Free Speech and Religion
by: John Tyrrell
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This week, I received a request from someone who had provided comments for the site that I delete a link to an article from google. The interesting thing was that it was not the article he wrote that he wanted hidden from google search, but the article responding to it, criticizing what he had to say.
When I looked into it, I found that the article politely criticizing his thoughts appeared in fifth place on a google search on his name. The various comments giving his own religious views that he'd submitted to a number of web site appeared much further down in search results - several pages later.
I put in a fair bit of effort writing what I thought was a polite rejection of his request complete with reasons why. In response, I got told I was being unfriendly.
But in any event, he did not want criticism of his religious thoughts coming up in google, even though he was apparently quite happy to have his own writings appear. He's going to be out of luck.
It's a minor incident which normally I'd not find worth mentioning here. But on a small scale, it's just what Saudi Arabia, taking the lead from other Islamic nations, is trying to do with all religious discussion - shut it down.
In an international symposium on media coverage of religious symbols held last week in Lille, France, Abdulmajeed Al-Omari, director for external relations at Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Islamic Affairs stated: "We have made it clear that freedom of expression without limits or restrictions would lead to violation and abuse of religious and ideological rights. This requires everyone to intensify efforts to criminalize insulting heavenly religions, prophets, holy books, religious symbols and places of worship."
According to Al-Omari, this is in accordance with the principles of justice, humanity, promotion of values and the principles of tolerance in the world.
No it is not, Mr. Al-Omari. This is the complete opposite of those principles.
And going by Saudi experience, the only protection afforded by that nation's blasphemy laws is for the narrow Wahhabi version of Islam, with other schools of Islam brutally suppressed. The Saudi position is thoroughly hypocritical and totally dishonest.
Whether we are talking about one individual's religious views, or the official position of an entire sect / denomination / cult, those views must be open to review and criticism. If they cannot stand up to being examined and discussed fully, then those views are not worth having.
Religion is not and never should be an excuse to suppress free speech.
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