The threat is not surprising, given the authoritarian Islamic character of Pakistan’s government and its vicious hostility to the Ahmadiyya movement, as it forbids Ahmadis to call themselves Muslims and persecutes them in numerous ways. The TrueIslam.com website presents Ahmadi Islam as the pure and genuine form of the religion, despite the fact that the Ahmadiyya movement is regarded as heretical by mainstream Muslims and represents an infinitesimal percentage of the worldwide Muslim population. Zafar and his colleague Amjad Mahmood Khan, who was also threatened, must have known that such a site would ruffle the Pakistani government’s feathers.
But what made this more than just another story about the repressive Pakistani government is the fact that back in January 2013, Zafar published an op-ed in the Washington Post entitled, “Making Islamic Sense of Free Speech.” In it, Zafar offered a manifesto for the destruction of the freedom of speech worthy of a true totalitarian.
“The difference between Islam’s view on free speech and the view promoted by free speech advocates these days,” Zafar asserted, “is the intention and ultimate goal each seeks to promote. Whereas many secularists champion individual privileges, Islam promotes the principle of uniting mankind and cultivating love and understanding among people. Both endorse freedom for people to express themselves, but Islam promotes unity, whereas modern-day free speech advocates promote individualism.”
The unity Zafar envisioned involved restrictions on the freedom of speech: “In order to unite mankind, Islam instructs to only use speech to be truthful, do good to others, and be fair and respectful. It attempts to pre-empt [sic] frictions by prescribing rules of conduct which guarantee for all people not only freedom of speech but also fairness, absolute justice, and the right of disagreement.”
So we can have the freedom of speech as long as “fairness” is ensured by Islamic “rules of conduct.” With evident distaste, Zafar continued by claiming that “the most vocal proponents of freedom of speech, however, call us towards a different path, where people can say anything and everything on their mind. With no restraint on speech at all, every form of provocation would exist, thereby cultivating confrontation and antagonism. They insist this freedom entitles them the legal privilege to insult others. This is neither democracy nor freedom of speech. It fosters animosity, resentment and disorder.”
Note the sleight of hand: “With no restraint on speech at all, every form of provocation would exist, thereby cultivating confrontation and antagonism.” Zafar was implying that the Muslims who riot and kill because of perceived affronts to Islam were not responsible for their own actions, but that those who supposedly provoked them were.
This is an increasingly widespread confusion in the West, willfully spread by people such as Zafar. In reality, the only person responsible for his actions is the person who is acting, not anyone else. You may provoke me in a hundred ways, but my response is my own, which I choose from a range of possible responses, and only I am responsible for it.
But having established that if someone riots and kills in response to someone else’s speech, the fault lies with the speaker, not the rioter, Zafar drove his point home: speech must be restricted in the interests of “world peace”: “Treating speech as supreme at the expense of world peace and harmony is an incredibly flawed concept. No matter how important the cause of free speech, it still pales in comparison to the cause of world peace and unity.”
And who will decide what speech accords with “world peace and harmony,” and what speech does not? Why, Zafar and his friends, of course. But what if the Pakistani government claimed that right for itself, and decided that what Zafar himself was saying did not accord with “world peace and harmony”?
Harris Zafar could well become the Nikolai Yezhov of our age. Yezhov was the Soviet secret police chief who sent innumerable people to their deaths in the gulag before Stalin decided it was his turn. Nowadays, Zafar has become the first advocate of restrictions on the freedom of speech to run afoul of people who want to take his own freedom of speech away. But as the silencing continues, he will by no means be the last.
EDITORS NOTE: This Jihad Watch column is republished with permission. ©All rights reserved.