Here’s To You, Mr. Rushdie

I wrote this blog post at the time of the firebombing of the offices of “Charlie Hebdo”. It seems sadly appropriate to repost it today.

***

Salman-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. 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”.

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One comment on “Here’s To You, Mr. Rushdie

  1. Mey says:

    Magnificent. Only a narrow, irritated mind would be pissed off reading this.

    My heart hurts, for so many reasons, I met one of these drawers when I was a teenager, he had come to my high school to share his talent and insight on life. I had never met a kinder, simpler, and humbler soul. A generous man, whose sharpness and mischievousness in wit were only matched by the fierce will to always be benevolent; even in the worst of criticism. They were sardonic, but never mean.
    These are good men who died today, men who embodied the best of my country, our strongest, most honourable values: integrity and respectful freedom.
    I often criticise Americans for their take on freedom of speech because it often seems to be an excuse to insult others in all impunity. Charlie Hebdo had it all. It would never censor hot button issues but still tackle them with underlying kindness, not for a certain political party or religion; those were never spared, but for the humans involved in the situation.
    These men had the integrity to even disagree with one another, fight for their beliefs without breaking their friendship, and when bigger disagreement appeared in their ranks, everyone stood for what they believed in.
    They were slaughtered by cowards. Cowards who covered their faces, hid behind excessive training and super powerful arms, hid behind the name of a god they only pervert with their acts of cruelty, cowards who shot a wounded man already lying on the ground and then ran. Cowards who instead of having at notorious racists who openly disgrace their culture, chose to lash out at cartoonists whose initial crime was to print the drawings of others.

    I hurt because kindness, generosity, and true open-mindedness were attacked today. I hurt because I was taught I lived in a free world and today men died for having kept on with something that was always presented to me as a natural right.
    We’re in 2015 and, in France, the country of Enlightenment, the country were people preserve their language in an academy, the country or human rights, the land of debate, free talk and this rare art of criticising with intellectually noble intentions; in this country, my country, artists became martyrs.

    There are no words to express the duress this puts us in, in our flesh, our core, we have been challenged, wounded, attacked.
    You have no idea how I wish something as shallow as a building representing our wealth or economy would have been shot down instead.

    We will stand, we already do. Since it does actually come down to dying standing or living on our knees, we are standing.
    Voltaire may be long gone, our bloody revolution has been reviewed with more civilised approaches ever since, but our heart is still the same. Our freedom we believe in and we will not surrender to the fear of seeing rage strip it from us. We will not let anyone, may they be animated by the most rabid of blind and inappropriate faith, take it from us.

    We do not fear, we will keep on speaking our minds and laugh; with the tolerance inherited from having developed our thoughts in a secular environment, not manslaughter determined by a poor interpretation of one spiritual current.

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