Thursday, June 5, 2008

Free Speech vs. the Jihadists

“It’s not my role to set off bombs — that’s ridiculous. I have a weapon. It’s to write. It’s to speak out. That’s my jihad. You can do many things with words. Writing is also a bomb.”

So said Malika El Aroud, as quoted in a recent article in the New York Times. El Aroud is a Belgian woman using the internet to develop her "jihad" against the Western world, encouraging Muslim men to join the fight and women to support them in doing so.

If you could ignore the fact that she incites Muslim people to war against Western society, you might respect her for using her writing savvy to speak out. You might respect the fact that she is a woman unafraid to voice her opinion to a male-dominated society, and in fact tell those men what to do. IF you could ignore her message.

At Fringe Magazine, we are dedicated to publishing the words of writers outside of the mainstream, and we support all women in their efforts to voice their opinions and change the world. But as Suzanne Reisman noted in her blog, "how do we encourage women to share their views and experiences when we sometimes disagree with them? Who decides what is appropriate and what should be condemned?"

I believe there are times when words should be used as weapons - the words of abolitionists helped bring about the end of slavery; the words of feminists helped women get the vote in the U.S. But these "weapons" were used to include others in the conversation, not exterminate them.

Then again, maybe I would feel differently if I were on the other side of the argument. That's what freedom of speech does for us - we don't get to silence someone because we disagree with them so both sides maintain their rights to exist. But that's another thing that bothers me about Ms. El Aroud - she is on both sides of the argument. She purports conservative Muslim values (she said, "Women didn't have problems under the Taliban"), yet she is Belgian, and uses this Western side of her identity to her advantage - the very system she wishes to destroy protects her rights to speak her mind.

Is there ever a time when it's okay to preach the destruction of others? And is there ever a time when it's okay to stifle another person's right to speak?

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