Muslim Action Committee

Saturday, March 25, 2006

GLOBAL CIVILITY AT THE MARCH FOR FREE EXPRESSION
Although we have been critical of the March for Free Expression, we are also aware and appreciative that the organisers did their best to deter extremists and their demonstration was all the better for it. We still cannot accept their principal of statement that includes the phrase "the right to mock" however.
All Praise is due to Allah, sister Sayyida Rend Shakir al-Hadithi gave her own personal views on what the Campaign for Global Civility at the march means, in an attempt to start a dialogue. Her speech does not neccesarily reflect the views of all the supporters of the MAC but certainly embody the spirit of this campaign. I reprint it in full below:

MARCH FOR FREE EXPRESSION
Trafalgar Square
25th March 2006
Sayyida Rend Shakir Al-Hadithi

Thank you for giving me the ability to speak.

9/11, Stalin’s Russia, Hitler’s Germany, Saddam’s Iraq, the Holocaust – which happened. Death threats, murders, and imprisonment in response to the expression of what any person feels or believes is unreservedly wrong. Such violent threats, acts and situations should never arise in the name of any civilised value, religion, government or ideology. We stand here today. Not only united against such acts. But historically, in the UK, in solidarity against such acts, not as white people, or Europeans, but as people from all places, all backgrounds, and all walks of life.

Many people have asked me why I think that the principles of Freedom of Expression and Global Civility can co-exist. Just to clarify - Freedom of Expression and forced civility cannot co-exist. But Freedom of Expression and Civility should co-exist, in fact do co-exist, naturally, whenever we have a right to offend or insult another but choose not to use it. Freedom of Expression loses it's power as a means of challenging and questioning ideas and concepts when it is used merely to abuse and humiliate.

This is important to emphasise – not because of the rights and wrongs of one argument or another - but because of two principles: The first is that communication is a two way thing. It’s something that happens between people. There is both a sender and a receiver of any message and it is not much help when either party is made to feel small, belittled, denigrated, or worse intimidated.

The second is that it is not a great PR victory for free speech and free expression for the entire discussion to be centred around the freedom to insult X Y or Z. This threatens free speech for the simple reason that fewer people will take it up. Because a campaign that centres around insulting one particular group or even several groups – rightly or wrong – simply does not have the same appeal as one that is seen to serve humanity, welcoming and even being attractive to anyone who subscribes to its fundamental principles.

And it requires a dialogue between people of different backgrounds and perspectives. Historically that dialogue has begun. There are enormous gulfs in our understanding of each other – at the same time – we are frightened and extending mutual hostilities. We do not know what other people might see as intimidating. We do not know but would like to know, because we care about avoiding it. That’s what Global Civility is about. As Martin Luther King puts it: “No individual can live alone – no nation can live alone – and anyone who thinks that he can live alone is sleeping. Through our technological and scientific genius we have made of the world a neighbourhood and yet we have not had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood. We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will perish together as fools.”
Let there be no doubt. Free speech and free expression is absolutely vital, essential for the progress of humanity. And for the progress of any civilisation. Once the Church locked away a man who believed the earth was round. Wanted to impede the progress of science by imposing a doctrine that was not true. Science would not even get started without free speech. We need to be able to criticise and debate freely in order to learn.

We are facing a monster right now and I say that monster is not Islam, my brothers, my sister, cousins, parents and grandparents are all muslim, and they are – at least the last time I looked - not monsters. They are not monsters. They are not monsters.

We are facing a monster right now and that Monster is Fear. Right now we are being made to feel frightened. And it is a natural human tendency when we are frightened to single out another to humilate or degrade in order to improve our own situation. A natural human tendency but one that we must try to resist at all costs.

This time last year US officials seized a - document sent by an Al-Qaida carrier, which referred to igniting religious hatred and strife between Sunnis and Shias and exploiting other divisions. It implied a well organised drive masterminded by an established terrorist network aimed at rendering Iraq ungovernable once coalition forces are withdrawn. At the same time another agenda to remove individual liberties and fundamental freedoms is taking place right now under the label of protecting us from terrorism. ID Cards, The Police and Justice Bill, the Legislatory Reform Act. All under the rubric of “anti-Terror.”

We must not allow these forces to use us – to exploit our –disagreements –in their attempts to bring about a revolution through fear, -violence, or oppression. That was how change was brought about in the world of yesterday – and we will not allow it to become the world of tomorrow. What we need today is men and women who will ask – what will happen to humanity if I don’t help? To overcome our differences, to dispel our fears, we must dedicate ourselves to the goal of freedom. There now remains the rest of the world, whose support and whose cooperation in this is needed and - honesty sought.

However – Let those who would shatter peace, who would spill more blood, be aware that we, who are gathered here today, and others who will join us tomorrow, will vigorously wage peace. It has been said, and I quote, "Peace has one thing in common with its enemy, with the fiend of battles, with war; peace is active, not passive; peace is doing, not waiting; peace is attacking; peace plans its strategy and encircles the enemy; peace gathers its weapons and pierces the defence; peace, like war, is waged."

In the Holy Koran, we read: "But if the enemy incline towards peace, do also incline towards peace, and trust in Allah; for He is the One that hears and knows all things."
So let us now lay aside hostility, fear, and aggression. Let us now reward all those who hunger for freedom and democracy in the world. Let us now, and from this point forward, allow our people the freedom to express their fears and their criticisms in security and dignity. Let us now enjoy the adventure of becoming fully human, fully neighbours, fully brothers and sisters. We pray, we pray together that these dreams will come true. I believe they will. Thank you very much.

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