Extremists steal headlines

The Qur’an deserves to be burnt; the prophet Muhammad is a terrorist. These are only a few of the sentiments that have been barraging our media headlines over the past several weeks.

On Sept. 8, German Chancellor Angela Merkel made her most controversial move since coming to office by awarding Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard with a prestigious award heralding the freedom of the press. Naturally this reopened old wounds with not only Muslim communities of Europe, but across the globe, as the media continues to focus on these radical actions and the equally disturbing threats lain against these perceived blasphemous actions.

The media purports to give us an unbiased approach by highlighting each of these extreme views, but Laurier professor of global studies Ali Zaidi believes that these are both situations in which free speech is being abused.

Realizing the issues that will arise if the media continues its coverage of extremist elements as it only serves to widen the gap between cultures and decrease our levels of tolerance and understanding, Zaidi proposed a two-fold approach towards rectifying the increasing East-West cultural divide.

“First, we in the Western world must focus on educating ourselves about the responsible use of freedom of speech,” said Zaidi. “It is not enough to lobby for the sustained use of this right, but rather we must begin to study and consider the ethical use of its exercise.”

He went on to add, “The second part of this process would require another mass education program whereby the Muslims, whether they are in majority or minority status in a nation, would continue to learn about why the freedom of speech has become paramount in Western societies.”

This certainly proves to be no small task, but is nonetheless necessary should we wish to mend the increasing break between East and West. As Zaidi pointed out, “The original purpose of the free press was to limit the power a government held over its people, not to be used as a tool to oppress or further marginalize groups in a given society.”