Fedwa Wazwaz

Fedwa Wazwaz is a Palestinian- American born in Jerusalem, Palestine and raised in the US. By profession, she is a senior data warehouse programmer with the University of Minnesota. Read more about Fedwa Wazwaz.

Distinguishing free speech from hate

Posted by: Fedwa Wazwaz under Society, Education and literacy, Continuing education, Government, Politics Updated: June 24, 2014 - 8:43 PM

"People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use."
--Soren Kierkegaard

It is the same story.  

Around the country, speakers are warning Americans about the danger of Islam and the threat of the Muslims within.  Islam maligned, Prophet Muhammad attacked and the speakers threaten lawsuits if they are denied the space to spew their venom in an unchallenged manner.

They argue this is "freedom of speech." To such individuals, regurgitating your dirty saliva without any critical thinking or understanding of the subject matter at hand is free speech.  Yet a society that values freedom of speech is best known by the presence of the voices of its minorities and politically weak in the public square. To my knowledge, the Muslims in many European countries and here remain mainly marginalized.

There is a strong social pressure for Muslims to speak the right way, breathe the right way, sneeze the right away or fear being accused of extremism or terrorism activity.

Let us play an imagination game.

Imagine in your mind's eye the following cartoon: a Muslim with a thought bubble that reads, "What is freedom of speech?" The Muslim figure is looking at two prevailing images from Western countries with Muslim minorities: One image shows some Westerners bashing Muslims, Islam and Prophet Muhammad, and another image shows law enforcement persecuting, spying, bashing and censoring Muslims for unpopular opinions and speech.  In the first image a crowd surrounds the speaker attacking Islam and Muslims, and in the second image a drone is aiming at the Muslim speaker spewing venom at non-Muslims.  What makes one speech socially and legally acceptable under free speech and another as in the case of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen, grounds for a drone attack for his inflammatory speech against the US?

Let us continue the imagination game.

Imagine a Muslim speaker who claims that American Christians and Jews "will kill your children" and that "we are in war with Crusaders," was invited to speak at Bagley High School. 

Imagine the speaker incited the audience such that some neighbors felt endangered and decided to attend to challenge the speaker with their attendance and "Love Thy Neighbor" signs.

Imagine said speaker stopped his presentation and singled these people out, demanded they leave or threatened to throw them out.

Imagine the incited crowd yells, 'Get out' and 'You weren't invited.' 

Imagine people getting up to their feet and moving towards them to lay hands on them and kick them out.

Imagine one Muslim upset at the Christian and Jewish presence, later approached the officer and asked: "Can I borrow your gun?"

Imagine one member describes the event as "The audience doesn't know where the line is, or that a line even exists. When [Muslim speaker] works a crowd, he does so skillfully, provoking responses and goading reactions. After listening to fear mongering messages the previous night, such as 'Christians are destroying the world,' 'Jews are coming to kill your children and grandchildren,' 'The day will come and Christian and Jews in America will have the upper hand, and they will kill your children for not eating what is liked. For not eating the lawful foods,' and 'Killing you is a small matter.'

Are we as Americans in favor of such speech?  Are we in favor of the views of Anwar al-Alwaki and other Muslims who spew such venom?  Would we be open to our schools allowing such views to incite crowds?

Noam Chomsky said, "If you're in favor of free speech, then you're in favor of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise. Otherwise, you're not in favor of free speech."

The US killed Anwar al-Alwaki, and his children with drones.  They did not commit acts of terrorism, but al-Awlaki was guilty of spewing hatred against America.

So I would like to ask Bagley High School, are you open to a Muslim speaker who spews venom towards Christians and Jews?  I ask the Police and Law Enforcement in Bagley - had this been a Muslim speaker spewing venom against Jews and Christians - would you have handled this situation the same way?

I ask the radio stations and media in Bagley and around - had this been a Muslim speaker spewing venom against Christians and Jews - would you have favorably promoted the event on your station and paper?  Are Muslim voices that you despise heard? This demonstrates whether it was hate or freedom that is motivating speakers and the audience.

I ask the FBI who is constantly asking us to keep our eyes and ears open to questionable behavior by Muslims and to aid them in preventing terrorism - had this been a Muslim speaker spewing venom - would you have remained silent?  

According to Islamic teachings, freedom of speech is a valuable concept when embraced with a spirit engaged in the search for truth and is not laced with insults and vulgarity. For example, Islam forbids Muslims from cursing or attacking other faiths. Islamic teachings also prohibit sitting in the company of those who ridicule and mock God or the prophets.  There is no value or critical thinking in such speech.

In the Qur'an, one hears arguments raised by Satan toward God as well as the objections toward Prophet Mohammed, upon him peace and blessings, by the early Makkans. God does not censor these voices but responds to the charges raised.

Satan was given time till Judgment Day to prove that God's ennoblement of human beings over him was a mistake.  If you are for free speech, then you are for an equal platform for those you disagree with, who oppose or challenge your views and ideas, openly and transparently.  

Speech that seeks to incite a crowd and rage at any opposing voice and muzzle everyone who can respond and challenge their argument - is not free speech, but hate.  

In addition, in the Quran we are told of a conversation between Prophet Solomon, upon him peace, and the Queen of Sheba.  The Queen of Sheba was of a different faith, different gender, and different ethnicity, in other words, the "other."  When a subject of Prophet Solomon shares with him negative news regarding the Queen, Prophet Solomon responds with a call for verification and investigation.  He respectfully writes to the Queen and engages her directly, openly and transparently.

(Solomon) said: "Soon shall we see whether thou hast told the truth or lied!  "Go thou, with this letter of mine, and deliver it to them: then draw back from them, and (wait to) see what answer they return"...  (The queen) said: "Ye chiefs! here is delivered to me - a letter worthy of respect. (Quran 27: 27-29)

When a crowd is easily incited by negative comments on the "other" and fails to accept its responsibility to verify, investigate, and engage openly and transparently, then that is not freedom of speech, but hate.

The quotes shared above in the imagination game were not the quotes of a Muslim speaker; rather, they are the quotes of Usama K. Dakdok, a Christian speaker, who came to Bagley, Minnesota this past weekend to warn Minnesotans about the "disease of Islam."  I changed the quotes to help us understand that were similar quotes to be said by a Muslim toward non-Muslims, we would not be so open and receptive to such speech and we would not call it free speech.  We would easily recognize it as hate speech.

SEE:  Three-day Bagley Islamophobe event turns nasty as crowd harasses Muslim woman at high school

I do not ask for the US to hit Dakdok with a drone, but why is al-Awlaki hit with a drone, while Dakdok and others are allowed to speak in public schools or spaces under the banner of "freedom of speech?"  That is not imagination, but reality.

SEE: US cited controversial law in decision to kill American citizen by drone

The issue for me is not that Dakdok and others like him are allowed to speak, but the platform in which they speak is a platform where Muslims are marginalized, mocked and silenced.  It is a platform devoid of critical thinking, investigation, transparency, and verification.  It confuses feelings with facts, projection with analysis and promotes a demented understanding of one another, which creates an atmosphere that is unhealthy for Muslims and all citizens in Bagley, Minnesota and America at large.

Reflect

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