Middle East studies in the News
Free Speech Excludes Religious Insults, Interfaith Forum Told After Charlie Hebdo Attack [incl. Robert Rozehnal]
by Zurairi Ar
Freedom of speech does not give individuals the right to insult the religions of others, panellists at a forum on interfaith discourse said today in the wake of the recent terror attack on French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris.
One panellist, Dr. Robert Rozehnal, said Charlie Hebdo had deliberately published denigrating images of Prophet Muhammad to insult and antagonise the community, adding that this is a common practice in Europe.
"It's not a helpful and insightful conversation. It's an incendiary conversation in my personal opinion.
"It ought to be fully and totally condemned," said Rozehnal, who is an associate professor and director of Centre for Global Islamic Studies in Lehigh University, United States.
"It has nothing to do with free speech. Free speech was just a nice convenient escape clause," he added in the forum organised by the Zarith Sofiah Centre for Global Islamic Studies.
Rozehnal said Charlie Hebdo has a long history of "poking fun" and attacking religious communities, particularly the Muslim community, despite knowing the consequences of doing so.
He said while he would defend the right to free speech "to the end", he hopes this right is mediated, adding that images clearly meant to insult and provoked should not be published.
"I can't imagine the kind of dialogue that can possibly come of such provocative images," added Rozehnal, who has a PhD in Islamic Studies and the History of Religions.
The expert in Sufism also claimed that the attack on Charlie Hebdo was part of a "long deeply personal disjuncture" with France's colonial past, involving second-generation immigrants in the Muslim community who were never really integrated with the French society.
Rozehnal's argument was echoed by Dr Shamsi Ali, an American-Indonesian Muslim scholar, who urged responsibility when practising freedom of speech although insisting that Islam guarantees such freedom.
"The problem of freedom of expression today is there is no responsibility sometimes… We have to be balanced between our freedom of expression and our civic responsibility," said Shamsi, who is the chairman of Al-Hikmah Mosque in Queens, New York.
"We're not living alone. We're not living in the jungle. We have other people around, who have feelings, they have emotion and sentiments, and we have to be sensitive."
Rozehnal and Shamsi were guests at the forum titled "Islam beyond media-driven narratives: Muslims and non-Muslims in search of common ground" held today at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia's (UTM) campus here.
Other panellists in the forum included Michael L. Raposa, a professor of Religion Studies and American Studies in Lehigh University.
The January 7 attack at Charlie Hebdo's Paris office which saw 12 staff members dead have sparked debates on the limits of freedom of speech and blasphemy, with Pope Francis claiming there are limits to freedom of expression and one cannot make fun of others' faiths.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said this week that unlimited freedom would give rise to extremism.
The leader also warned that the failure to respect the religious sensitivities of those of other faiths could result in extremist actions like the killing of Charlie Hebdo's staff members.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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