7. May 2015 15:36
by Administrator

Can Freedom of Speech Go Too Far? by Ahmad Ward

7. May 2015 15:36 by Administrator | 0 Comments

On May 3, 2015, in Garland Texas, a “Draw Muhammad” contest was taking place, sponsored by the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI).  The founder of AFDI, Pamela Geller is also president of the Stop Islamization of America and has been known for promoting anti-Islamic ideas.  Contest participants were asked to draw images of the Prophet Muhammad (which is considered blasphemous by many in the Muslim community) for an opportunity to win $10,000.   As the event was ending, two men armed with assault rifles opened fire on the venue, wounding a security guard.  The two men were shot and killed by a traffic officer working security for the event.  There was a S.W.A.T. on hand as well because of the heightened risk.    This event mirrored the attack on the satirical French magazine, Charlie Hedbo, where 12 people were killed by gunman, upset by the magazine’s publishing of cartoons depicting Muhammad.  After the Garland attack, Geller said: "I will not abridge my freedoms so as not to offend savages. This is Freedom of Speech and these cartoons are political critique."

No one’s life should be threatened because of the things they say or the beliefs they hold, no matter how distasteful.  However, when does your right to Freedom of Speech meet a barrier?    It is well-known that depictions of the Prophet Muhammad are frowned upon and have historically been followed by credible threats.  Charlie Hebdo has shown that the practice of “insulting” Muhammad cannot be taken lightly.  So why do it?  Many people have stated that they believe Geller created the event to purposely “thumb her nose” at Islam and some even believe that she was hoping to provoke a response to show the “danger” inherent in the religion.   There are bad people in each and every religion and things like violence and intolerance are not tools of any one faith.   We do a disservice to the millions of people who practice Islam when we cast all of them as radical extremists bent on destroying Western civilization and Christianity.   When we call all Muslims “radicals” and violent, we are disrespecting the countless members of our community that are our doctors, teachers, community leaders, public servants and military.   President Obama recently discussed the “complicated” histories of other organized religions, including Christianity, in regards to violence.   We must take a realistic look at history and put these events in the proper perspective.   Violence must be condemned and the perpetrators must be punished, but we must be careful not to condemn and punish the religion associated with those events.

Geller said Sunday's attack showed how necessary the event was, and that she plans to hold similar events in the future.  While we have to protect free speech, as civilized people, we have to use common sense and discernment to determine whether we are causing harm.   It really boils down to one of my favorite statements:  Just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean that you should do it.

Ahmad is Head of Education and Exhibitions at BCRI