What is right is contested

Ah, Norm took issue with Julian’s piece too.

By his choice of example Julian makes life too easy for himself. Mockery of the weak is an egregious practice of course. But what if someone makes a criticism of Islam – or any religion – in perfectly measured terms and some take offence, perceiving this criticism as mockery? What if the satirical treatment of a sacred figure in a work of fiction arouses anger, pleas for censorship, death threats? What if it is disputed between different parties whether certain images or statements are offensive or not? In such cases, the right to say what you think – within the usual limits concerning incitement to violence and defamation – trumps what any of us might believe is the right way to behave.

That’s the complaint I make about Nussbaum and about other people who claim that we can all agree on certain basic principles: that by their choice of example they make life too easy for themselves. It’s no good using people who don’t want to fight in wars as an example, because that’s easy; you have to pick people who want to murder their daughters for marrying without permission, because that’s not easy. It’s so not easy that it seems to demonstrate that in fact we can’t all agree on certain basic principles. We can all agree that we want justice or peace or an end to violence, but aha aha, it always turns out that other people mean something different by justice or peace or an end to violence from what we meant, and it turns out we can’t agree at all. (If we could, why would Saddam have done what he did for so long? Why would genocides have happened? Why would Jack Abramoff have pocketed so much money for keeping US labour laws out of the Marianas while workers there lived such horrible lives?) It’s tragic that we can’t all agree, but it’s true.

20 Responses to “What is right is contested”