Harry Roque’s way

“There comes a point where making a point is pointless. And reckless.” – Philip Gilmore 

UP banned the screening of the “Innocence of Muslims” to ensure the safety and security of everyone on its campus. But Harry Roque, human rights lawyer and constitutional law lecturer at the UP, would have none of it. He defied the ban and screened the movie for his class, as a teaching tool on the freedom of expression.

Damn the torpedoes! Or as he put it, “As an academic, as a lawyer, I cannot allow rights to be infringed upon. I am in perfect discharge of my duties as a law professor and I’m willing to take whatever consequence.” Eh damn the torpedoes nga!

Alright, so he wanted to make a point. About the freedom of self-expression. But there’s a point where making a point is pointless. And reckless.

Roque already knew Muslims in over 20 countries reacted violently to that movie why did he have to risk riling local Muslims who have displayed admirable restraint so far? Was he testing the limits of their tolerance? 

So what if he had no intention of adding to the Muslims’ rage, that he was only standing up for the freedom of expression. The purity of his intentions do not matter because there is an equally important issue that cannot be ignored. There is an offended party involved and he is very angry. He cannot be put aside, expected to hold his anger in check, while a professor uses a movie that slanders his religion to make a point about freedom of expression.

The thing is Roque won’t even concede that the movie is offensive to Muslims. The first sentence of his Inquirer column last Friday – Free Expression and mob rule – was, “An allegedly anti-Islam trailer has reopened the debate on where the limits to freedom of expression should be.”  Allegedly anti-Islam? In the next sentence he said the movie depicts Mohammad as “a fraud, a womanizer, and a pedophile”. What further proof does he need to say unequivocally that the movie is anti-Islam?

Roque then warned that banning ‘expression that prods members of a religious group to violent reaction is a “slippery slope” as far as freedom of expression is concerned.’ He went on to prescribe, “the remedy in a democratic society is not to ban such a film, but for Muslims to prove in both word and deed that the affront is apparent and real. Certainly, the resort to mob rule is not the means to prevail in the free marketplace of ideas.” 

Wait a minute. Let’s analyze his prescription.

The Muslims have to prove in both word and deed that the affront is apparent and real? They torched an embassy and killed an ambassador, is that proof enough that the affront was apparent and real to them? Or was Roque saying the Muslims must first prove that Muhammad was not a fraud, a womanizer, and a pedophile before they can rampage? Or was he in fact saying if I call your mother a whore the proper response is to prove I’m wrong and not to kick my teeth in?

Certainly, the resort to mob rule is not the means to prevail in the free marketplace of ideas. At least for those who believe that a free marketplace of ideas exists. But certainly as well there are people who believe that mob rule is the only way they can liberate themselves from the free marketplace of ideas dominated by what some American conservatives proudly refer to as “the Judeo-Christian moral code”. 

They have their moral codes, we have ours. What many fail to understand is that the world became interconnected faster than people’s capacity for mutual adjustment. So the first instinct is to impose one’s self on the other in order to maintain one’s comfort zone. It takes a while to learn that the only way to have peace is to co-exist and not to impose peace. 

We are still in the culture clash stage. And so when one does something that offends the other, intentionally or not, one cannot presume the other will respond in a like manner, as if only a reversal of roles were involved.

More importantly, you cannot, like Harry Roque thinks you can, dictate to the other how he should respond. He will respond in the way he responds. That’s it. And you better be prepared to live with it because that will be it until such time as we all get to know each other well enough to agree on a code of conduct.

For example, among Muslims freedom of expression does not extend to criticizing their faith. You cannot blaspheme or commit heresy and expect to get away with a slap on the wrist. That’s the way it is with them. It was also that way for Catholics and christians, for many centuries. So if it was okay for us then why is it not okay for them now? There is no right or wrong involved here, we have secularized, they have not. Who has the moral authority to say we are right and they are wrong?

The secularized go to war over politics, the religious go to war over faith. Asking who between the two is better is like saying that the cannibal who eats with a knife and fork is better than the cannibal who eats with his hands.

Roque could have screened the movie in a rented auditorium or at home and it would have been only him and his invited guests to face “whatever consequences” they were willing to face. They would still be defending a right but they would be doing it without involving those who really don’t give a rat’s ass about defending a bigot’s right to lie about another religion. 

There are people who believe that freedom of speech is better served by condemning bigotry and lies than by standing up for the right of bigots and liars to mouth off. They will defend the right to free speech in their own way just as Roque will in his own way. Unfortunately, Roque’s way put everyone in the UP campus at risk. Nang dadamay pa and that is a no-no in our culture.

The thing is until we can all agree on what democracy is and the extent and limits on freedom of expression, we must settle our differences in places where there is minimal risk of collateral damage. That’s what Roque failed to grasp, believing as he did that his idea of freedom of expression is the one size that fits all, with no need for personalized fittings. He took his fight to the UP campus, a “civilian” zone, instead of a battlefield where only combatants would face-off.

Anyway, after the screening, Harry Roque proclaimed, “Now that we have seen it, we can confidently say it is trash.”

Christ Almighty or Alahu Akbar, does one have to taste-test every foul-smelling mound on the sidewalk before he can confidently say “It is dog shit!”? 

Manuel Buencamino (241 Posts)

Buencamino was a weekly columnist for Today and Business Mirror. He has also written articles in other publications like Malaya, Newsbreak, "Yellow Pad" in Business World, and "Talk of the Town" in the Inquirer. He is currently with Interaksyon, the news site of TV5. MB blogged for Filipino Voices, blogs for ProPinoy and maintains a blog, Uniffors.com. Game-changers for him, as far as music goes, are Monk, Miles, Jimi, and Santana.


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