I refuse to be spoken to in that tone of voice

David Hadley and Chris Whiley pointed out in comments that my doubts about cartoons as a genre could be considered all wrong. Yes. Maybe I only meant bad single panel cartoons. I’m not sure.

But it was basically a side point anyway; the central point remains. No, the imaginary ‘right’ to protect religious beliefs from perceived insult and mockery does not trump the right to insult and mock religious beliefs. It’s not 1520, nor yet 1640, and people who have the good fortune not to live in theocracies get to act accordingly, let the Pope say what he will.

Munira Mirza says terrific things on the subject.

Censorship in the West bolsters the moral authority of leaders in the Middle East to censor their own citizens. Indeed, the religious leaders in Saudi Arabia and Palestine have been opportunistic in using the story as a way of galvanising support and reinforcing the view that only they can protect Muslims from victimisation. Counter to the claims of unelected ‘community leaders’, Muslims do not benefit from censorship.

And counter to the claims or implicit assumptions of supporters of unelected ‘community leaders’, too. The assumption seems to be remarkably widespread that all Muslims, and (especially, and especially mistakenly) all people who live in what are sloppily and misleadingly called ‘Muslim countries’ or ‘the Muslim world’ think with one thought about this issue. But that’s a mistaken assumption. People really ought to keep in mind that a lot of people in ‘Muslim countries’ detest theocrats and religious tyrants, detest them every bit as much as we detest people who want to order public schools to teach creationism and NASA to mention The Designer along with the Big Bang – every bit as much or perhaps a lot more, since the religious tyrants are more powerful and more violent there, and have more searching, detailed, oppressive rules to impose and enforce with beatings and stonings. So the idea that it’s kind or sympathetic or anti-racist to side with the ‘offended’ against the ‘so what if you’re offended’ could well be completely mistaken. We don’t know the stats, because there aren’t polls on the subject in theocracies, and if there were the answers wouldn’t be awfully reliable. But I know people in Pakistan, for instance, who are not at all fond of theocrats. It is my impression that such people are not at all rare.

In Denmark, large numbers of moderate Muslims have sought to oppose the stranglehold of extremist Muslim lobby groups who claim to represent them. In Arhus, they have organised counter-demonstrations. One Muslim city councillor who was involved said: ‘There is a large group of Muslims in this city who want to live in a secular society and adhere to the principle that religion is an issue between them and God and not something that should involve society.’ It turns out that those sympathetic lefty anti-racists who believe censorship will protect Muslims are actually missing the point. Many Muslims want the same freedoms as everyone else to debate, criticise and challenge their religion.

There you are. Unfortunate that so many people so readily assume the opposite.

Unsurprisingly, Hitchens also says many good things.

As well as being a small masterpiece of inarticulacy and self-abnegation, the statement from the State Department about this week’s international Muslim pogrom against the free press was also accidentally accurate. “Anti-Muslim images are as unacceptable as anti-Semitic images, as anti-Christian images, or any other religious belief.” Thus the hapless Sean McCormack, reading painfully slowly from what was reported as a prepared government statement. How appalling for the country of the First Amendment to be represented by such an administration. What does he mean “unacceptable”? That it should be forbidden?

Probably the same thing Jack Straw meant by his waffle. Shut up. Never mind what the First Amendment says; shut up.

Islam makes very large claims for itself…The prohibition on picturing the prophet – who was only another male mammal – is apparently absolute. So is the prohibition on pork or alcohol or, in some Muslim societies, music or dancing. Very well then, let a good Muslim abstain rigorously from all these. But if he claims the right to make me abstain as well, he offers the clearest possible warning and proof of an aggressive intent. This current uneasy coexistence is only an interlude, he seems to say. For the moment, all I can do is claim to possess absolute truth and demand absolute immunity from criticism. But in the future, you will do what I say and you will do it on pain of death.

Exactly. And that is exactly why we are so determined to say No, and so infuriated that so many people insist on not saying No, insist on submitting, instead. No – no Submission, thank you.

I refuse to be spoken to in that tone of voice, which as it happens I chance to find “offensive.” ( By the way, hasn’t the word “offensive” become really offensive lately?)

Yes, of course it has. Hitchens was the other half of the conversation when Stephen Fry did his riff on ‘offensive,’ you know.

I will not be told I can’t eat pork, and I will not respect those who burn books on a regular basis. I, too, have strong convictions and beliefs and value the Enlightenment above any priesthood or any sacred fetish-object. It is revolting to me to breathe the same air as wafts from the exhalations of the madrasahs, or the reeking fumes of the suicide-murderers, or the sermons of Billy Graham and Joseph Ratzinger. But these same principles of mine also prevent me from wreaking random violence on the nearest church, or kidnapping a Muslim at random and holding him hostage, or violating diplomatic immunity by attacking the embassy or the envoys of even the most despotic Islamic state, or making a moronic spectacle of myself threatening blood and fire to faraway individuals who may have hurt my feelings. The babyish rumor-fueled tantrums that erupt all the time, especially in the Islamic world, show yet again that faith belongs to the spoiled and selfish childhood of our species.

Exactly. Tantrums – just what I say. No doubt he got the idea from me.

[A]nother reason for condemning the idiots at Foggy Bottom is their assumption, dangerous in many ways, that the first lynch mob on the scene is actually the genuine voice of the people. There’s an insult to Islam, if you like.

Also just what I say. Very good that Hitchens listens to me so attentively.

Suppose that we all agreed to comport ourselves in order to avoid offending the believers? How could we ever be sure that we had taken enough precautions?…Is it not clear, then, that those who are determined to be “offended” will discover a provocation somewhere? We cannot possibly adjust enough to please the fanatics, and it is degrading to make the attempt…There can be no negotiation under duress or under the threat of blackmail and assassination. And civil society means that free expression trumps the emotions of anyone to whom free expression might be inconvenient. It is depressing to have to restate these obvious precepts, and it is positively outrageous that the administration should have discarded them at the very first sign of a fight.

It is depressing to have to restate these obvious precepts. It’s been a depressing week – all those upturned bellies.

43 Responses to “I refuse to be spoken to in that tone of voice”