Not Again

I said I wanted to make a noise about the Fallaci matter – but perhaps there’s no point. You know perfectly well what I’m going to say. And what else is there to say? But – well, but tiny water drops can wear away a stone, or something, so we might as well keep making a noise even if it is a predictable noise.

Controversial Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci is to face trial for allegedly insulting the Muslim faith in her latest book, a court in Italy says…Italian preliminary investigative judge Armando Grasso ordered the formulation of charges against the author, saying the book had expressions which were “unequivocally offensive to Islam”.

Okay. It’s all too obvious, but I’ll say it anyway. So what? So what if the book does have expressions which are ‘offensive to Islam’? What does that even mean anyway? Is Islam a person, can Islam be offended? And even if it did mean something, so what. Substitute a wide variety of other abstract nouns for ‘Islam’ in that sentence and see how absurd it sounds. The book has expressions which are offensive to: Socialism, libertarianism, psychology, stamp-collecting, bird-watching, football, sculpture, hairdressing, fashion, advertising, public relations, political science, marketing, philosophy, science fiction. If some blank-eyed buttonholer on the street offered you that sentence you would shrug and walk on; if a judge offered it you would assume you were sound asleep and having a surrealistic dream.

Expressions that are offensive to someone or other are what books have. That’s just how it is. Unless they’re books of train timetables, or telephone numbers, or possibly recipes (though that’s tricky), then they will inevitably have expressions that not everyone will agree with, and therefore can be construed by the chronically indignant as ‘offensive.’ What’s the alternative? That all books should contain nothing but sentences of the formula ‘___ is good’? Would you want to read such a book? Would you want to live in such a mind, would you want to talk to anyone in such a world? No. Not unless you’re a pod you wouldn’t.

Stefania Prestigiacomo, Italy’s Minister for Equal Opportunity, has it right.

Our country is becoming a disquieting one if freedom of speech can be condemned or punished. Reading that someone wants to try Oriana Fallaci because of her ideas makes me think of a sort of lay ‘fatwa’, such as the one which has been forcing Salman Rushdie to hide for years now. Are we really reaching the stage where Ms Fallaci’s ideas are to be considered illegal?

Let’s hope not. Let’s really earnestly hope that we’re all not reaching the stage where criticism of Islam or any religion is to be considered illegal and hauled into court. But who knows. I’m not a bit sure some people who ought to mind the idea, would mind the idea. I heard Lisa Jardine on Start the Week last week rebuke Andrew Marr – ‘there was a note in your voice,’ she told him sharply – for suggesting that there could be anything about Islam in particular that was in tension with democracy. It is Forbidden to say that, Jardine told the world. It is simply Not Permissable to criticise Islam specifically, to say that Islam has its own particular faults that are different from the faults of the other monotheisms. Well – that’s an incredibly stupid thing to say. Lisa Jardine isn’t stupid, but that’s a stupid thing to say. Why is it ruled out in advance that Islam has no faults of its own? For political reasons, obviously. Well-meaning ones, no doubt – to try to shield Muslims from hatred – but epistemically absurd. And the Jardine move is pretty much the same as the Grasso move, and it all amounts to: It is Strictly Forbidden to Criticise Islam. Period.

Can we have a referendum on that first? The AUT got to vote, the American Anthropological Association voted on the Darkness at El Dorado referendum; can we vote on this No Criticism Allowed rule before it goes into effect? Mind you, maybe it would pass. If so, whole libraries are for the bonfire.

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