A photo of a Muslim woman wearing full Islamic dress and holding up a bra as she sorts laundry is stirring controversy. The photo taken by a university fine arts student features a woman wearing a niqab, a veil covering the face, and an abaya, a full-body cloak. The picture was a class assignment and was displayed with other student photos until others complained and a staff member took it down. You can read more about the details by visiting this Huffington Post site or simply googling it.
The two predominant sides of the issue that have surfaced are the student’s right to exercise her freedom of speech by creating and displaying the photo, and the offence taken by some in the Islamic community who find the picture offensive and wanted it taken down. There have been thousands of comments posted on the internet supporting both side of the issue. I am not writing this post to really support either side but rather to point out another aspect that most people seemed to have ignored.
I fully believe in the right to freedom of expression, and the law clearly prohibits it if it is a hateful expression of that freedom, which I am not saying it is in this case. I am merely pointing it out because our laws do recognize that there are limitations to that freedom.
My commentary on this issue is mainly around this obsession we have with our rights. Yes, we have rights, but do we really always have to exercise them? Just because I have the right to do something does not mean that I necessarily should. I claim to be a Christian and one of Jesus’ main teachings is to think of others before myself. So, why do so many of us focus in on our rights first, and often at the expense of another’s?
I may very well do something that offends someone else by exercising a given right, but I may have done so without the knowledge that what I was doing was offensive. When I learn of such an offence should I perhaps reconsider my actions? It seems that we do not want to do that very often. I understand that you cannot please everyone and that there is always going to be someone who is offended. However, there are many more times where we make sure that our rights take a much higher priority than whether or not we are offending others.
In the case of this particular incident would it be such a bad thing if the artist chose to willingly remove the offensive artwork? Or would it be such a bad thing if those offended by it extended a certain level of tolerance rather than demanding its removal?
I would like to encourage each one of us to consider putting the needs of others before our own. Sometimes maybe we should willingly give up our rights.