September 22, 2015

The Islamic Tradition, the Arts, and Freedom of Expression

Eleni Polymenopoulou, Brunel University London, is publishing A Thousand Ways to Kiss the Earth: Artistic Freedom, Cultural Heritage and Islamic Extremism in volume 17 of the Rutgers Journal of Law and Religion (Fall 2015). Here is the abstract.
The paper discusses controversies on freedom of expression and the arts, focusing on Islam and Muslim sensibilities. Drawing from historical examples and the perception of visual arts and music in the Islamic tradition, it attempts to shed light upon incidents such as the Charlie Hebdo attacks and the intentional destruction of cultural heritage by extremists in Mali, Syria and Iraq in the case of global-scale controversies. After examining the concepts of blasphemy (sabb), apostasy (ridda) and idolatry (shirk) in Islamic law, it considers the legitimacy of legal claims related to blasphemous expressions from an international law perspective. The paper distinguishes between violent and non-violent claims and argues that freedom of expression should prevail in all cases involving blasphemy and offences to sensibilities. It also takes the view, however, that this solution is not necessarily a sustainable one. Empowering cultural rights as a whole, rather than seeking to resolve a fictitious conflict between rights, seems to be a more effective pathway to address complex issues involving religious extremism and hate speech.
Download the article from SSRN at the link.

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