Saturday, June 23, 2007


It's Not Just About Free Speech and No Violent Reprisals

Salman Rushdie's knighthood has unleashed a rerun of the freedom of speech arguments between the liberal west and the less than liberal Muslim world. Writing in The Guardian today Timothy Garton Ash reprises his very clear line on what should and should not be allowed. In essence TGA argues that while Rushdie should be allowed to be offensive to Muslims, they should be allowed reciprocal liberties but never to make violent threats to life and limb:

The toleration of widely differing opinions and beliefs is precisely what distinguishes a free society from the ideological regimes of the Middle East. Rushdie wrote a fiction that was deeply offensive to many Muslims. Muslims have the right to be deeply offensive back. All that a free society requires of them - as of every citizen - is that they conduct this argument peacefully and obey the law of the land.

This is admirably clear and if followed by both sides much suffering and injury would be pre-empted. But, whilst I admire the clarity and wholly support the cause of free expression against coercive censorship, I do have some objections to TGA which are more than mere quibbles. What worries me is the green light it appears to give to mutual vilification and abuse. Some elements on both sides are only too willing to take up the verbal cudgels and set to with a will. I worry that such exchanges are unwelcome: do we need to communicate with a relatively unknown culture at such an abusive pitch? Is there not something totally negative about such conduct?

I would defend anyone's right to satirize or even ridicule any religion but should we encourage such dysfunctional and aggressive communication? I think not. Moreover, anyone who has ever been involved in a fight will know that they invariably begin with exchanges of insults and abuse and the violence breaks out once this has progressed beyond a point of no return. By endorsing the 'abuse', be it satirical novels or cartoons, are we not opening the door to a spiral of exchanges which is highly likely to culminate in the violence TGA so opposes? Much better, I'd say, to be aware of the dangers and to cultivate the virtues of understanding and good old fashioned courtesy.

Comments: Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?