This week, Muslims the world over are observing Eid ul-Fitr, the celebratory end to our month of fasting. On this occasion, as a kid, I remember being served kheer (a type of rice pudding), scooping it up with puri (a type of fried bread) and hoping to bite into a Canadian dollar (a type of esteemed currency). For me, the Eid adventure of fishing for coins without choking on them was gift enough. I figured if Allah wanted me dead, She could have easily arranged it.
Similarly, if God wanted me to shut up once and for all, this year’s Eid gift wouldn’t be what it is. Infinitely more valuable than money. Priceless, you might say.
It’s a defense of the freedom to criticize Islam — and every other religion.
Today, in Washington, several groups will hold a press conference to launch the Coalition to Defend Free Speech. Among its leading members is the non-partisan Freedom House, which has supported Egyptian democracy activists and others for years. A quote from their press release:
“Freedom House is part of a new coalition seeking to safeguard freedom of speech and freedom of expression from an international campaign that aims to limit and in some cases criminalize criticism of religion. This campaign, led by countries such as Pakistan and Egypt, regularly proposes resolutions at the United Nations that would prohibit ‘defamation of religion,’ in effect curtailing speech that some find offensive and stifling religious debate and discussion.”
Since Islamic countries are spearheading the UN effort to quash religious dissent, you can bet that many Muslims will label the Coalition to Defend Free Speech an “Islamophobic” conspiracy. Try telling that to the International Quranic Center, one the Coalition’s founders.
Then there’s this inconvenient truth: Lack of freedom restricts inter-faith understanding by killing opportunities for conversation, replacing inquiry with inquisition. That’s a conspiracy alright. A conspiracy of silence, not of Islamophobes.
Above all, criminalizing criticism of Islam hurts Muslims first and foremost. It stifles our consciences. It also legitimizes other forms of authoritarian abuse against us. Paula Schriefer, advocacy director at Freedom House, explains:
“The movement to limit speech that is deemed critical or ‘blasphemous’ to religions has been pushed most strongly by self-appointed governments of Muslim-majority countries, and their citizens by far have been the most victimized by measures to restrict their speech and thought. By limiting the very ability of people to raise questions, ideas and opinions, one undermines not only freedom of expression, but intellectual, academic and religious freedoms as well.”
Sing it loud, sing it proud, sister. God knows I did in this blog entry several months ago. Glad that we’re starting to hear each other.
In that spirit, I’ll be contacting the Coalition to see how Project Ijtihad and the Moral Courage Project can join this campaign. The European Foundation for Democracy, with which I’m a scholar, is another prime candidate for membership.
And you? If you want to participate in the mission, subscribe to my mailing list and sign the anti-death threat petition. Both can be done for free. Both should be done for freedom.
Meanwhile, let me use my freedom of speech to wish you Eid Mubarak not only in Arabic, but also in the languages of three secular countries. Bayramınız Kutlu Olsun (Turkey). Selamat Idul Fitri (Indonesia). How many bowls of kheer do I need to down to cough up a Loonie, eh? (Canada).