As Published in the Express Tribune On April 12th Op-Ed section
Intentional offense is reprehensible, justifying it in the name of freedom of expression even more so. Freedom of expression doesn’t absolve anyone from being despicable, derogatory, or provocative.
Let’s begin with establishing the fact that Terry Jones is desperate to any type of publicity. Jones’s entire campaign stems from his blind hatred and prejudice to Islam. — Islamophobia. Almost, like a yearly ritual, this year’s Islamophobic offering was when Jones decided to burn the Holy Quran, which in his words is the “root cause of all evil.”
Last year, when the campaign to draw a cartoon of the Holy Prophet (Pbuh) caused uproar, many of us felt the best way was to not succumb to provocation. That didn’t go well with most; hence, it caused an uproar resulting in a blanket ban of the internet (almost). But did that stop the campaign? No it didn’t; it did however accord it more publicity.
In the aftermath of Jones deplorable publicity stunt, twenty-two people lost their lives— seven of them were members of the UN working in Afghanistan . They were hunted down and, at least, three of them beheaded. In Pakistan, three churches have been attacked in less than a week. Even more despicable is the recent incident of the defiling of a Bible as a ‘response’ to Jones.
The Christian community in Pakistan is under attack recently because of the actions of a delusional pastor from Florida. Jones’ desecration of the Holy Quran is outrageous, an inadmissible provocation and therefore condemnable. It is noteworthy that the Christian community in Pakistan was among the first to denounce Jones’ actions and protested against it with Muslim and religious parties. Despite an open condemnation by the Christian community, churches across Punjab have been attacked.
But, why is it so hard for some to understand that one man’s ill doing doesn’t warrant discrimination and persecution of an entire community? The dilemma of Christians at risk of facing retaliation because of Jones’ action is quite similar to what Muslims and Pakistani’s have been facing. For many years now, Muslims across the world have been fighting off stereotypes that paint them as terrorists and claim that Islam is a violent religion. The battle to rid ourselves from the actions of a certain group of Muslims, who choose violence, is a battle we fight every day. Therefore, if anyone can understand the plight of the Christians today, it is the Muslim community, especially Pakistanis at large, irrespective of religion.
Jones doesn’t represent the Christian community; he represents a vicious cycle of Islamophobia that is virulent. The real dilemma then is how to best respond to such provocations. It’s easier to suggest, “let’s not get worked up over this” and clearly any attempt at that has not been working too well. While we can’t take away someone’s right to be aggravated by, or protest, a certain incident, we can however suggest ways in which these protests can be made more significant instead of counterproductive. Muslims cannot fight this battle alone. Islamophobia doesn’t only malign Islam and target Muslims unjustifiably, but is also an exploitation of freedom of expression. Therefore, it is a fight for all irrespective of ideological affiliations.
We can begin by not letting a mad act exploit the rights of our minorities. For Muslims, it would be most fitting to understand that when a delusional man like Jones pulls off a stunt, vandalizing the Holy Quran, he does so with an intention to provoke. Succumbing to his provocation is only going to fuel the inferno of hate.
Those attacking minorities are not only insulting the teachings of the Holy Quran, but are also reaffirming the allegations made by people like Jones.
When critics of Islam depict it as a ‘violent religion’, the tendency to react violently lends credence to the very characterization being protesting against . We must decry this outrageous act by standing with our Christian community in denouncing a man masquerading hate in the name of religion.