By Arab News
By Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed
Ideas on how acts of inciting religious hatred and abuse of religious creeds could be reined in are plenty. These ideas are circulated with the objective of getting rid of any clash between followers of different religions. It has also been observed that proposals for a ban on statements and acts promoting hatred is gaining acceptance among legislators and intellectuals in the Islamic world.
I believe that the implementation of such ideas is next to impossible.
Issuing an international law against attacking any religion and persuading the governments of the world to legislate regional laws to support that law is not practicable. What can be done, however, is that those interested in forming a legislation against religious hatred undertake studies about the obstacles of drafting such agreements.
Most Western countries will not change their stance on freedom of expression no matter how dangerous or false the opinions expressed may be because the basic principle of their constitutions is rooted in total freedom of expression.
However, there are countries such as Germany, Austria and France that permit intervention when literary works including religious works are published for political objectives.
Britain and the Unites States, both of which have experienced similar issues in the past, prefer to stick to freedom of expression rather than to religious creeds and sacred symbols in general. Under the cover of freedom of expression and faith, some racist groups in the US are publicly attacking Judaism, Christian sects and most recently Islam.
Such groups have existed for a long time, yet they have failed to garner any public support. Such groups are hated by society and as such their acts cannot be considered as representing the majority of population. Nevertheless, such intellectually plagued groups will continue to exist in all parts of the world. They find themselves at the forefront of public attention when opposition groups readily fan the flames they create. On that front, the second caliph Umar bin Al-Khattab said it best. Upon being informed that Quraish poets were reciting lampoons attacking the prophet, the caliph was recorded as saying: “kill lies with silence.” Muslims of the earlier era were also known to have said, “cripple falsehood by abandoning it.”
Anyone who calls for laws to ban the abuse of religions stands the risk of clashes with other religious faiths because there are deep differences between various religions. It is an undeniable fact that the concept of ‘takfir’ (declaring others infidels) is found in all religions. That is why it is difficult to deal with this sensitive and dangerous issue.
What is within reason and pragmatism, however, is to encourage dialogue between different religions and their mutual understanding and peaceful co-existence. They should also realize the risks involved in being carried away by rabble-rousers. What is important is to counter hate campaigns voluntarily.
It is also important to convince large media establishments and social media networks to sign an honor pact against publishing content that denigrate religions, sects and races. Such pacts, which should be voluntarily accepted not enforced, will have a strong impact on minimizing instances of clashes. In such an environment, Google’s stance to refuse to pull any anti-Islamic videos will look awkward.
Nevertheless, I cannot see how any agreement obliging governments to ban abuse of religious and symbols could be effective under the existing global system and the prevailing environment of free communication technology.