Thursday, 1 August 2019

Speech and Intention

As Islam makes further in-roads into Western societies that have a tradition of free speech, we are witnessing an intensification of the inevitable conflict between the freedom to question and ponder and the desire to prevent speech critical of Islam.

Whilst revisiting the blog of Mark Durie recently I came across a very good series of articles that shed light on these issues and more generally on why people say what they do: to reveal, to question, to conceal, to threaten, to illuminate.

The first is an opinion piece by the journalist Paul Sheehan in the Sydney Morning Herald in which he gives voice to an observation that many non-Muslims have pondered, namely, that Islamic texts are routinely used to justify killing and persecution in the name of Islam. See



The second is what can only be described as an attack on Paul Sheehan and freedom of speech by Randa Abdel Fattah, a PhD candidate in sociology, in which she deploys the familiar tactics of guilt by association, smearing, and victimology to argue that any examination of Islam’s scriptures risks turning the ire of non-Muslims on powerless Muslims. This being an example of how free speech arguments are used to reinforce existing power imbalances. 

The third is a rejoinder by a Dr Mohamad Abdallah, which argues that Paul Sheehan is not competent to interpret the Koran or Hadith and that a scholarly interpretation looking at verses in their proper context suggests a much more moderate interpretation.
The fourth article is by Dr Mark Durie, in which he takes on Dr Mohamad Abdallah’s challenge to interpret the problematic verses in their proper context and to be informed by the customary interpretations offered by authoritative Muslim scholars.  What he discovers is that context is not a magic wand that always makes the interpretation more benign but can also make it worse.
I'm sure you can judge for yourself which speakers have the most honourable intentions.