Last month’s Manchester meeting was a talk entitled The Right to Free Speech versus The Right to Insult by Anjum Anwar.
Anjum started the session by stating that she believes in freedom of expression and free speech; she believes it’s critical for the development of societies. But it’s a question of how we exercise our freedom of speech, she said. She believes it has limits. Expanding on this she talked about the meaning of sharia which literally means ‘watering hole’, which in a desert setting could be seen as a life line. So sharia is seen as a way of offering a life line. Thus having to think about one’s duty (to others) not so much about one’s rights. This means that if she doesn’t undertake her duty to look after her neighbour she has not been good. Consequently she doesn’t believe she has the right to insult anyone, and questioned why anyone would have the need for such.
At this point in the proceedings Anjum broke away from her prepared talk to answer what turned out to be a barrage of questions from the audience. And chair, I was called on to chair the questions, which meant I could no longer take notes.
Here are just a few of the questions raised:
- Is it right, from a free-speech perspective, to allow people to deny the holocaust (several believed it was)?
- Why is it not ok to show a depiction of Muhammad, and if the reason is that of idolatry why do so many Muslims call their boys Muhammad.
- If any question about the origins of Islam or Muhammad is going to be seen as insulting to Muslims then how can they be open for discussion? And there were many, many more.
An interesting remark by Anjum during these questions was that she holds Muhammad in such high esteem that she loves him more than her own son. She also said that she doesn’t like to be called a liberal Muslim (she doesn’t know what it means) though the audience clearly felt she was. At times the questioning from the audience became quite heated but Anjum held her ground well and was assertive in her responses, which while being reasonably objective did not always seem to fully answer the questions to the satisfaction of the questioners.