The Common Good

Beyond free speech vs. religion

Date: October 16, 2012

First, we can reject attempts to falsely paint America and Muslims as enemies. During the attack last month on the US consulate in Benghazi, it was Libyans who tried to rescue American Ambassador Christopher Stevens, and Libyans who denounced the attack and expressed solidarity with America.

At the same time as the attacks on US embassies, the US government was hosting an Eid celebration honouring Muslim contributions to America and the world. We can join initiatives, like the American-Islamic Friendship Project and the Soliya Connect Program, which are devoted to building cross-cultural understanding and cooperation.

Secondly, we can use free speech to condemn hate speech and to point out the fallacies of prejudice. This week, after a group posted advertisements that were offensive to Islam in subway stations in Washington, DC, an American Christian group, Sojourners, funded counter-ads saying “Love Your Muslim Neighbor”, in addition, an individual at one stop covered the offensive sign with notes saying, “If you see something hateful say something peaceful.”

Finally, we can show the world the best of our religion and culture, demonstrating the futility of denigration. The Qur’an teaches: “Repel [evil] by that [deed] which is better; and thereupon the one whom between you and him is enmity [will become] as though he was a devoted friend” (41:34). In America, the 9/11 Day Movement was begun to encourage people to perform good deeds in tribute to the 9/11 victims; more than 30 million people engaged in good deeds and charitable service in remembrance last year.

What if each attack or insult could motivate us to counter with acts of kindness, to help others and honour the best values of our religions and cultures?