If you’ve been following the story closely, you’ve probably heard by now that Nick Clegg has said he will not drop the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate, Maajid Nawaz after tweeting a controversial cartoon of the prophet Mohammed.
Mr Nawaz found himself amidst death threats, hate petitions (which have garnered over 20,000 signatures) and widespread protests calling for him to be ditched as the Lib Dem candidate for Hempstead and Kilburn in this year’s general elections. Similarly, a counteract petition has collected 7,000 signatures defending Mr Nawaz’s freedom of speech.
The response to Mr Nawaz’s tweet has certainly been shocking and intriguing. He asserted that he was merely tweeting his opinion of something that was “not offensive” and even adding “I’m sure God is greater than to feel threatened by [these cartoons].” (Remember the 2005 Danish Mohammed cartoon controversy? Yes, these are nowhere near as offensive and are unlikely to ensue violent demonstrations around the Muslim world.)
Previously, Mr Nawaz appeared on a BBC debate about religious tolerance which featured two students wearing the cartoon on t-shirts, with the aim to show that it was possible for a Muslim to be confronted with something he did not like and still remain calm and ‘plural’ unlike the extremists that are portrayed in the media. His actions, whilst setting out with the right intention, have undoubtedly back fired on him and placed him in a bad light with a large chunk of his supporters.
Mr Clegg told LBC 97.3 radio that whilst he personally would not have tweeted the photo; which shows a stick figure of Jesus saying “Hi” to a stick figure called Mo, who replies “How you doin’?” he believes that every person in this country has the right to express their opinions without fearing for their life. The Lib Dem leader added: “I will defend anyone’s right to deploy the freedom of expression in this country. I’m not going to start censoring people in a free society.
“Having said that, I would be the first to say that when you are dealing with issues of religion and deeply held faith, you have got to express yourself moderately and sensitively and with respect one to the other.”
I can’t help but liken this to the banning of a Christian ad from London buses, which was deemed homophobic. The Christian group called Core Issues Trust wanted to put the advert on buses suggesting people who are homosexuals could become straight- thanks to their therapy. As you can imagine, this case offended many people who swarmed the Internet, harassing the publishers of the ad and slamming the Christian group. Ultimately, they proved a point and the Tfl were forced to remove the ad, stating that it was “likely to cause widespread offence.” Isn’t that what every company says nowadays? You can bet I support the High Court wanting to rethink the case because I’m going to present you with a much silenced opinion.
How can you condemn one form of freedom of speech but then side with another? A Christian group should have just as much freedom as Mr Nawaz to state its opinion because we live in a democratic society that holds dearly at its core, freedom of speech. Those who want to silence Core Issues Trust or Mr Nawaz have no right to do so. No one does. The minute we stop defending freedom of speech for everyone, then we have lost all of it. Freedom of speech should not be narrowed for the privileged individuals alike minded. (This means not turning a blind eye to Mr Nawaz’s actions and harassing Core Issues Trust)
We must tolerate each other, even if we are offended, because freedom of speech does not tolerate double standards. All groups and communities within society need to be able to voice their opinions freely and sensibly in order to generate healthy debates. However, this does not mean being the straw man and avoiding deeply offensive remarks but rather working towards a healthier outlet that allows for personal freedom.