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Free Press in Islam

December 3, 2005

I have been researching an article for OneUmmah covering “freedom of speech” from an Islamic perspective compared and contrasted with that of the postmodern western world, particularly America. Although America’s apparent propaganda manipulation of Iraq’s supposed “free press”, as well as Bush’s secret desires to bomb al-Jazeera were both unknown to me when I decided to write the article, it certainly will aide me in the section under “practical applications of both concepts.”

Nevertheless, the main purpose of the article is to outline the concepts, particularly the Islamic one, which is virtually unknown to the non-Muslim world. Here are some of my preliminary observations, which I will set out to prove with my research:

1. Both Islam and Western democracies have limited free speech.

2. The western concept of free speech is, in many places, limited to abstracts, such as “inciting hatred.” (See UK law). These types of limits must be proved in courts.

3. Islam has some absolute limits on free speech, including the offense of religious beliefs. It is important to note here that an Islamic governing system forbids one from offending any religious beliefs, not only those of Muslims.

4. Western “free speech” allows for the offense of any religion, as long as it does not “incite hatred” toward that religion, although even this must be proved in courts. As such, journalists and laypeople have free reign over the abusing, cursing, and even slandering of prophets, saints, and scholars. People such as Salman Rushdie have made their living based on this concept. Rushdie himself believes the “right to offend” is necessary for a free and democratic world.

5. Slander of living people is essentially forbidden in western democracies. Apparently, this restriction does not apply to the deceased.

6. In Islam, slander is forbidden in any case, whether it is of living or dead, friend or foe.

7. Hurting a person’s feelings, i.e. “making fun of them” is encouraged and embraced in western democracies. TV shows, radio programs, and web sites by the thousands mock and ridicule celebrities, and politicians. Although a private citizen can sue on the basis of “emotional distress,” public figures have no protection from such offense. Many of them have fallen into depression and even become suicidal because of it.

8. Islam protects the feelings of the poorest and the richest among society, within reasonable limits. In other words, if someone writes a news story about why he hates cats, and it hurts a cat-lover’s feelings, that is beyond the reach of the state. If, however, the cat-hater mentions the cat-lover by name and calls him derogatory names, he should be restricted according to the law. This is not to say that public criticism is forbidden, even of heads of state, but it must be done ethically and respectfully.

9. That which is contrary to the agenda of the state is usually allowed within western democracies. If someone expresses his dislike of, for example, the usage of the word “God” on the US dollar bill, he is perfectly within his rights.

10. Similarly, I have found no evidence of any such restrictions in Islam. A citizen of an Islamic society should be allowed to constructively or pointlessly criticize the actions of the regime without fear of imprisonment, torture, or threats.

It should be noted that the last two points are not practically implemented in any country in the world, to the full extent, which leads us back to the United States’ abuse of the Iraqi media and their leader’s secret fantasy of blowing up a TV studio in Qatar.

My conclusion will be that Islam, like western democracies, recognizes the necessity of a free press, but it places important restrictions on that which violates the life, property, or honor of citizens of the state. Unfortunately, even the most permissive Muslim countries in the world do not implement this correctly, either going to one permissive extreme (similar to the US) or going to the other restrictive extreme (similar to Saudi Arabia).

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