Comment: In praise of free speech


The issue of censorship is sometimes a difficult one. Spreading the line between freedom of speech and incitement to violence. With regards to Lord Singh’ decision to withdraw from the BBC I would have thought that should a presentation on a sensitive subject (that a Sikh stood for the right to practice his own religion rather than accept conversion and so was decapitated by the rulers of the country) be treated in a way that would incite violence and hatred between faiths, then there can be cause for censorship. However, according to my understanding, the script that was proposed by Lord Singh was not in any way intending to spread discord but to honour a historical figure who stood for his right to practice his religion.
Certainly the rulers were Islamic at the time but I would expect that the great majority of Muslims would have no issue with this example. How many other historical events of suppression have been carried out with a Christian justification, or a Sikh or any other religious justification? There are many examples in history. Those that respect religious freedom will see this as a political and human rights wrongness done at the time.
Should we now not celebrate Easter for fear of offending Jews? Should Muslims not speak of the persecution of Mohammed or other oppressions? What other religious martyrs should be suppressed for fear it will offend the oppressor. Perhaps we should stop saying that the holocaust occurred in Germany for fear of offending Germans?
Again – I repeat – no incident should be used to stir up violence or hatred or even have that intention. But honouring a figure who paid with his life because he had the integrity to refuse to capitulate to demands to change his religion is worthy of note.
The perspective should be to rise above these issues. If something has been done in the name of religion that is wrong then we should acknowledge that it was done against the spirit of its core religious principles and move on to a much higher plane of cooperation with others.
Censorship of past acts which are commemorated in a suitable way should not occur.
Lord Singh is a long respected pillar of the UK interfaith scene and has played a leading role in developing interfaith activities in the UK. His broadcast would have been proportionate and compassionate and not in any way geared towards inciting hatred and violence.
What perhaps should be looked into further was why there was no possibility for the BBC to find some common ground here.

See the Daily Telegraph article here


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