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The Limits of a Crusade between Free Speech and Respecting Faith

Updated on January 15, 2015
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Jamal is a graduate from Northeastern Seminary and writes on a broad range of topics. His writings are based on other points of view.


If a crusade is defined as a war of religious differences, then I think the current conflict between specific violent extremists and individual freedom qualifies. Why would I call freedom a religion? Because while it doesn’t involve a spiritual deity or force, we value our freedom as such in practice. The right to do with our lives as we choose is inscribed into our laws like comparatively the writings of a holy book.

While we may tell an evangelist or jihadist to believe what they want and go about our separate lives, we will go up in arms the moment they decide to tell or force us to live according to their set of values. It is arguable even that many value it over the lives of others, as people who criticize the supporters of no gun control frequently point out.

The extremist attacks in Paris galvanized most of the Paris population in a sense of collective outrage
The extremist attacks in Paris galvanized most of the Paris population in a sense of collective outrage


The recent attacks in Paris highlight this issue in tragic and spectacular detail because it wasn’t an event motivated by politics or invasion. The incendiary factor was that according to the extremist attackers, images of the prophet Muhammad are forbidden, and that the French magazine, Charlie Hebdo had taken their liberties with expression too far. Similar conflicts have taken place in Belgium as well.

The majority of Muslims do not support acts of violence against other people of differing opinions, calling an affront to humanity according to Allah, as well as appreciating how those same rights. However, many also feel disrespected by the depiction of Muhammad. Even Pope Francis while defending freedom of speech, also said in a January 15th BBC article,

"If my good friend Doctor Gasparri speaks badly of my mother, he can expect to get punched…"

From this point of view, the issue lies in respecting identity. Each ‘religion’ is considered an essential part of the participants’ identity on a national, cultural, or individual level. Speaking from experience, when I was in Paris in 2011, one Frenchman said to me,

“France first. Everything else is second.”

This view flies in the face of many Muslims who feel rather its God first and everything else second. Many immigrants in France have said there is a high price they pay for this value system, facing prejudice and social ostracizing. For us raised in Western nations, our freedom is what defines us, the ability to control our own lives and not be held accountable to others. We preach it and even go to war over this.

One view on freedom of speech and respecting religion by scholar Tariq Ramadan

Is there a limit to what someone can say?

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Dialogue to End a Crusade

Despite the cultural differences and politics involved, this is something that can be talked out, even if not coming to a mutual agreement. One common ground for example is how westerners view the growing value of sexual identity of gay and transgender rights. A work in progress to be sure, but a growing acceptance of these groups is occurring, so much so that to you never hear the word, ‘faggot’, used in movies anymore where once it was wide spread. Those that do challenge these emerging issues are often called homophones and attacked verbally and even losing their jobs. And they also claim freedom of speech.

This is a very similar circumstance to how many Muslims feel about pictures of their prophets. It is a piece of who they are as individuals and a community. Using these points to begin understanding one another can be the first step to easing tensions between faith in free speech and faith in your religion.

However, where it ultimately has to go is where the limit of either one lies, and who is the one that determines that limit?


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