Events in Paris and the global fallout of those horrific and tragic events have again brought a number of big issues into focus. Freedom of speech and religion, and the rights of individuals to social protection regardless of their ethnic or cultural background have been hot topics in the media for most of the month, and these are questions that we in Scotland should be discussing – and discussing seriously. Should we be free to speak and express our ideas and opinions without fear of censure or legal recriminations? If anything, Scotland has learned the power of free speech. It was our freedom to speak that brought out the very best in our country. No law or magistrate stood in the way of us Scots speaking our minds on the Scottish Question, and we are determined to continue this discussion. Yet even with the right to speak freely we were not always given fair access to this freedom. Employers bullied many into silence, the media wasn’t much better than loaded dice, and Westminster pulled as many strings as it could to bring down the weight of international opinion against us.
Our freedom to speak, as we have all learned, is important to us. We wouldn’t have gotten off the ground without it – and by Jove didn’t we get off the ground?! What recent events have caused us to reflect upon is the truth that our right and freedom to express ourselves means little if this same right and freedom is not also given to others. This shared right, however, raises the crucial question of responsibility. All rights, like the right to have children, come with responsibilities, and many of them come also with consequences. On the Scottish Question we have a right – even an obligation – to speak out, but we quickly learned the consequences of ill-thought words. We watched on as Better Together and the minions of Westminster used their right to speak as a means of propagating lies and distortions, to bully, intimidate, and spread irrational fears. They were perfectly free to do this to us, but did they have the right?
With the rise of right-wing opinion in England in the guise of UKIP and the polarising of Labour and the Conservatives to the right in time to the Farage drum, coupled with the growing paranoia surrounding Islamist terrorism, we have to think seriously about these rights. No one deserves to die for the words they have spoken or written, and so the murders in Paris were indeed acts of inhuman terrorism and barbarity, but did Charlie Hebdo have the right to publish material which was beyond doubt offensive to people of any particular faith or community?
Britain’s war to end all peace, and the media war effort at home, has trained us into a default suspicion of Islam and Muslims. UKIP’s voicing of the British establishment’s fear of the Islamisation of the so-called United Kingdom has done nothing but further marginalise an already vulnerable community, and brought out into the open what was once a thinly veiled racist sentiment. Do they have the right to use their words to do this without a thought for their responsibilities or even the consequences?
Here in Scotland we have had an Islamic Scotland for decades, as we have had a Buddhist Scotland, a Protestant Scotland, and a pigeon racing Scotland. Being Scottish is not about not being a Muslim or a Catholic. There are, and always will be (we hope), Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and Atheist Scots. Tartan with only one colour is no tartan at all.
Muslims who have come to Scotland and Muslims who have been born in Scotland have enriched our country in the way that anyone coming with skills and culture has enriched Scotland. Scottish Muslims (writing that just felt good, so good I’ll write it again: Scottish Muslims) voted with us, and the majority of Scottish Muslims voted Yes to independence. Now are we saying that we should tolerate Muslims because they happened to support the Yes campaign? No! No one should ever be tolerated in their own country. Scottish Muslims voted Yes precisely because they are Scots, and those of us who are not Muslim should stand with Islamic Scotland because Islamic Scotland is just another colour in our tartan. We ought to give this inclusiveness some serious thought when we presume to have the right to say what we please about others. We have figured out at this point that we are all responsible for Scotland and our fellow Scots. The consequences of ill-thought words and actions may not be the terrorism we have been told to fear. Even in Islam this is very much an extreme minority sport. The consequences may be far worse – the alienation of yet more Scots from Scotland.
– Butterfly Rebellion