Religions, social media – and free speech

Television cameras and interviewers were present on Christchurch’s last vigil for the 50 Muslims who’d been slain a week before. A young Muslim woman said the “Free-speech people” had a lot to answer for.

She used the expression ‘free-speech’ people once more in the interview, clearly in the belief that the law allowing free speech was partly to blame for the massacre. Or did she? Was she referring to the hateful, divisive and unregulated racists ensconced on social media?

Disturbingly, we don’t know. She was not asked to elaborate. Disturbing because her bald statement left the impression that she believed free speech should be curbed and, because the interviewer failed to ask her to explain, he apparently shared that view.

Was she referring to anyone who expressed an opinion in speech or writing that conflicted with approved opinions and beliefs? This is a tricky area, especially where the opinions and beliefs of  Muslims are concerned in a secular society.

Concerns about hard-line Muslim rhetoric and laws in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, for instance, are valid. They have no tolerance for anyone who does not share their faith in Islam. They express the wish to kill non-believers and drum these attitudes and beliefs into their children. Yet despite these beliefs many of them emigrate for economic reasons; some may carry these extreme views with them.

Yet despite the power of the extremists, even in their countries of origin they are a minority.     The majority of Muslims are moderate in their beliefs and are happy to fall in with the prevailing cultural norms of whatever country they settle in.  But still, I find the Muslim faith a little frightening.

There are, of course, many Christian extremists. I find the Christian faith less frightening, but only because it is more familiar. However, the main reason that I am not intimidated by those who hold Christian beliefs is that I live in a secular country, which means religious institutions have no political power.

However, I am aware that Christian, Buddhist, Jewish or Muslim religions, whether moderate or extreme, desire to control the hearts and minds of all fellow citizens whether they share their beliefs or not. And given the power to do so, they would transform our educational and political institutions to suit their own religious beliefs.

In order for me to become more accepting of religious institutions I would need to see an audit that satisfies non-believers. That is, edit sentence by sentence, page by page, the  Bible,  the Muslim Qur’an, and the Jewish  Torah, until prejudice against women, non-believers and all hate speech and  calls to violence are removed.

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Chris Horan

Chris is a former social worker, probation officer and Family Court counsellor, living in Hawea in the South Island.