According to the South African Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) freedom of speech has its limits – especially when “connected to the heart of the Muslim.” In a statement that would confuse even the most intelligent amongst us, we are left wondering, despite the assertions condemning violence, where they stand on the matter.
Or maybe, sadly, we aren’t.
The statement, “We accept freedom of speech, but there is a limit to your freedom of expression when there is something that could potentially lead to hate speech” adds to the enigma, and I for one am left wanting. According to magnificently constructed conundrum, it doesn’t have to be hate speech but merely something that might “lead” to hate speech. And this I am afraid, is very dangerous. Who would get to decide what might “lead us” to temptation. The MJC? One shivers at the thought.
Firstly let them condemn the slaughter of the innocent Jews in a supermarket. No mention was made of this barbarism in their statement and the fact that despite the terrorists being linked, no nexus could be fabricated between the cartoons and Jews. But it is Jews who die. Because freedom of speech apparently has its limits.
The Star Newspaper on Friday reports on the statement of Iqbal Jassat, executive member of the Media Review Network, an organization based in Johannesburg. “The murder of 12 people in Paris should send a clear message to the world that the lampooning of Muhammad is unacceptable.” Jassat calls the loss of innocent lives “regrettable” but explains that the media has been asked repeatedly not to cross the line. He explains further that the incident needs to be seen in context and is in fact about “the Arab world’s displeasure at the lampooning of our prophet.”
One might be comforted to know that the Media Review Network aims to dispel myths and stereotypes about Islam and Muslims. What a relief because just for a moment they had me confused with those that are propagating the very myths that they are seeking to dispel.
So where is the everyday Muslim world in all of this? I know that if I were of the faith I would have been angered by the depiction of my prophet in cartoon form. That said, I happen to have found Zapiro’s (a South African cartoonist) cartoon funny when he depicted the prophet on a psychologist’s couch lamenting that his followers had no sense of humour. And, to add, or to “contextualise” as the MRN would have us do, I have on many occasions been deeply offended by Zapiro’s depiction of Israel and of Jews. But my options were either to take it on legally, or complain incessantly to those around me. I could be found guilty of boring someone to the death – at most. Violence would not be an option.
The recent statements by these two bodies is concerning (note the use of understatement). There is no unequivocal rejection of violence. Both flip-flop between saying that no Muslim would commit an act of violence but then explain the provocation as a possible justification for this barbarism.
To date, no statement has been issued with regard to their intolerance of anti-Semitism and we wait to see if this is forthcoming.
But I remain hopeful. Despite the lack of satisfactory condemnation of these horrors, I believe it is poor and culpable leadership in the Muslim community in South Africa that is to blame for our perception. I still believe that this is not what most Muslims want. I believe that there is a rejection (albeit somewhat silent) of the violence that is being seen not only in Paris and in the rest of Europe, and not only in the Middle East, but across Africa where many are on the rampage and so many are dying daily. And I pray that I am not wrong. I am certain I cannot be, because the consequences are too horrible to contemplate.
follow me on twitter @HowardFeldman