Suffer the Little Children

I wanted to add just a couple of quick things about the Scruton piece on irony and Islam. I like to nail these things down, man.

One, I think Scruton was using the “gratuitous” to have it both ways: placating people who think jokes about “people’s beliefs” should be taboo while still arguing that non-gratuitous jokes are not taboo.

Now of course it is wrong to give gratuitous offence to people of other faiths; it is right to respect people’s beliefs, when these beliefs pose no threat to civil order…

“Gratuitous” is a very flexible word that way. Many people were absolutely certain that Rushdie’s humour in The Satanic Verses was utterly gratuitous, and many people were just as certain that it wasn’t; and so with other jokes, other movies, other plays, other novels, other performances at the Edinburgh fringe, and so on. Scruton may have been doing a spot of CYA there.

And then the bit about suffering –

Ordinary Christians, who suffer a daily diet of ridicule and skepticism, cannot help feeling that Muslims protest too much, and that the wounds, which they ostentatiously display to the world, are largely self-inflicted.

Suffer can easily mean two things there, and actually the less obvious meaning fits better. Suffer means not just endure pain, but simply endure: put up with, take, allow to happen. You can suffer something to happen without being pained by it and without its being painful. I think what he means there is primarily Christians daily put up with ridicule, without making a big fuss about it – rather than, Christians are daily tormented by ridicule. And yet, as I said, it’s tricksy, because it means both, and most people will probably read it the more usual way. But then again maybe it’s not really tricksy, since the two meanings overlap.

There; I’m glad we got that straight.

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