“I am suggesting that freedom of expression is an incomplete value unless it is used honorably, and that the obligations of citizenship in any society should include a commitment to informed and responsible expression.” — His Highness the Aga Khan, February 2006
We owe it to ourselves to act with respect for others and to seek not to arbitrarily or unnecessarily injure those with whom we are sharing a society and a planet…..In a pluralist, diverse and respectful society like ours, we owe it to ourselves to be aware of the impact of our words, of our actions on others, particularly these communities and populations who still experience a great deal of discrimination” — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, October 30, 2020 in response to a question from a journalist
Two weeks ago, French teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded after showing his class caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in a civics class about freedom of expression. The cartoons had first appeared in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005, and were reproduced in the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, which then led to killing of several of its journalists some years ago. The newspaper’s many critics worldwide said that the editorial staff was attacking Islam itself.
In response to the killing of the teacher recently, French President Emmanuel Macron defended the cartoons depicting Prophet Muhammad in the name of free speech, and said France would not “give up cartoons”, pledging that Islamists “will never have” his country’s future. This sparked protests and boycotts in a number of Muslim countries. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan accused French President Emmanuel Macron of “attacking Islam” by defending the publication of the caricatures.
“Sadly, President Macron has chosen to deliberately provoke Muslims, including his own citizens, through encouraging the display of blasphemous cartoons targeting Islam & our Prophet PBUH (peace be upon him),” Khan said in a series of tweets. “It is unfortunate that he has chosen to encourage Islamophobia by attacking Islam rather than the terrorists who carry out violence, be it Muslims, White Supremacists or Nazi ideologists,” Khan wrote.
This week, three more people were in killed near a a church in Nice, in southern France, by a young Tunisian man. President Macron’s defiant statements may have triggered the brutal stabbings.
Canada’s parliament observed a moment of silence on Thursday, October 29. As he had done the day before with the leaders of the European Union, Prime Minister Trudeau condemned the “awful and appalling” extremist attacks in France.
However, in response to a newspaper’s question a day later, while defending free speech, Prime Minister Trudeau distanced himself from the position of French President Macron and pleaded for a careful use of free speech, He stated that freedom of speech was “not without limits” and it should not “arbitrarily and needlessly hurt” certain communities.
“We owe it to ourselves to act with respect for others and to seek not to arbitrarily or unnecessarily injure those with whom we are sharing a society and a planet. We do not have the right for example to shout fire in a movie theatre crowded with people, there are always limits,” the Prime Minister argued.
“In a pluralist, diverse and respectful society like ours, we owe it to ourselves to be aware of the impact of our words, of our actions on others, particularly these communities and populations who still experience a great deal of discrimination,” he said.
The Aga Khan on “The Great Conversation” of Our Times — Being Unafraid of Controversy but Also Being Sensitive to Others
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, touched on the controversy soon after the cartoons first appeared in the Danish journal during a speech that he delivered at the University of Evora in Portugal. His remarks are as follows:
“An important goal of quality education is to equip each generation to participate effectively in what has been called “the great conversation” of our times. This means, on one hand, being unafraid of controversy. But it also means being sensitive to the values and outlooks of others.
“This brings me back to the current headlines. For I must believe that it is ignorance which explains the publishing of those caricatures which have brought such pain to Islamic peoples. I note that the Danish journal where the controversy originated acknowledged, in a recent letter of apology, that it had never realized the sensitivities involved.
“In this light, perhaps, the controversy can be described less as a clash of civilizations and more as a clash of ignorance. The alternative explanation would be that the offense was intended — in which case we would be confronted with evil of a different sort. But even to attribute the problem to ignorance is in no way to minimize its importance. In a pluralistic world, the consequences of ignorance can be profoundly damaging.
“Perhaps, too, it is ignorance which has allowed so many participants in this discussion to confuse liberty with license — implying that the sheer absence of restraint on human impulse can constitute a sufficient moral framework. This is not to say that governments should censor offensive speech. Nor does the answer lie in violent words or violent actions. But I am suggesting that freedom of expression is an incomplete value unless it is used honorably, and that the obligations of citizenship in any society should include a commitment to informed and responsible expression.
“If we can commit ourselves, on all sides, to that objective, then the current crisis could become an educational opportunity—an occasion for enhanced awareness and broadened perspectives.
“Ignorance, arrogance, insensitivity—these attitudes rank high among the great public enemies of our time. And the educational enterprise, at its best, can be an effective antidote to all of them.” — Read Full Speech by His Highness the Aga Khan, Evora University Symposium, Lisbon, Portugal, February 12, 2006. We also invite you to read Gems from the 49th Ismaili Imam’s 21st century speeches.
Date posted: October 30, 2020.
Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few.
We welcome feedback from our readers. Please complete the LEAVE A REPLY form below or, if you don’t see the box, please click Leave a comment. Your letter may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation.