Islam and the Struggle for Free Speech

Ever since a Facebook friend posted the MTA article about the hate ads that were going to be put up in the New York subway system, I had been planning on taking time out of my day to excavate the Times Square metro station (i’ts huge, let me tell you; practically every subway line runs through it) in search of the ad, which the article had stated would be in that specific subway station.

However, I ended up stumbling unplanned onto the ad while walking to the train home with a friend after we’d been celebrating another friend’s birthday, a friend who happens to be a Muslim American originally from Bangladesh; my Muslim Egyptian husband and his friend, also from Egypt, had also been in attendance (between the 5 of us, we spoke about 6 languages, a good indicator of America’s diversity). I almost missed the ad; I’m pretty sure it was the same one American-Egyptian journalist MonaG%$% had tried to spray-paint pink, but it was no longer pink. It was almost strange to see it there: like the tourists who whipped out their phones to take photos of the stars of the TV show The Golden Boys, which was filming alongside the stop for the Shuttle in Grand Central, I had that weird jolt you get when you see something/someone you’ve never seen or met before in person, and whipped out my own phone to snap a photo:


Apparently the MTA has gone to great lengths to remove the graffiti, as many other people besides Mona have “vandalized” the ad, including sticking giant stickers on it. Which is ironic, because certain stations are full of graffiti, and I’ve seen many ads get vandalized, either with tear marks or a caricaturists creation over the image, but apparently the anti-jihad poster is top priority. The ad occupies a prime long corridor that connects different platforms in TSQ, hence it get’s top exposure to people taking the train.

The MTA, according to a Huffpost article (see link below) has decided to put disclaimers on all future ads that don’t, say, promote a TV show or film or product, stating that the ad doesn’t reflect MTA’s opinion. Since the Transport Authority was more or less forced to run the ads, I can see the goodwill behind this, but it’s also kind of silly. As Huffpost reader Chaoli wrote on 9/28:

As far as the Court’s decision is concerned, I beg to differ but I think it most appropriate and in keeping with the Anti-establishment clause of the Constitution that ALL ads promoting or denigrating ANY religious views be banned from City-owned and operated facilities, particularly in cases where there is concern for public safety. Had the posters used the word, “terrorism” rather than “Jihad,” with its clear religious implications to the public, that would have been a different story.

The “une” (cover) of Charlie Hebdo. “The invention of humor: adding fuel to the fire.” Sourced from Charlie Hebdo’s Facebook page.

I couldn’t agree more. Chaoli’s solution is much more sensible than the MTA’s pathetic attempt at goodwill.

From the French front comes yet another Charlie Hebdo cover, or make that two: one is a white cover with only the words “Journal Irresponsable,” the other is the image you see at left. I kind of wished that Charlie would just get over the whole episode–they apparently won’t let a topic drop–but it was kind of an interesting idea, that humor comes from pushing the boundaries of an already-incendiary topic. I couldn’t help but think of the MTA ad and how, whereas the MTA ad declared Muslims savages, Charlie Hebdo actually appeared to be calling themselves irresponsable savages who didn’t know that adding oil to flames will only increase your fire.

The issue of freedom of speech in regards to Islam continues to be a hot topic. Many Muslim representatives pushed at the United Nations for the end of “Islamophobia” and the West’s denunciation of Islam. Although I hate the MTA ad and the Charlie Hebdo’s ridiculous bating, I’m not so sure I can fully support what the Muslim leaders are saying. Pakistani President  Asif Ali Zardari said the UN  “should criminalize such acts that destroy the peace of the world and endanger world security by misusing freedom of expression,” saying that criticism of a religion should be criminalized. I had to laugh: where was Pakistan criminilizing Osama bin Laden, who lived in it’s borders? Where was the outright condemnation of those who mocked the largely non-Muslim, Christian world?

Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi claimed that

Egypt respects freedom of expression, freedom of expression that is not used to incite hatred against anyone,” he said. “We expect from others, as they expect from us, that they respect our cultural specifics and religious references, and not impose concepts or cultures that are unacceptable to us.”

Ah bon? C’est vrai? This certainly wasn’t true in the Mubarak era, and I’m waiting to see if Morsi upholds these tenets. Furthermore, speaking your mind does not mean one is imposing concepts or culture on anyone, so I’m not quite sure Morsi understood what free speech means. Sadly enough, the filmmaker of Innocence of Muslims wasn’t imposing on anybody; he was speaking his mind, no matter how awful and rude his thoughts were.

Religion is a person’s choice, unlike race or gender; it is expression and therefore is up for grabs, although I believe it depends on the arena: governments should in no way make remarks on religion, and religious hate should not be put on, say, an subway train or another public place. Religion is personal, so any comments directed at it should be in a more personal setting, too.





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