Friday, February 03, 2006
The cartoon doth offend
I’m nominally a Christian with critical opinions, regarding both Christianity, and life generally. Religion has been at the centre of more wars than just about anything else, including famine. I also believe that science, vested interests aside, is generally a ‘good thing’ and that the Enlightenment n Europe set us apart from the reigns of the spiritual and this is why we are mainly both wealthy and tolerantly pluralistic. The Catholic branch of Christianity didn’t hold all the moral or physical answers to our burning questions about how our world works, and because we are humans, and by our very nature curious, a few of us challenged the status quo. Long may we go on learning about our world – it is human to study, absorb and change our behaviour based on what we know and what we might find.
Of course, just because we think we know something, doesn’t make it truth, hence Thomas Kuhn’s “Paradigm Shifts” occur, these being major changes in the ways we examine the world. From Newtonian theories of Physics to Einstein’s. And isn’t that a jolly good thing? Religion, if left unchecked, does nothing positive in the name of progress other than hold us as a race back from scientific progress. I’m not saying all scientific progress is good progress, but it means that any superstitions (eg, “witchcraft”, and other so called heresies) don’t keep their foothold here for long. Religions aren’t bad in themselves – who could realistically say that Christ’s basic tenet that we should treat those in ways we ourselves would like to be treated is anything other than a positive statement about how we as humans should live? But absolute power, held by those with a vested interests in maintaining a religious status quo, are as easily corruptible as those with power in other realms. Religion isn’t created by God, but by corruptible humans.
So the cartoon was let out of the bag and all hell (or at least the promise of hell to us infidels) was let off by the more extreme Muslims. And this anger was over what exactly? Showing 12 ‘derogatory’ images of the prophet, so I’ve been led to believe, in fact pillorying him. Oooooh, what a shocker!
Sorry, but Jews have managed to get through a holocaust and have continued to develop what was already a useful tool – self effacing humour. My dad (who is a real Christian rather than a plastic one like me) can’t watch TV without hearing a stream of blasphemous words, as he regards them. Plenty of Christians feel as though their opinions have been steamrollered, or at least disregarded by mainstream UK politics and civil society. So in the face of being ridiculed, Jews laugh at themselves and Christians have developed thick skins, or have just switched off as much as possible from worldly society. Anyone who calls themselves a Christian in public and hasn’t developed metaphorical calluses has either got so much charisma that they can just brazen their way through the tirade of abuse, or can articulate themselves out of a situation decisively through argument. Regardless, Christians have learnt that to consider browbeating of their religion as a personal attack achieves nothing more than allow others to escalate at best criticism, at worst a kind of nagging mocking, levelled at them and their beliefs.
So what do extremists Muslims do to sell their beliefs as viable in a modern age? Oh yes, threaten to firebomb a Danish newspaper office, wave guns around, hysterically cry for the death of Europeans – hey, haven’t they learnt that us Euros stopped believing in God 80 years ago or more? Well, that’s rational isn’t it? That’s going to generate a shedload of converts. Do they believe an omnipotent prophet is going to need such puny assistance from the likes of mere mortals? And do they seriously believe that their actions will please the prophet? Perhaps they do. If so, it sickens me to think humans find this kind of action attractive.
Well I’m not a Muslim, though I have a great deal of time for those who are serious about what they believe in, eg, have thought about it and questioned some of the wilder actions of people associating themselves with the label. What I don’t have any time for is for childish playground antics (unfortunately the materials used aren’t just fists and feet, but guns and bombs – the mentality is the same and sucks equally). And I would argue to the death that almost* no-one has the right to censor any belief that another may hold. Argue with them until you’re blue in the face. Debate until neither of you can stay awake. Fight your cause with words, not violence.
The reason we in the west have progressed, made things, changed our ideas is through debate and by proving that even the most seemingly ingrained rules can and should be challenged. Debate and the freedom to do so. This is why God no longer “appoints” our monarch and the church is unable to put people to death for brewing up a few roots in their living room.
This extreme version of Islam takes us right back to the dark ages. No thanks, you’re welcome. Give me free speech every time.
Yesterday, to the surprise of many, Nick Griffin from the BNP along with his cohort was not charged with allegedly inciting racial hatred – I think most pundits thought he’d be at Her Majesty’s Pleasure for quite some time.
Its not “good” because I love the BNP and all they stand for. It would take the threat of facial surgery performed by an angry gorilla armed with a machete before I ever put an X in their box. It IS, however, a victory for free speech. Griffin and his nasty army may be talking complete guff, and, if they are, the best thing they can do is hang themselves with their own logical rope. I’d rather be shown how my plans will fail rather than be told that they simply will, “because I say so”. To be told he is a ‘racist’ is (let’s face it) probably true, but I find it heart-warming that a jury, who know the case better than me, can dissent and let him off. The question of Griffin isn’t the seemingly obvious one “is he or isn’t he a racist”? Of course he is, and by their own terms, I find Griffin’s views reprehensible, and I trust that the British public, by not voting for his party en masse, despite the piss-poor opposition until Cameron appeared, agree. Of more concern to me is “knowing that Griffin IS a racist, does he therefore have the right to openly enunciate his opinions”?
To suggest that Griffin’s views can be silenced by putting him away simply gives ammo to those who believe he is a hero of our times. But unlike many of our politicians of the increasingly nannyish times we live in, I do believe we are not entirely stupid. I questioned the logic of the NF when they were active in the area near where I grew up – Southall – in the late 70s when I was 12. I think the average voter can do likewise with this lot.
Let them speak. Then let’s mock them for the dangerous nincompoops they are. As the Tories found out during the 80s all the press slagging about their sleaze changed nothing. It took Spitting Image, a satirical puppet show of all things, to cause ructions within the party. Humour in the face of war really is the second best weapon. But the worst attack any can make (OK, with the exception of say, nuclear attack or having a piranha on the end of your finger) is to ignore your attacker. Works for me.
* When it comes to censorship I’m a good honest hypocrite here. The only exception to my rebuttal of censorship is on those materials which affect, or involves kiddies. The only right you have to watch filmed sex involving real children is the right to have your balls cut out with blunt garden shears. Slowly.