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EDITORIAL: After the government banned a religio-political party for staging violent protests countrywide demanding expulsion of the French Ambassador over this government’s defence of the publication of blasphemous caricatures, Prime Minister Imran Khan gave vent to his own and the people’s sentiments in a Twitter post. “We Muslims have the greatest love and respect for our Prophet [PBUH],” he wrote, adding “we cannot tolerate any such disrespect & abuse.” Once again, he reiterated his call on “Western governments who have outlawed any negative comment on the Holocaust to use the same standards to penalize those deliberately spreading their message of hate against Muslims by abusing our Prophet [PBUH].”

French and some fellow European governments have been standing up for those involved in insulting the Holy Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him) in the name of freedom of expression. There is no such thing as absolute freedom of expression, though. Even liberal democracies can and do limit freedom of expression on certain grounds, such as national security and maintenance of public order or, as Imran Khan pointed out, for Holocaust denial, which is a crime in France as well as in several other European countries. The offence is punishable with jail sentence. Also impermissible is hate speech that may encourage violence or ill will towards other people on the basis of race, religion or even sexual orientation. More to the point, while guaranteeing that “all citizens regardless of their origin, race or religions are treated as equal before the law” the French constitution goes on to add, “and respecting all religious beliefs.” This means freedom of expression can take a back seat when it comes to religious beliefs of other peoples. Unfortunately, however, majoritarian politics dominate constitutional values. Hate-mongering and disrespect for the religious beliefs of another people is tolerated and protected, too.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has been using every available opportunity to urge Western governments to use the same standards for those insulting the Holy Prophet of Islam (PBUH) as the Holocaust deniers. He made that case in his UN speech, and has since been raising the issue at various other international forums as well as in his interactions with Western leaders. Unfortunately, however, save for Turkey, Muslim countries have not yet fully put their weight behind Pakistan’s efforts. It is about a time all members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation joined hands and sought an end to publication of incendiary content causing hurt and anger to more than 1.8 billion Muslims everywhere.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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