Freedom of expression creates a metaphorical “marketplace of ideas” where truth and falsehood can do battle, the eventual victor given time, always being truth. This concept is a foundational principle of liberal democracy found in the philosophies of John Milton and John Stuart Mill. The concept even exists in Islamic theology where the Quran states “Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error” (2:256).
However, there are practical realities that need to be addressed. The most pertinent issue being that there often is not a demand for truth in the marketplace. John Stuart Mill put it best:
It is a piece of idle sentimentality that truth, merely as truth, has any inherent power denied to error, of prevailing against the dungeon and the stake. Men are not more zealous for truth than they often are for error, and a sufficient application of legal or even of social penalties will generally succeed in stopping the propagation of either. The real advantage which truth has, consists in this, that when an opinion is true, it may be extinguished once, twice, or many times, but in the course of ages there will generally be found persons to rediscover it, until some one of its reappearances falls on a time when from favourable circumstances it escapes persecution until it has made such head as to withstand all subsequent attempts to suppress it.
A current example of the persecution of truth and obfuscation of reality lies in the flawed assumptions and opinions about the Muslim community. Consider the demand on Western Muslims and their institutions to condemn acts of terror when committed by alleged Muslims in Western states (note that little demand exists for the condemnation of terror attacks outside of North America or Europe). Aside from the obvious critique that this assumes that Muslims are somehow opposed to or separate from their country of citizenship, this demand is based on flawed premises.
The analogous situation of white supremacy extremism is illustrative. There appears to be no demand that the “white community” at large condemn violent acts/terrorism committed by white supremacists. This appears to be obvious for the simple reason that linking a large community together based on the beliefs of deviants who claim the supremacy of the community mischaracterizes the community and hands the platform to the deviants. Imagine the conjecture that the pinnacle of being white was being a white supremacist. Such a notion is harmful, not to mention lacks evidence.
The same reasoning should apply to the Muslim community. Demanding that Muslims and their institutions condemn terrorism allows deviants to co-opt the image of the community as a whole. This is completely flawed. There is no collective will amongst the Muslim community for terrorism. There is no spectrum of religiosity in Islam the peak of which is violence. These are just commonly propagated falsehoods based on disproportionate focusing on deviants and a lack of understanding of Muslims and their institutions. Subjecting Muslims to a burden of proving deviants do not represent them creates the insatiable demand for condemnation.
Sadly, Muslims are still trying to meet this demand. For example, there is a website called muslimscondemn.com, which documents the condemnation by Muslims of terrorist attacks and violent acts. The website started as a 712-page list of Muslims condemning everything from acts of domestic violence to 9/11. It is clear that Muslims have condemned terrorism and violence, even though they shouldn’t have to. The issue is not with the lack of condemnation, but the need for it. Nevertheless, as the persecution of truth about the Muslim community dissipates, the truth will stand out clear from error.