Defaming the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) in Newspaper Cartoons
As opposed to the first incident above, the publishing of cartoons in Danish newspapers defaming the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and picturing him as a terrorist was well-covered in the media for a number of reasons.

In September 2005, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published twelve cartoons about the Prophet Muhammad with the reasoning that they had been suffering under “self-censorship” when it came to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). In other words, the entire goal seems to have been to demonstrate freedom of expression as a human right.

This leads to the following very important question that actually is a critique of human rights theory as a whole: What is the benefit of providing such “human rights” and defending them when, in reality, it seems that they contributed nothing to human dignity and welfare except to the vague notion of someone have a “right”?

The Legal Framework
Those who engage in the practice of defaming Islam or the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) have claimed that they are simply exercising their rights of freedom of speech, opinion and belief. Within the Western framework, they may have an argument. At the end of January 2006, the Blair government was defeated in attempting to pass a law that would have made ridiculing faiths and religious leaders a type of hate crime. In an interview with BBC on February 1, 2006, a Member of Parliament who opposed the bill said that the law must protect life and property but need not protect “feelings.” Thus, as long as a person’s “life or property” is not physically attacked, one should be free to express what one wishes. This approach reflects the currently accepted Western emphasis on individual rights as opposed to social welfare. Indeed, in the aftermath of the dispute concerning the cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), some in Europe are proudly—actually, arrogantly—proclaiming that they have the right to insult God if they want to.

Whatever the man-made legal rights may be and ignoring the gravity of the manner in which such insults have been done, what if such statements do eventually lead to harm and attacks on life and property? What is the logic behind permitting “causes” that lead to “harm” while prohibiting the act of harm in itself? For example, is there anything reprehensible about drunk driving in itself or is it prohibited by law only due to the harm that it can result in, the loss of life and property?

In any case, of course, simply because something is legal by law does not necessarily imply that it is moral or even wise. In the current environment, this is the more important issue. One should never invoke one’s “rights” in defense of harmful and hateful actions that could eventually even lead to bloodshed. Thus, it is not a matter of passing new laws, as was attempted in England. Instead, it is a matter of recognizing the morally correct path to follow and the prudent path to follow.

At the same time, though, according to European Human Rights law prohibiting such cartoons should not have been considered a violation of human rights, at least not if some other cases may be taken as precedence. In the case of Hertzberg and Others v. Finland, the State Party was being sued because it had censured television programs dealing with homosexuality. Their defense was that the action was done in order to protect public morals. The Human Rights Commission found that the State Party had not violated Article 19 of the ICCPR and further stated,

It has to be noted, first, that public morals differ widely. There is no universally applicable common standard. Consequently, in this respect, a certain margin of discretion ought to be accorded to the responsible national authorities.

Furthermore, in Murphy v Ireland, the European Court of Human Rights upheld a decision banning a commercial religious broadcast in Ireland on the basis that it would be too divisive, given Ireland’s tumultuous history of religious conflict.