Saturday, 16 February 2008

Freedom of expression

Once again, the Netherlands are sharply in the focus of a debate about freedom of expression on Islam. Four years ago, filmmaker Theo van Gogh was shot and killed on the streets of Amsterdam by a Muslim extremist. He had just made a film called Submission, about abused women in Muslim society.

Now, Dutch MP Geert Wilders has made a movie which claims the Koran, the Muslim holy book, is an incitement to murder. The Iranian minister for Justice has called on his Dutch counterpart to ban the film, but the government in The Hague has refused to intervene, saying the issue is freedom of expression. Mr Wilders has been advised to leave the country for his own safety.

A few years ago, a row blew up in Denmark over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. It is not permissible to portray the Prophet, as that is held to be blasphemy. Twenty years ago, Salman Rushdie got an Islamic death warrant tagged onto him for publishing that most unreadable of books, Satanic Verses. I doubt whether any of the people who were screaming loudest in protest had actually read a letter of it.

It is important to strike a correct balance between freedom of expression and respect for different beliefs. Mr Van Gogh got mowed down for portraying an ugly side of Islamic society, that of abused women. Nowhere in the Koran is there mention of women being subjugate to men, I have been reliably informed. He had a justifiable cause. If it is important in a religion not to portray the Prophet Mohammed, Islam's counterpoint to Jesus Christ (who is held to be but a minor prophet in Islam), then you don't portray him.

I am under the impression that Mr Wilders' film is about misinterpreting texts in the Koran, perpetrated by extremists within Islam. Or terrorists, using the religion as a pretext for their atrocities. He will have to tread a very, very fine line indeed how he goes about this. Because, would anyone of a Christian persuasion appreciate having the Bible call an incitement to murder? Given the past 500 years in history, I'd be tempted not to disagree with that.


  1. Jane from Rattlebox wrote quoting someones views on this very subject this morning giving her views ,and it had some very strong  valid opinions , Jan xx

  2. I think that what is so often missed in the whole debate about freedom of expression and whether there should be limitations on it is personal responsibility. I am not familiar with Dutch law but in the US, freedom of expression is protected for the most part from government censorship. This does not mean that any one of us has to refrain from self-censorhip, that is, deciding not to write, say, or publish things that are likely to offend or cause controversy. However, I don't think that the world would be very interesting if we all avoided controversey. So the second part of freedom of expression is that if your publish or say or otherwise make public some opinion with which I disagree or take offense, then I can respond in kind and state my reasons why I disagree.  What I find totally irresponsible and unacceptable is the notion that violence of any sort is an acceptable response to the presentation of different view points.

    Btw, I think that your point about the argument that could be made that the Christian Bible could be labeled an incitement to murder --holy wars, crusades, etc.--is quite valid.--Sheria

  3. An interesting entry  :O)
    You say:
    If it is important in a religion not to portray the Prophet Mohammed, Islam's counterpoint to Jesus Christ (who is held to be but a minor prophet in Islam), then you don't portray him.

    It is forbidden by the Koran to portray human figures.  Would you suggest then that we burn the Mona Lisa - and all British postage stamps - so as not to offend Muslims?

    In a Muslim theocracy they may make whatever religious laws which take the fancy of the Mullahs, but this is Britain where our established church is Christian and where our political system pays lip service to intellectual freedom - the same intellectual freedom which has placed our country at the forefront of material, social and intellectual development.

    Muslims offended by those 'liberal' attributes - which btw are attributes which enticed (and allowed them to come here) - should remove themselves elsewhere.

  4. hi guido, i am not a religious person and belive that it is the individuals choice to follow whatever faith they choose. I do not like it forced on other people and whilst i agree that respect for other religions is important, i do not think that that should affect people freedom of speech. To me religion seems to cause alot of problems within the world and people are too quick to justify their actions by religion. I stress this is a personal view and not meant to cause offence.  take care guido mrs t x