Censorship is offensive
Once again, the world is party to violent riots — or protests if you really want to call them that, flag burnings, and attacks in the Islamic world. Most people will, by now, be aware of the apparent underlying reason: a poorly made, clearly dubbed over video called Innocence of Muslims circulating on YouTube. In the wake of all of this, a French satirical magazine has decided to publish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Some have described these cartoons as obscene.
Through this entire process now, which up to this point has seen 30 people killed in what has essentially degenerated into mob violence, the Western world has once again started debating whether or not to censor such media products or regulate media output in general.
If the West was to censor the output of such media as poorly made YouTube videos or even cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, then we need to stop and ask ourselves what is to stop our governments from going even further and censoring or muffling other items they deem unsavoury. Before we could blink twice, we could be facing a repressive police state.
Have our governments really come to a point where the very freedoms anchored in our constitutions can readily be tailored by governments that allow themselves to be blackmailed by fear? We, the people, should send a clear and definitive response: no. Most governments would immediately state that they would not negotiate with terrorists, yet these same governments cower before an angry mob incited by violent and fundamentalist radicals.
The reality is that what we have here is exactly that – radical Islamist fundamentalists inciting a crowd into a frenzy with anti-US and general anti-Western slogans. These fundamentalists belong to history textbooks in much the same way that Western witch hunts and stake-burnings do. There is no room for such macabre violence and hatred only to advance the political or cultural agendas of violent groups or individuals.
Which is why even the simple act of regulating Western media is nothing but another form of censorship caused by fear. Many artists and filmmakers already self-censor out of fear of offending. I think we can point to the furor that the Kingdom of Heaven script leak caused among Westerners and Easterners alike as an example. Muslims denounced the film as anti-Muslim and many American critics saw the film as anti-Christian. Yet, if artists or the general public begin a cycle of constant self-censorship induced by fear, then where does that take us? Eventually, we would simply capitulate to the forces of radicals and fear-mongers. Unless a law is broken, the public peace is disturbed, or there is an incitement to violence, hatred, or discrimination, we should not regulate, censor, or otherwise curtail the freedoms given to all of us, including our media. We may not always agree with an opinion, but that person or entity is entitled to have it.
It’s important, though, throughout this debate to know that Islam, like Christianity, is not inherently violent unless words and passages are twisted to meet the sick needs of fundamentalists. Ed Husain, who is the senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies on the US Council on Foreign Relations and the author of The Islamist, articulates it best when he says that “I am a Muslim. I am a Westerner. I see no contradictions in being both.” What’s lacking is understanding, and we need to work to create that understanding before we can fully address the current state of West-East relationships.