up in Malaysia, we had more than just a healthy respect for our religious elders. In retrospect, I would even say that we idolised them. Even polite criticism towards these men (never women) of God was frowned upon.
They were self-proclaimed inheritors of the Prophet and so going against them was tantamount to betraying the Prophet himself. This is why the irreverence on the level displayed by the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists would have been a massive culture shock to my adolescent self.
The Charlie Hebdo massacre was blamed on irreverence. I say “blamed” rather than “caused” because that’s just an excuse. What really caused the massacre were people firing guns. These people could not handle the irreverence towards their faith shown by Charlie Hebdo.

In 2011, Charlie Hebdo published cartoons of Prophet Muhammad and was firebombed as a result. Irreverence was something they peddled and did so with pride. The irreverence people show to our respective religions act as a test of faith. To me, the people who meted out these violent reactions towards Charlie Hebdo failed their tests.
Of all the human endeavours in life, religion is the one towards which we should expect the most irreverence. Why? Because its very fundamental manoeuvre is to sell something intangible. It promises salvation if you believe and practise. Yet this salvation isn’t visible. So how can religionists expect submission and docility from those who disagree with them?
Judging from the past cartoons Charlie Hebdo published about Prophet Muhammad, they aimed to offend the Muslims. Of course they did. But who really determines if they succeed or otherwise? We do.
The Muslims themselves. We have a choice of whether to take offence or not. I choose not to. Those cartoons do not represent Prophet Muhammad to me so why on earth would I be offended?
Instead, Muslims should take these cartoons and any other form of criticism towards Islam, the Quran and Prophet Muhammad as a challenge to their faith. Why should we have the privilege of being shielded from criticism? What gives us the special right to be exempt when we ourselves criticise other faiths and ideologies?
If we would be truly just, we would have to censor the Quran itself because it denigrates the status of Jesus – thought to be God and/or son of God by Christians – to a mere Prophet. Why is it all right for us to criticise a major religious figure yet we expect sanctity from the rest of the world towards our founder?
We should take any form of criticism, even mockery and satire to be a test of our faith. Ask ourselves, why would these critics and satirists publish their work? Is there any truth to what they say?
Oftentimes, their mockery has some loose relations with elements in our tradition. We should also ask, why did they interpret Islam in that way?
Has it something to do with us and the way we ourselves practise the faith? If we practised Islam in the right way, should any person have the moral right to insult us? These are all pertinent questions to ask.
Let's not pretend as if they are impossible to fathom.
This is why I support the freedom to offend me. It is a freedom, not a necessity. The people who seek that freedom may have legitimate grievances with my beliefs.
If so, I should investigate these grievances to see whether or not they have a point and if so, is it perhaps my interpretation which is at fault. If not, then they are not forcing me to swallow their fruits of expression. I have every right and prerogative to simply not buy their newspaper, open the webpage or listen to them.
We human beings – as the "earth as spaceship” analogy goes – have to live in a shared space. As such, we cannot afford to be hypersensitive but must rather instead by magnanimous and show good will towards people. It may be that the criticism masks deeper resentments with which we must engage with love, kindness and compassion. – January 9, 2015.
- See more at: http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/sideviews/article/why-i-support-the-freedom-to-offend-me-farouk-a.-peru#sthash.Fr9TMmUk.dpuf

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