Most people are at least passingly familiar with the video “Innocence of Muslims” and the uproar it has caused throughout the world. People even in the United States have called for the censorship and removal of the video from YouTube. Google (which owns the video-sharing site) has refused to do so, though it has blocked its viewing in Egypt and Libya.
Today, however, almost 10,000 protestors gathered in the UK to demand that Google remove the video. Highlights from this protest include some disturbing quotes:
“This is not freedom of expression, there is a limit for that. This insult of the Prophet will not be allowed.”
“Terrorism is not just people who kill human bodies, but who kill human feelings as well. The makers of this film have terrorised 1.6 billion people.“
“Organisations like Google are key players and have to take responsibility for civility. You can’t just say it doesn’t matter that it’s freedom of speech. It’s anarchy.“
It is unsettling that such things would come out of Western mouths. No matter what your stance on freedom of speech is, comparing a video insulting a religious figure to the deaths of thousands if not millions of people is insulting to their memories.
It is not the same.
I realize that as a non-Muslim, I don’t fully understand what these people are feeling. But I do have a religious belief that is not accepted by many other people. People ridicule my beliefs on a regular basis. They insult my gods (or that I believe in one at all). I am misrepresented and underrepresented in just about every pop culture movie made. Some people rejoice in the times when they burned my kind at the stake.
However, it is better for us to hear things that violate our cherished beliefs than to live in a society where we only acknowledge one truth. If we must never insult the Prophet Mohammed, must we also never insult the Christian god? And what constitutes an insult of that god? Homosexuality? Interracial marriage? Women owning property? Islam?
That is the end of the road these protestors are walking down, and it is sad that they don’t see it. What they forget in their anger is that the reason they—and others of different religions—can exist peacefully is precisely because we refuse to do what it is they’re asking. We allow everyone to speak, and everything someone says offends someone else. That is the nature of a pluralized, secular society.
We have to remember: No matter how deeply we believe something is wrong or how strongly we feel it, we are still always better off in a society where we can be offended. The alternative is one we have already seen in our past: killing someone for simply believing something different. It begins with censorship, and it ends there.
If Muslims in the UK and other parts of the world are genuinely concerned with the representation of the Prophet Mohammed, having the video removed will not solve their problem. Instead, they should consider making a response like groups did to the anti-jihad subway ads in New York. This is how freedom is properly utilized in a free society.
It’s time we all remembered that.