No wonder they are angry

So, Charlie Gere.

I find Jo Glanville’s defence of the publication of Aisha, the Jewel of Medina as an act of courage on the part of the publisher ridiculous. Would she be so ready to describe as an act of courage a decision to publish a book denying the Holocaust, or advocating paedophilia, or race hate, or antisemitism, or violence against women? Probably not.

No, probably not, but what does that tell us? More than the trivial conclusion that Gere draws, which is that ‘there are limits to her conception of freedom of speech.’ Yes of course there are, but the point is not that there are no such limits, the point is that the limits should be as narrow as possible not as broad as possible, and that that entails making judgments about what kinds of limits there should be and what kinds of reasons should be offered and accepted for drawing those limits where we do. Gere’s question is useless for that purpose, because the examples he gives are all different in kind from the example of a novel about Aisha. A book denying the Holocaust is likely to be in the service of a larger and more dangerous – more genuinely harmful – agenda. A book advocating paedophilia could cause real harm to real children, as could a book advocating race hate or violence against women. A novel about Aisha isn’t like that. So it’s a stupid comparison. It’s one that Ahmedinijad (among others) is very fond of, but it’s stupid.

The issue with this book and others that have offended Muslims, including The Satanic Verses, is that their publication is liable to give Muslims the possibly correct impression that a culture riddled with its own shibboleths, taboos and areas of interdiction does not consider it a problem to offend their sensitivities, not least by trivialising their religion and their culture in works of fiction. This is far worse than being anti-Muslim. It treats Muslim sensitivities as being beneath consideration. No wonder they are angry.

See above. The shibboleths, taboos and areas of interdiction in question are not a matter of ‘offending sensitivities’ or of ‘trivialising’ someone’s culture or religion. Shibboleths of that kind are neither legally binding, nor generally respected, nor (on the whole) backed up by threats and violence.

A more reasonable question for Gere to have asked would have been ‘Would she be so ready to describe as an act of courage a decision to publish a book about Jesus’s love life?’ The first part of the answer would probably be ‘Well no, because there would be no need for courage because there would be no risk involved.’ The second part would probably be ‘But if there were risk involved because of firebombs shoved through the letter box at 2 a.m., then yes, I certainly would.’

In other words, directly advocating violence or crime against people is one thing and discussing a religion (challengingly or rudely or mockingly or however it may be) is another. It’s odd that a guy who does something called ‘Cultural Research’ is confused about this.

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