Here’s to You, Mr. Rushdie

Today’s post was meant to be an entirely different post but something a friend of mine pointed me to this morning led to this. It’s probably going to piss off a lot of people, but for that I’m not going to apologise. What my friend pointed out to me was an article on the firebombing of the offices of the French satirical paper “Charlie Hebdo” for printing a cartoon of Mohammad on their front cover (full story here). Now, we’ve all become so familiar with this notion that the image of Mohammad being printed is blasphemous that we perhaps lose sight of how ludicrous the notion is.

It’s a cartoon.

Nobody deserves to die over a piece of ink on a piece of paper. So many people tip-toe around this issue, that it’s probably important to put this on the record, once and for all.

*Just because you believe in a particular god does not mean you have the right to be protected from free speech. (I may believe in the Force. That does not give me the right to stop you taking the piss out of Star Wars.)

*As the famous quote goes, “I may disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

And in case I give the impression that this is a Muslim-centric issue, it’s not. Other religions are more than capable of the similar kinds of sensitivity to criticism. William A. Donohue of The Catholic League is the perfect example of this. Donohue has condemned and called for the boycott of everything from the movie “Dogma” (directed by Kevin Smith, a practicing Catholic) to – ludicrously – the Joan Osborne song “One of Us”. Donahue consistently speaks of bullying of Catholics as if they were some kind of downtrodden minority. There may have been a time when this was the case – perhaps in the 19th Century when priests in Ireland were hiding in hedges – but hardly now, when the head of the church is sitting on the most expensive tract of land in the world (not to mention sitting on reports of child rapists).

Everybody in public life – be they a politician or a celebrity – accepts that by putting themselves out in the public domain, they are open to scrutiny. And oftentimes, satire. There is only one organisation in the public arena that seems to believe they are above criticism, and that is organised religions. (And make no mistake – all religions are in the public domain). This criticism or satire may not be kind; however, it is free speech. And free speech is more important than anything else. Those who took part in the uprisings of the Arab Spring will testify to this. (Ironically, there are many who demanded an end to totalitarian regimes who still adhere to a religion that would have a person murdered for drawing a cartoon).

But this is the world we live in now. We’re scared to talk about religion in case we offend anybody. We’re straddling the 21st century and the 19th, almost as if the 20th never happened. We’ve got 21st century technology taking our race forward at an astounding rate, while we’ve got the resurgence of the 19th century superstition of religion raising its ugly head once again. In the late 90s and the early years of the 21st century, most of us thought that atheism was a given; now, in the last couple of years, we’ve had atheists having to write whole books to defend their positions, as if they’re some kind of Medieval devils once again. It’s a very worrying trend, as are incidents of violence such as the one that inspired this article. As Voltaire famously said: “Superstition sets the whole world in flames; philosophy quenches them”.

19 thoughts on “Here’s to You, Mr. Rushdie

  1. Oh, hear bloody hear! I was ranting in my own head about this topic earlier on, so it’s good to read such a clear concise piece about it – well done, Derek!

    I’m sick and tired of tip-toeing around people’s ever more ludicrous beliefs and their self-assured demands that I “respect” them. The truth is, I don’t respect them. I don’t respect organised religions that prioritise the good of the institution over the well being of their members; I don’t respect religions that turn women, or children, or non-adherents into second-class citizens; and I sure as hell don’t respect people who blindly follow and help to perpetuate such evils. I will no longer pretend to respect other people’s “beliefs”, particularly when they are less than respectful of mine.

    In short, I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take any more!

  2. Yup, am with you both – in fact you have said it more succinctly than I ever could. Funnily enough, is a timely post for me too, Derek. Especially the bit about straddling the centuries. I was on twitter last night, chatting to someone from the UK while watching crappy soaps, I don’t know him very well but we do share a love of Eastenders and the pantomime villains that reside in Albert Square. He made a comment and then backed it up with, ‘Oh, I hope I didn’t offend you, I saw you are from Ireland and was afraid that a religious icon would be thrown at the back of my head.’
    Huh? To say that I was amazed, shocked, nay, stunned would be putting it mildly. I have taken ‘Ireland’ off my profile – couldn’t be arsed getting into that type of nonsense, to be honest, when trying to get my kids into schools that don’t Preach The Faith is such a trial. But that’s a whole ‘nuther conversation for a whole ‘nuther time.
    Great piece.

  3. Completely agree. Organised religion has done so much harm, in one form or another. Nobody has the right to stop free speech because of a group they belong to. Practice what you preach and respect other’s views!

  4. Very interesting you should say that, Katy. My daughter is in a multi-denominational school so thankfully doesn’t have the experience of having one particular religious doctrine being shoved down her throat as absolute truth.

    However, there’s still an awful lot of silliness. Because so many religions are represented in the school we have to simultaneously be “respectful” of them all, which can be very restrictive. Last week the kids had a “Fancy Dress” disco, since one faction objected to it being referred to as Hallowe’en. Said faction also tried to ban the kids from dressing as witches, since witches are huge figures of fear in some religion or other. Thankfully, sense prevailed and it was agreed that kids had the right to dress however they chose.

    A couple of years ago there was a huge furore about the reading of Harry Potter in one class, for similar reasons. That situation led to an actual case of censorship in the school, which was only lifted when a number of other parents objected.

    One of the things I resent most about the new religious PC movement, though, is the fact that it turns me into Victor Meldrew. Yes, I’m well aware that I sound like a moany old git, but I’m afraid that’s not likely to change any time soon.

    1. Jane, that is PC gone absolutely mad! That kind of thing makes me furious. Son number one is in 2nd year, and he has to sit in the religion class while it is on. Grrrr. Son number two’s name is down for primary school – which we were very pleasantly surprised by, I must say.
      It seems that there needs to be more acceptance that as everyone is different, so too can their views be, without the crazy tip-toeing that seems to happen. And that’s just schools!
      Could hijack your post, Derek, but won’t 🙂

  5. Great piece of writing. Freedom of speech-what a joke, should be for everyone but its not. I agree with everything you said. Could say many things about this subject but I wÍll leave it now.

  6. Well said, Derek! I wish schools would teach the ability to appreciate humor without taking it personally. This world definitely needs to lighten up!

  7. Fascinating to see how PC has taken over our lives – I can see exactly where Jane’s coming from – that “faction” you refer to can be named – evangelical and fundamentalist as it is – and I met many of them in our former life as aid workers in Africa and Asia – some of our sons’ friends were from that faction and chided the boys for Hallowe’en celebrations with “good Christians don’t celebrate hallowe’en as it’s evil” and ditto claptrap from other MKs (=missionary kids) who invariably go off the rails when they grow up. Same girls now normal adults with live-in boyfriends and parents have mellowed too thankfully.

  8. Great post. Everyone can believe what they want. There are laws (in Australia at least) that prevent discrimination on the basis of religion – or lack thereof, so this protects atheists too. But being made fun of is not discrimination – especially not if everyone is doing it to everyone else.

    Ironically, religion objects to being made the object of satire but doesn’t hesitate to tell non-believers (which includes adherents to other faiths as well as atheists) that they are going to hell, or their immortal soul is in danger, or whatever else it is they believe.

    Religious organisations seem to want to exercise free speech but don’t want other people to freely exercise their right to free speech against religious organisations.

    Free speech is not selective. Everyone has it.

    I don’t get to jump up and down when someone makes fun of me.

    Catholicism was a minority when the Romans were feeding them to the lions. I’m not sure about in between. Certainly not now.

  9. Well done Derek, I shake my head at the people of who believe in anything to the point where they call any slight blasphemy. It doesn’t make any sense at all and does not reflect the world we live in. I love the quote you chose above, it is one I use often:

    “I may disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

    Not a religious parallel, but when people were calling on the Government in the US to make it illegal for anyone to picket and protest at a soldier’s funeral, I say that the dead soldier might disagree with the protest, but the things that were being fought for defend the right to speak your mind.

    Robust and healthy debate should always be welcome, because if your goal is to change my way of thinking, convince me – don’t coerce me.

  10. I give you credit for speaking your mind, Derek. I think I gave up long ago trying to make sense of people’s actions. I dont get it – really. Just because they dont agree with what was printed in a satirical paper people become their worst selves. I wonder what their thought process was between viewing the paper and the firebombing…geesh.

  11. Great to see you tackle a controversial topic. You really connected to the deeper issue at the end; underneath the religious outrage is a form of culture shock. As technology invades every corner of the globe, we are all being forced to confront other cultures and traditions. And when people are forced into the future or forced to adapt to foreign customs, they often react violently and with extreme fear. Articles like yours, Derek, move the dialogue forward, so thank you.

  12. When I read the title I was like “Salman Rushdie?!”
    Of course…his writings made him go into exile for years. He just came out, recently, I believe. It’s been a while since I read his books, but man…some crazy thing happened as a result. There was so much violence as a result of The Satanic Versus! It’s as if by someone writing something controversial, they are afraid it will come true. That blows my mind.

    I think PC is a contradiction in itself. I think people don’t take the time to become educated about religion and assume the media isn’t corrupt. You also must take into account that we all have different cultures, and you can’t expect everyone to adhere to your ideals of culture. Some cultures really don’t want to have freedom or Democracy and just because we would fight for it, doesn’t mean others will.

    I went to a talk called “Islam in America” where people assumed Muslims oppressed their women because they were separated in Church, but the women said they choose to be separated in church so they could worship by themselves and have their children with them. We translated that into oppression. People assume Allah isn’t God…when it’s just ANOTHER name for God but we just condemn it instead. Islams, however, feel they’ve come a long way from where they were after 9/11. That encouraged me some. America is, after all, a conversion of cultures and religions. I must add, however, I live in the bible belt, on top of that, I also live on University–it’s sort of a muted reality here where everyone experimenting with beliefs and everyone expects other cultures is simply normal without the realization that outside of here, other people have a problem with it.

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