WASHINGTON, D.C. – Dr. Qasim Rashid, an American-Muslim human rights activist, said in a speech at Howard University that America’s free-speech model is in desperate need of an update. Rashid believes that cyber-bullying laws should be used to limit freedom of expression – such as the burning of Korans – in wartime.
“When a nation is at war, many things that might be said in times of peace are a hindrance to this effort,” Rashid said. “And their utterance will not be endured so long as men fight and… no court can regard them as protected by any constitutional right.”
The March 19 event at Howard was titled, “The Limits of Free Speech in a Global Era: Does America’s Free Speech Model Endanger Muslim Americans?”
“Our understanding of free speech today is not some long-held 227- or 235-year understanding,” said Rashid, a member of the Muslim Writers Guild of America, who presented a paper titled “In Harm’s Way: The Desperate Need to Update America’s Current Free Speech Model.”
Rashid’s address began with personal thanks to Dr. Azizah al-Hibri, an appointee by President Obama to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Al-Hibri founded Karamah, a group devoted to the rights of Muslim women, and it was this group that invited Rashid to speak.
Dr. al-Hibri founded Karamah in 1993, one year after she became the first Muslim female law professor in the United States. She has written extensively on women’s issues, democracy, and human rights from an Islamic perspective, her biography says.
“I do want to start by thanking Karamah,” Rashid said. “I was fortunate enough to have several constitutional scholars look at this paper and provide feedback. Dr. al-Hibri, of course…”
“Most, if not all of you are familiar with the 2011 case where Terry Jones, a pastor from Florida, burned a Koran on March 20, 2011, and this event itself provides a prime example of the gap that advanced technology caused in America’s free speech model,” Rashid said.
“So in addition to placing a big sign on his church lawn that said Islam is the devil, Jones burned the Koran, screened it live on the Internet and put in layman’s translations so that people in war-torn [areas] in particular can see what he’s doing,” he continued. “Now like the hypothetical KKK member who might burn a cross on his black neighbor’s lawn to target him specifically, Jones did the exact same thing by burning the Koran – broadcast it and targeted Muslims in a war-torn country…to target them specifically.”
With the Koran burning as an example, Rashid said that cyber-bullying legislation should be used to prosecute individuals for their speech on a case-by-case basis.
“My argument is that we already have legislation, right?” he said. “I mean, we already have a cyber-bullying policy in all fifty states that even without the threat of violence – even without violence occurring, we’re already holding individuals responsible for this intentional infliction of harm on others. So I think that legislation’s already there. It’s just more a question of how is it going to be applied.”