n Comparative and International Law Journal of Southern Africa - The cartoon controversy : a note on freedom of expression, hate speech and blasphemy

Volume 39, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 0010-4051



In the light of the recent publication of cartoons aimed at mocking the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) this article analyses the approach to the idea of freedom of expression in Western / European jurisdictions - in particular the USA, Canada, Australia and Belgium / Netherlands - and in Islam. In terms of Islamic law, the public utterance of hurtful speech and blasphemy constitute violations of the right to freedom of expression. It is submitted that the limits of the freedom were overstepped by the publication of the cartoons and that such freedom must be limited when it reaches the bounds of hate speech and blasphemy. It is further submitted that the publication infringed the human dignity of Muslims worldwide. The article makes apparent the double standards in respect of blasphemy inherent in Western / European jurisdictions, with particular reference to its treatment of Holocaust denial. The section on the status of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) has been included so as to enable the non-Muslim reader in particular to understand the worldwide Muslim reaction. Finally, the article calls for an urgent need for a European / Western commitment to the mutual respect of all religions and to a sincere commitment to multiculturalism.

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