Whose freedom of expression?

In the West, it’s one rule for Israel and another for Arabs and Muslims

Freedom of expression, the jewel in the crown of Western democracy — invoked to defend burning the Quran, insulting the Prophet Muhammad, and maligning the Islamic faith — is rapidly being eroded with the rise of fascist far-right ties in many European countries. Recent events in Sweden may be only the tip of the iceberg.

It is turning into ‘freedom of expression’ for them but not, us in line with some of their policies and positions, racist ones in particular. It is ceasing to apply to us Arabs and Muslims, whether as immigrants or in the Arab and Muslim worlds, especially with regard to the Palestinian cause. The Israeli occupation state and its lobbies have played a major role in this regard, with no serious Arab or Muslim fightback amid the expanding scope of normalisation and the so-called Abraham Accords.

You can criticize China’s and Russia’s policies, as well as those of the United States, France, and the United Kingdom. But if you criticise Israel and its daily killings and home demolitions in the occupied West Bank, you could be accused of anti-Semitism and face a 15-year jail sentence for inciting hatred or even supporting terrorism.

Germany bans protests in support of Israel’s victims in Jenin, Nablus, and the Gaza Strip and the legitimate Palestinian right to resist the occupation, and conducts inquisitions against Arab journalists and purges them from their jobs. In the UK, a law was passed to imprison anyone who raises Hamas’ flag or possesses its literature, let alone is a member of the organisation or merely sympathises with it. That in itself is theoretically legal grounds for arrest and perhaps denaturalisation and deportation. In France, the law criminalises any questioning or denial of the Holocaust. The list goes on, and who knows where it stops.

Not long ago I appeared on a BBC discussion show about the attempt on the life of Satanic Verses author Salman Rushdie. I pointed out that many in the Muslim world view the book as offensive to Islam, incitement to Islamophobia, and an embodiment of ‘freedom of hate’ against Muslims under the guise of freedom of expression. All hell broke loose. The Zionist lobby launched a ferocious campaign against me personally and the channel that hosted me. They dredged through all my interviews and articles to prove my anti-Semitism. The gathered the signatures of over 10,000 people — including MPs, lords, and prominent media figures — on a petition demanding a parliamentary probe into the BCC violating its charter by hosting an anti-Semite like my and not being balanced in its coverage of events related to Israel and the Zionists. The campaign is still underway, and has expanded to include any Arab or Muslim writer who dares sympathise with the victims of Israel’s occupation or criticise its crimes against the Palestinians on social media. I have a large dossier of evidence documenting this.

Swedish law criminalises the burning of the LGBT flag because it constitutes incitement against a group of its citizens. But the law does not criminalize a racist right-winger who immolates the sacred book oftwo billion Muslims around the world, including tens of thousands of Swedish residents and citizens.

Most Muslim governments, including Arab ones, have issued statements condemning the Quran-burning in Sweden. But such condemnations are worthless, as they have done nothing to prevent the repetition of such abuses. It’s unsurprising, given that these governments do nothing about the Israeli settlers who are proficient at burning the Quran, storming al-Aqsa, partitioning the Ibrahim Mosque, and a long list of other outrages.

Nowhere in the world do Muslims burn the Jewish Torah or Christian bible. Not because there are laws that prohibit this, but because they respect these faiths and their adherents and believe in them. And to reward this high-mindedness, they have their Holy Quran burned with the protection of governments and their security forces in the name of ‘freedom of expression’.

Something could easily be done about these disgraceful and provocative violations. If Western parliaments can issue legislation prohibiting denial of the Jewish Holocaust, why can’t they legislate against burning the Quran or wantonly insulting the Prophet Muhammad? How would that impinge on the freedom of expression?

Acts like the Quran-burning in Sweden will be repeated and may spread given the rise of the racist far-right, the absence of wise leadership, and the resurgence of US domination over Europe linked to what looks like a protracted war in Ukraine. Arabs and Muslims must be alert to these developments and their potentially disastrous consequences, including tightened pressure on Arab and Muslim citizens, residents, and refugees in European countries and perhaps even mass deportations.

Jews also stand to suffer, though it is in their name that the Zionist lobbies have done so much to selectively undermine liberal values like freedom of expression and directly or indirectly promote Islamophobia. It is worth recalling that the Holocaust did not take place in the Middle East or the Arab Maghreb, where Jews lived in dignity as equal citizens, but in the heart of Europe.

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