Freedom of Expression: No ifs and buts



* In Iran, Tehran bus workers demanding their rights have been arrested, including their wives and children, and some tortured.
* In Afghanistan, teachers defending the right of girls to an education are threatened with death.
* In Iraq, women’s rights activists are threatened for demanding equality and freedom.
* In Iran, journalists who published a satirical article comparing the advent of Khomeini to AIDS are languishing in prison…
* In Yemen, Mohammad Al Asadi, an editor, is facing execution for recounting how Mohammad approved of the killing of a woman who had insulted him.

The list is endless…

Too many more nameless, faceless human beings across the globe are maimed, threatened, killed, bound and gagged for speaking out and expressing themselves.

And it’s not just ‘over there’, but right here…

* A website in Sweden publishing the Mohammad caricatures is shut down.
* Editors are fired in France.
* The Behzti play is shut down after Sikhs are offended by it.
* A Scottish cancer charity is intimidated into not accepting money raised by Jerry Springer the Opera.
* Writers living and writing here, including myself, are threatened with death on threads of umma.net.
* People are arrested and summoned to court for carrying placards or flyers with the Mohammad caricatures on them [in fact Reza Moradi was told he will be summoned to court for ‘offending’ someone because he carried a placard with the Mohammad caricatures at the March 25 free speech rally – more on this later].

Clearly, free speech and expression are not luxuries or western values. They are essential for people everywhere.

And what more and more people are standing up and saying after government upon government and organisation upon organisation demanded apologies for the Mohammad caricatures and gave them on all our behalves is that they are not up for sale.

We know better.

Any limits on free speech & expression are really attempts by those in power or vying for power to limit our rights and the rights of the population at large.

Don’t be duped into thinking otherwise.

And that is why the defence of free speech and expression are so intrinsically linked to the defence of other rights. You cannot defend one without the others. You cannot defend one without also defending the right to asylum, the right to strike and organisation, labour rights, women’s and children’s rights, the right to live in a secular society, the right to equality and freedom, universal rights, the right to religion and atheism and belief as a private matter, the right to live lives worthy of 21st century humanity and of course vice versa. You cannot defend humanity without defending its right to speak and express itself…

For this, nothing can be deemed sacred except the human being.

Defining certain expressions and speech as sacred is merely a tool for the suppression of society; saying speech and expression offends is in fact an attempt to restrict it.

And of course what is held most sacred and deemed to offend the most especially in this New World Order is criticism and ridiculing of religion and its representatives of earth.

Why do it if it offends? Because it must be done.

Because ridiculing is a form of criticism, is a form of resistance, is a serious form of opposing reaction!

Whilst we may all be sometimes offended by some things, it is religion and the religious that are offended all of the time. They alone seem to have a monopoly on being offended, saying their beliefs are a no go area, and silencing all those who offend.

And don’t think this reactionary rightwing political Islamic movement is only offended by a criticism of Islam or Mohammad. [I am focusing on this because it is a movement in power.] It is offended if you hold hands on the streets, have sex outside of marriage; it is offended if you are unveiled or improperly veiled; it is offended if you listen to certain music or if you teach evolution and science or if you dare to teach girls; it is offended if you are gay; if you are a woman; – many of which are by the way punishable by death or at the very least flogging and imprisonment in many countries under the rule of Islam….

It is interesting how the political Islamic movement kills, it maims, it humiliates – with Islam as its banner – and we are not even allowed to ridicule and criticise it.

Religion considers a woman as worth half a man, gays as perversions, sex outside of marriage as sinful, and so on and so forth but it is a few caricatures that are offensive!

Offensive or not, sacred or not – religion and superstition – Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Scientology and so on – must be open to all forms of criticism and ridicule.

It must be first and foremost because religion is not something from eras past but because it is as a political movement wreaking havoc across the world. Not a second passes without some atrocity being committed by it. It hangs people from cranes and lamp posts, it stones people to death – in the 21 century – with the law even specifying the size of the stone to be used, it amputates and decapitates.

It must be criticised and ridiculed because that is how throughout history reaction was pushed back.

That is how throughout history society has managed to advance and progress.

Why this should be seen as an attack on Muslims or Christians or Sikhs or Scientologists per se is beyond me. Is an attack on the belief and practice of Female Genital Mutilation an attack on girls who have been mutilated? Is the criticism of Israeli state terrorism an attack on Jews? Is an attack on the BNP that promotes Christian culture or the Christian Council of Britain it has recently established, or the ridiculing of Jesus racism against Christians? No of course not. And the same applies to the Muslim Council of Britain, Hamas, the Islamic Regime in Iran and the Mohammad caricatures.

Islamophobia – and now by the way the Church has asked that Christianity-phobia also be included in UN rights terminology – none are racism because criticisms of a religion, idea, a belief and even the practices that result from beliefs – even a phobia and hatred against beliefs have nothing to do with racism against real live human beings.

Saying it is so is merely part of the effort to make it such in order to silence criticism of religion and the political movement that holds it up as its banner.

The world is today threatened and taken hostage by two poles of terrorism. The state terrorism led by the United States on the one hand and the political Islamic movement on the other share a lot more than they let on. After all they were former friends and many of them still are. Both use religion to attack the gains made by humanity in centuries past. Both defend religion and use it.

Freedom of speech and expression are one of the few means at the disposal of many to resist this terrorism and its attack on universal values and norms.

We must defend it unconditionally. There can be no ifs and buts.

The above was Maryam Namazie’s speech at a free speech march in Trafalgar Square in London on March 25, 2006.

Comments

  1. says

    It’s a strange thing: nowadays what passes for common sense is in fact radical psycho-babble, and the sensible arguments you regularly offer, Maryam, are often refered to as being too “radical” for common consumption. Keep up the good work: it’s a war of attrition.

  2. Anonymous says

    I was at the March for Freedom of Expression on Saturday, and as a (half-) Iranian, was thoroughly moved by your speech. Thank you for having the courage to say what needed so desperately to be said.M.T.

  3. Anonymous says

    Dear Maryam, I fully support the march for free expression except in one respect.There is a certain incoherence about the position of yourself and others. On the one hand, Muslims are explicity welcomed to join in even though a significant number of Muslims endorse those human rights violations. On the other hand, the BNP is told it is not welcome, even though the BNP’s policies are explicitly that they are not against immigrants, Muslims, etc (instead they consider them victims). I don’t personally wish to recommend the BNP but they seem to merely advocate that excessive immigration should be discouraged and that immigrants should be helped if they want to return home. These could reasonably be considered realistic practical responses to the otherwise intractable problems of multicultural immigration (such as led to Nazism though everyone pretends that German history suddenly began in 1889).We may or may not agree with those BNP ideas but surely the right thing to do is to engage with these people, to acknowledge their free speech too. But instead all you ever do re the BNP is label them as racists (very much like you Maryam get slandered yourself) who are beyond the pale; you never quote what they say or engage with it. In short you too seem to be guilty of supporting free speech for all except those you choose to exclude.I would be happy to support this free expression campaign, but only on the understanding that it is genuinely unconditional rather than pseudo-unconditional.Robin P Clarke

  4. Anonymous says

    To my above, I should add that the BNP saying they consider immigrants to be victims is not just a public face. It was strongly emphasised by Nick Griffin in the secretly-filmed speech in that BBC “exposé”.And sure there are some nasties in the BNP. There are in Islam too, so hadn’t you better ban all Muslims from your free-expression campaign too?Or rather ban no-one.Robin

  5. Anonymous says

    Let’s Rewrite the Iranian History for the Past 50 YearsWhat’s Good for the Goose, It’s Good for the Gander * Examine & investigate judicially each & every U.S. personnel, companies, organizations who ousted the legitimate government of Iran under Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh, that instigated a coup d’etat & overthrew him, in a U.S. court of law, by the most lenient panel of U.S. Judges. Then convict those criminalized ones. * Examine & investigate judicially each & every U.S. personnel, companies, organizations who caused pain and suffering, emotional, physical & mental violence on the Iranian people during Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh, in a U.S. court of law, by the most lenient panel of U.S. Judges. Then convict those criminalized ones. * Examine & investigate judicially each & every U.S. personnel, companies, organizations and subsequently award compensatory & punitive damages to the victims (dead or alive) of the aforementioned event, in a U.S. court of law, by the most lenient panel of U.S. Judges. Then convict those criminalized ones. * Examine & investigate judicially each & every U.S. personnel, companies, organizations and subsequently award compensatory & punitive damages to political prisoners under the regime of Reza & Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (Shah) who suffered physically, emotionally and mentally, in a U.S. court of law, by the most lenient panel of U.S. Judges. Then convict those criminalized ones. * Examine & investigate judicially each & every U.S. personnel, companies, organizations who dumped nuclear wastes into the Kavir of Iran during the Pahlavi regime, in a U.S. court of law, by the most lenient panel of U.S. Judges. Then convict those criminalized ones. * Examine & investigate judicially each & every U.S. personnel, companies, organizations who shipped recalled products (food or otherwise) to Iran and sold them for huge profits during the Pahlavi regime, in a U.S. court of law, by the most lenient panel of U.S. Judges. Then convict those criminalized ones. * Examine & investigate judicially each & every U.S. personnel, companies, organizations who trained the notorious secret service of the Shah; SAVAK, who tortured political prisoners during the Pahlavi regime, in a U.S. court of law, by the most lenient panel of U.S. Judges. Then convict those criminalized ones. * Examine & investigate judicially each & every U.S. personnel, companies, organizations who caused hundreds of thousands of loss of lives during the Islamic Revolution of Iran, in a U.S. court of law, by the most lenient panel of U.S. Judges. Then convict those criminalized ones. * Examine & investigate judicially each & every U.S. personnel, companies, organizations who assisted Iraq to invade the sovereignty of Iran and caused nearly 1,000,000 casualties (according to U.S. Sources), in a U.S. court of law, by the most lenient panel of U.S. Judges. Then convict those criminalized ones. * Examine & investigate judicially each & every U.S. personnel, companies, organizations and subsequently award compensatory & punitive damages to the victims (dead or alive) of the aforementioned events, in a U.S. court of law, by the most lenient panel of U.S. Judges. Then convict those criminalized ones. * Examine & investigate judicially each & every U.S. personnel, companies, organizations who assisted the Iraqi government with weapons of mass destruction, such as mustard gas, chemical weapons, in a U.S. court of law, by the most lenient panel of U.S. Judges. Then convict those criminalized ones. * Examine & investigate judicially each & every U.S. personnel, companies, organizations and subsequently award compensatory & punitive damages to the one-sided war (of Iran-Iraq), in a U.S. court of law, by the most lenient panel of U.S. Judges. Then convict those criminalized ones. * Examine & investigate judicially each & every U.S. personnel, companies, organizations who shot & downed the Iranian Airbus, Flight No. 655 flying over the waters of Persian Gulf en route to Dubai on July 3rd, 1988 in which all 292 passengers perished, in a U.S. court of law, by the most lenient panel of U.S. Judges. Then convict those criminalized ones. * Examine & investigate judicially each & every U.S. personnel, companies, organizations Who attached the Iranian oil platforms under the direction of Ronald Regan, in a U.S. court of law, by the most lenient panel of U.S. Judges. Then convict those criminalized ones. * Examine & investigate judicially each & every U.S. personnel, companies, organizations who caused damage to environment or Iranian soils, air, water and the earth at large, in a U.S. court of law, by the most lenient panel of U.S. Judges. Then convict those criminalized ones. * Examine & investigate judicially each & every U.S. personnel, companies, organizations who froze Iranian government & people’s assets for years (known figures according to U.S. Sources are well in excess of $12,000,000,000 for nearly 3 decades, in a U.S. court of law, by the most lenient panel of U.S. Judges. Then convict those criminalized ones. * Examine & investigate judicially each & every U.S. personnel, companies, organizations who conspired to commit crimes against humanity and offered such data, information, materials to Iraq, in a U.S. court of law, by the most lenient panel of U.S. Judges. Then convict those criminalized ones. * Examine & investigate judicially each & every U.S. personnel, companies, organizations who trained, supported and empowered terrorist organizations to oust the government of Iran (e.g. Mujahedin), either in Iran or in Iraq, in a U.S. court of law, by the most lenient panel of U.S. Judges. Then convict those criminalized ones. * Examine & investigate judicially each & every U.S. personnel, companies, organizations who have provided financial support to Shah’s son, in an effort to undermine the government of Iran, in a U.S. court of law, by the most lenient panel of U.S. Judges. Then convict those criminalized ones. * Examine & investigate judicially each & every U.S. personnel, companies, organizations who instigated uprisings, terrorized people of Iran, as well as innocent civilians, in a U.S. court of law, by the most lenient panel of U.S. Judges. Then convict those criminalized ones. * Examine & investigate judicially each & every U.S. personnel, companies, organizations who caused much anguish, mental stress, physical tensions amongst civilians throughout the past 27+ years in an all-out effort against the Islamic Republic of Iran, in a U.S. court of law, by the most lenient panel of U.S. Judges. Then convict those criminalized ones. * Examine & investigate judicially each & every U.S. personnel, companies, organizations who are chasing Iran for their legitimate pursuit of producing nuclear energy. Initiate a team of experts to investigate the government of United States for their mishap and misuse of nuclear facilities. * Let’s refer the U.S. to United Nations for GLOBAL sanctions. WHY NOT???”DrMajeed”

  6. Anonymous says

    But so many People have been put in Jail in Europe , when they questioned the numbers of people dead in the Holocaust . do you support their free speech ??? Just wondering .

  7. Anonymous says

    More bullshit from communist Iranian assholes and their neolib and neocon supporters. You fuckers would never dare carry pictures of hook nosed jews or deny the holocaust because you know you’re asses would be in jail.”Freedom of speech” huh..yeah we know how you communist assholes value free speech.

  8. Anonymous says

    “hook-nosed jews” what a lovely phrase…really religion doesn’t come into here, just a some racist stereotyping. Grow up!

  9. Anonymous says

    While I believe that the Holocaust was an attrocity that shouldn’t be forgotten about. Then in Britain, Joseph Stalin isn’t so well known about as Hitler, but he was just as murderous if not more. I think about other parts of the world, mass-slaughter is going on now and it doesn’t recieve the same attention as something that happened over half a century ago. I believe that freedom of speech should be for any views as long as you don’t encourage the torture and/or murder of those who think differently. This is where I would draw the line. If you can create an intelligent argument for how your view is just, no matter how controversial it may seem then you should be allowed that view. What annoys me is when people are labelled racist or bigot for saying what they feel without explanation. How can you be educated if you aren’t allowed to speak your mind? No matter how offensive that may be to some…

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