Away from our myopic world of ‘Go Nawaz Go’, and the sensationalism of what dress Reham Khan wore at the ill-timed wedding, the entire world is embroiled in the attack on Charlie Hebdo, and the ensuing debate about freedom of speech, religious tolerance, and the palpable fanaticism of the Muslim World. This saga has once again erupted the controversial debate concerning blasphemy laws, across the world, and the manner in which disparate legal regimes conduct the balancing exercise between freedom of speech and religious sensitivities.

At the very outset, it is important to vociferously condemn the controversial cartoons published by Charlie Hebdo. There is no excuse in religious theory, human discourse, or legal arsenal that can serve as a defense for ridiculing the faith of another. And the entire debate of freedom of expression, being propagated by Western ‘liberal’ democracies to justify the stance of Charlie Hebdo, is naïve at best and bigoted at worst. To this end, it is time that instead of picking up arms (which must be condemned just as vehemently), and burning our own vehicles and shops in protest, thinking minds of the Muslim World provide a befitting reply to the West, by pointing out the hypocrisy of their own laws and standards.

In terms of international law, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, adopted on 19th December, 1966 and ratified by 74 countries, explicitly protects the freedom of religion and practice (Article 18). Furthermore, Article 20 of the said Covenant prohibits any speech or act that incites “religious hatred”. And the right to freedom of speech, even in the Western world, is no longer protected when transgressing these prescribed limits.

Under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, which entails arguably the most expansive jurisprudence concerning freedom of speech, the right to expression has been deemed non-absolute, curtailed by limitations, including those relating to religious sensitivities, cultural nuances, and public order. Specifically, in Chaplinksy v. New Hampshire [315 U.S. 568 (1942)], Justice Murphy held that “fighting words…which by their very utterance, inflict injury, or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace” are not protected by Freedom of Speech. The same principle, of freedom of speech being limited by prescribed contours, was upheld by the United States Supreme Court in R.A.V Vs City of St. Paul [505 U.S. 377 (1992)], which declared that expression of certain ideas “can be banned because of the action it entails”.

The European Courts have been even more sensitive in prescribing limits to the freedom of expression, specifically, when religious sensitivities are at stake. The most tangible example, in this regard, is the famous 1994 case of Itto-Premingir-Institu Vs Austria, in which the European Court of Human Rights (in a 6:3 verdict), banned the airing of a film in Austria, which insulted Christianity. And there are innumerous instances where anti-Semitic speech and expression has been banned by Western democracies, and Courts of Justice, for transgressing the limits on freedom of expression.

Conspicuously, this entire corpus of international law and jurisprudence, spanning over almost a century, is ignored by Western actors when permitting (even encouraging?) anti-Islam publications. But somehow, in the violent and barbaric reaction of the Muslim World, the debate shifts away from the hypocritical standards adopted by these liberal democracies, and instead focuses exclusively on the barbarianism of the Muslim World. It is time, thus, that we learn to curb our knee jerk sentiments, if for no other reason, then simply in order to unmask the bigoted approach to religion, as well as the law, adopted by our Western ‘friends’.

Away from the international legal issues, it is important to shed a critical light on our own philosophy and conduct towards blasphemous occurrences. Violence, in the name of blasphemy, has become an entrenched part of Pakistan’s religio-political paradigm. In this country, we seem to be convinced that our sinful souls are the last bastion of defense and redemption for that one true God, His final and most perfect Messenger (PBUH), and His religion of peace. That we are all that stands between the light of God and the darkness of Kufr. And propelled by this unwarranted (blasphemous?) arrogance, we are trigger-happy to spill blood in our streets and perpetrate violence, as our gift to the eternal Message of Peace.

Let us start by recognizing a fundamental and incontestable religious truth: that the name, dominion, kingdom, and esteem of that one true God, is most perfect and ‘untarnishable’. We, the imperfect hell-bound mortals, created from clay and blood, can neither add nor subtract from His Majesty. Our praise (san’aa) or complaint (shikwah) is of no consequence to the perfection of his Kibriya. Our words and actions, have no signature on the sands of eternity. Our Hamd is only to seek His favor, and our shikwah demeans (if at all) just us. Either way, we are of no impact to His existence and perfection. Who are we to be of any consequence to the eternal Him?

In the same spirit, the perfection of Nur-e-Muhammadi (PBUH) is so absolute that it can neither be embellished or tarnished by our words. Our faith reminds us that he (PBUH) was a Prophet when Adam (AS) was between clay and water. That his light (PBUH) is what brightens the universe, and what will be our only hope on that Final Day of Reckoning. That he (PBUH) is not only the Messenger of the people in this time and place, but that of every person ever born (or to be born), and of every Jinn, every Angel, every stone, every grain of sand, every planet, every star, and all the empty spaces between. How then could we even begin to entertain the absurd contention that a cartoon published in some magazine, in this brief moment of history, can injure the respect of Rehmat-e-Al Aalimeen (PBUH)? How weak is our faith so as to admit the possibility that any one of us can utter words that might demean His most perfect message? And in equal measure, how arrogant are we to believe that our actions can defend, enhance or increase His respect?

While (peacefully) contesting for every inch of our religious beliefs and freedoms, and responding to the Western propaganda through the barrel of intellect, let us not forget that we are the inheritors of that unadulterated light that can neither diminish nor flicker. That we are believers of that final Messenger (PBUH) whose perfection and nur is guarded by none other than the Almighty. That he (PBUH) and his message do not need our saving.

It is us, instead, who need him (PBUH), to be saved.

The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School

The author can be emailed at: saad@post.harvard.edu

You can tweet him: @Ch_SaadRasool