In a free society, people have the right to express views even when they are offensive and wrong. It is the individual exercise of freedom of expression for a writer, painter, cartoonist, film maker or whoever to produce an intellectual product to his liking. Others may appreciate and give that intellectual product a standing ovation, others may not approve of it, and others may even consider it disgusting.
Under the Nov. 4, 1976, European Court of Human Rights verdict in the Richard Handyside against the British government it was stressed in all clarity that freedom of thought firstly, constitutes the backbone of a democratic society; secondly, is a must for the progress and development of every man; thirdly as a concept cannot be applicable only to ideas or information that are applauded by the majority or by the state but equally to such ideas that offend, shock or disturb the state or any sector of the population; and finally is a requirement of pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness, without which there can be no democratic society.
Of course in democratic societies there ought not to be taboos. Discussion on any issue must be possible and people must be mature enough to accept that people might have different evaluations, perceptions and even attachments on certain matters. Some people may hug others and thus enrage the entire society; some may sketch some oddities depicting a religious leader and trigger global storms and sometimes an idiot may just want to test the limits of patience in “other people,” against whom he might have an exhausting relationship with. Obviously, a politician must consider “morality” and the “feelings of the others” while hugging a terrorist who has blood still dipping from his hands and a cartoonist or film maker must understand that with full respect to their freedom of expression, that freedom does not give them the right to maliciously condemn religions, prophets or holy books. Values must be listened to. Of course, freedom of expression should exist everywhere, but people’s values should also be respected. There is a need then, in that framework, for a fine tuning, not of the concept of freedom of expression, but rather in the way it is applied.
On the other hand, people have the right to dislike an intellectual product and to demonstrate against it to show their disapproval. However, the right to demonstration does not give one the freedom to stage acts of brute force, nor does the right to free expression give one the liberty to commit blasphemy.
Irrespective of how adamantly we refuse to acknowledge it, over the past few years a buildup based on cultural and religious differences of all sorts has been under way. With the Iraq war, the Afghan operation, the standoff between Iran
and the much of the world, of course the events of 9/11 in America
and many deadly bombings across some of the world’s major cities along with a growing sectarian divide in the Middle East, a by-product of the so-called Arab Spring, have unfortunately not made the world a safer place.
Ignorant of the widening divide the “democracy nourishing” campaign created, yes in response to the heinous murder of the American
ambassador in Benghazi an American
secretary of state might say “We brought them democracy, look what they have done.”
What happened in Benghazi or in Cairo and anywhere else in protest of a blasphemous film can in no way be considered the exercise of the democratic right to protest. But, so too is the committing of blasphemous acts, be it cartoons, a film or what so ever, not implicit in the right to express one’s self freely.