How far should private entities go to avoid offending the most sensitive Muslims? This question has arisen once again as the soundtrack for a virtual world sparks controversy in the real one.
LittleBigPlanet, a new video game that lets children lead characters through various locales, was recently delayed by Sony due to its use of a song whose lyrics contain snippets from the Koran. The pre-release modification and apology came on the heels of a letter claiming that the mixture of music with Koranic verses would upset some Muslims. (Side note: a Muslim actually wrote and recorded the tune.)
Two influential members of the U.S. Islamic community have offered very different responses to the uproar — and thus contrasting answers to the question that opened this post.
In his group's typical fashion, Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), effectively argues that companies should extend to Muslims the power to veto products before they even hit the shelves.
Personally, I find the song to be beautiful and touching. But I respect the views of those who have taken offense and I appreciate that Sony has as well. To be fair, I believe Sony is under no obligation to recall the game given that the song was not of their own making, but that of a devout Muslim who allowed them to use it. However, I think they made an admirable decision to respect the sensitivities of their customers who were offended, which is a wise decision from both a marketing and community relations perspective.
Zuhdi Jasser, founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD), sees nothing admirable or wise in Sony's action. Instead, he warns Muslims not to expect others to bow to their every concern and businesses not to cave. Western liberties are at stake here:
Muslims cannot benefit from freedom of expression and religion and then turn around and ask that anytime their sensibilities are offended that the freedom of others be restricted. The free market allows for expression of disfavor by simply not purchasing a game that may be offensive. But to demand that it be withdrawn is predicated on a society which gives theocrats who wish to control speech far more value than the central principle of freedom of expression upon which the very practice and freedom of religion is based.
His prescription for angry consumers is a simple and time-honored one: if you don't like something, don't buy it. Correspondingly, "AIFD stands against any form of censorship in the marketplace of ideas, whether imposed by government or by corporations intimidated by the response of militants or those with an inappropriately sensitive level of political correctness."
This little big planet could use more clear-thinking individuals like Zuhdi Jasser.