Monday, June 25, 2007

Does Islam have an issue with the secular public space?

Different societies have different concepts of freedom of expression. In Singapore it is taught that this freedom must be exercised responsibly - meaning - that it must be restrained according to the sensibilities of the potential effect of the communication on significant segments of the public, not to incite or 'stir-up' unhappiness or ill-will amongst different classes of society.

However, such an operating definition when applied leads to unfair allocation and suppression of public expression in a manner which is prejudicial to some segments of the population.

How so?

This is because the way by which we define a communication that is worthy of censure from the public space to be one which would incite or stir up ill-will, and what it is that would incite ill-will depends pretty much on the individual group's tolerance for communication that is prejudicial towards that group.

Let us cite certain examples - Jesus Christ, the defining historical character of the Christian faith, has been mocked and insulted in songs, movies so many times, sometimes by members of other faiths, sometimes from within. But the majority of the Christian reaction to recent controversies like "The Da Vinci Code" has been one that, though vocal of its inaccuracies, and responsive in issuing counters and clarifications, has by and large been respectful of the secular public space in which general society operates. By that we mean public functions, locations, cinemas, books, bookstores and so on.

We recognize very clearly the need to protect this 'secular space' in which a society of different faiths needs to operate.

We do not call for Da Vinci or books making controversial claims about Christianity to be banned. We don't demand apologies, retractions, or issue death threats to the authors or movie-producers. We don't comment on who the Queen of England knights (yes - Elton John's a gay and with the Queen as someone significant in the Anglican church, we're sad, but...)

Mind you, its not because we're wimpish or weak-faithed, or worse, hypocrites. It's just that its not binding on non-believers to behave and observe what we Christians are supposed to observe. I remember some Catholic parishes calling on their faithful not to watch Da Vinci. And in other churches too there was sparked a rapid response of clarification and explanation about the controversies raised in the movie. But that's quite different from demanding it from being banned from cinemas and protests all that.

Is God soft on blasphemy now? Hardly. For people who believe in Him, its their duty to continue in fear and reverence and not participate in it. Just like other forms of worldliness that have been clearly renounced. Its just that we recognize we can't force other people who don't believe in Him to behave as if they do. So yea, no forced closing down of gay bars and bombing of abortion clinics and such stuff either. The rest of the public just continues to do what they want to, at their own peril of course.

No other line puts it more simply than this : In the end, it's between you and God on Judgement Day.

'Crazy' or 'conservative' holy-moly people might continue to warn you from it, but nobody can force you if you don't believe its wrong.

Free will is such a wonderful gift eh?

Unfortunately, with examples of the reactions to 'the Satanic Verses', 'the Danish Cartoons', 'the knighting of Rushdie' it seems that even in Europe this public space in which secular society operates is in threat. Could this be because Islam cannot tolerate blasphemy, even if not done by non-believers? If that were so, then whose fault is it? Islam, or the concept of the secular public space? It would seem that Islam cannot exist in a secular society. Must the secular public space be altered and curtailed to suit the sensitivities of the Islamic faith?

Islam says conversion cannot be forced. If that were true, what rationale is there to force non-believers to behave like Muslims?

But still, in Singapore double standards exist - people cannot comment (although tactlessly) about dogs in taxis (is it a culture/tradition or religious teaching?) but Da Vinci, technically extremely blashphemous and insulting to the divinity of Jesus Christ, can play in cinemas and this is only because Christians respect the secular public's right of expression.

I say, defend our right to secular expression in public space - we Christians play by and respect those rules - why can't adherents of other faiths? I know eventually my God is powerful enough to settle accounts with those who have defamed Him, in the end.

And whosoever will not receive you, when ye go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet for a testimony against them. - Luke 9:5


Anonymous said...

you see only what you want to see.

that's the only thing that can be said to a staunched, brainwashed, close-minded christian like you.

acuransx said...

A constructive reply that actually addresses the issues I raised rather than just snite name calling under annoymity would have been better for everyone.

Nevertheless I won't delete it - I believe in a public space free of inhibition of expression.

Little Mint said...

Jerry's one of the most well-versed-with-facts, un-blind Christian I know.

Some people may follow Christiniaty blindly, but Jerry?

Try him.

Pit a constructive argument against him.

jason said...

hi jerry u shld seriously consider writing a paper on this same topic. i think in light of the lina joy case as well as some of the cases that have been heard in the european court of human rights on islam in turkey (i can pass them to u if u want), this issue has quite alot of depth.