This week’s insult

Johann Hari began this piece, “the right to criticise religion is being slowly doused in acid.”
He had no idea how right he was. Hari’s unrepentant response is here:

What should an honest defender of free speech say in this position? Every word I wrote was true. I believe the right to openly discuss religion, and follow the facts wherever they lead us, is one of the most precious on earth – especially in a democracy of a billion people riven with streaks of fanaticism from a minority of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs. So I cannot and will not apologize.
I did not write a sectarian attack on any particular religion of the kind that could lead to a rerun of India’s hellish anti-Muslim or anti-Sikh pogroms, but rather a principled critique of all religions who try to forcibly silence their critics. The right to free speech I am defending protects Muslims as much as everyone else. I passionately support their right to say anything they want – as long as I too have the right to respond.
The protestors said I deliberately set out to “offend” them, and I am supposed to say that, no, no offence was intended. But the honest truth is more complicated. Offending fundamentalists isn’t my goal – but if it is an inevitable side-effect of defending human rights, so be it. If fanatics who believe Muslim women should be imprisoned in their homes and gay people should be killed are insulted by my arguments, I don’t resile from it. Nothing worth saying is inoffensive to everyone.
You do not have a right to be ring-fenced from offence. Every day, I am offended – not least by ancient religious texts filled with hate-speech. But I am glad, because I know that the price of taking offence is that I can give it too, if that is where the facts lead me. But again, the protestors propose a lop-sided world. They do not propose to stop voicing their own heinously offensive views about women’s rights or homosexuality, but we have to shut up and take it – or we are the ones being “insulting”.
It’s also worth going through the arguments of the Western defenders of these protestors, because they too aren’t going away. Already I have had e-mails and bloggers saying I was “asking for it” by writing a “needlessly provocative” article. When there is a disagreement and one side uses violence, it is a reassuring rhetorical stance to claim both sides are in the wrong, and you take a happy position somewhere in the middle. But is this true? I wrote an article defending human rights, and stating simple facts. Fanatics want to arrest or kill me for it. Is there equivalence here?

Read it all. I don’t agree with Hari on many issues, and I don’t share his antipathy toward religion – but I have a much bigger problem with anyone who tells me his religious beliefs should be exempt from criticism. Especially when the punishment for “insulting” his faith is torture and death.
Damian P.

22 thoughts on “This week’s insult

  1. Ran says:

    Heh – If one insults my religion, the punishment is whining fingernails-on-the-chalkboard complaints! Don’t claim I didn’t warn you.
    Seriously though, the human condition is such that one can turn anything, any ’cause’ into a militant religion. For example, simple vegetarianism has morphed into ‘veganism’ on the one side and radical animal “rights” groups on the other. Then there are the “global warming” hysterics [quickly merging with the former.] These were preceded by various Socialist and Fascist doctrines, all sharing similar attitudes.
    I claim ‘militant’ because Their ‘Cause’ becomes an intellectual torpor from which no disabusing stimulus will be tolerated. Worse, not satisfied with simply living as they believe, they see the need to impose it upon others. The Veggies are doing their damnedest to legislate their food-beliefs while the PITA types are out there cutting fishing lines and torching homes.
    It is the manifest destiny beliefs of various theistic and atheistic religions that rationalists such as Hari abhor. I, too. Damian said it: “I have a much bigger problem with anyone who tells me his religious beliefs should be exempt from criticism.”
    Some Jehova’s Witnesses came to my door Saturday. The gent started his pitch with “Good morning, sir. I’m here today to share the word of G-d.” I smiled, pointed to the mezuzah at the doorframe, and told him that we were Sabbath-observant Jews.
    Caught totally off guard, he tried to re-light: “Would you agree, sir, that humans are destroying the Earth?”
    Shook my head, looked him straight: “No. Emphatically, NO.”
    At that point, there was nothing for either of us to say… so we shook hands, and like neighbors that we are, parted company with peaceful wishes. Look, I dig the J-W’s because they’d rather go their own way in peace. If only more people were so civilized.

  2. Ellie in T.O. says:

    “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights stated 60 years ago that “a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief is the highest aspiration of the common people”. It was a Magna Carta for mankind – and loathed by every human rights abuser on earth.”
    I wish he’d said something about Human Rights Commissions, which are secular but doing their utmost to quash free speech. But Hari wouldn’t likely have a problem with people being fined/prosecuted/intimidated for violating his own secularist dogmas — many of which aren’t based on “evidence”, either.

  3. Dr.Dawg says:

    Hari’s absolutely right. No religion should be exempt from criticism. I only get upset when some critics segue from “Islam” to “Muslims”–for example.
    I’d argue that that’s what Geert Wilders did with “Fitna.” Simply by adhering to Islam, we are asked to believe, Muslims are dangerous. I’ve pointed out more than once that equally blood-curdling verses can be found in the Bible. Someone commented, “And just how many Christians run around with bombs strapped to their chests, etc.” Which was, of course, my point. Religions don’t kill people. People kill people.
    For that reason I don’t buy into Dawkins’ line on this. But why shouldn’t he, or Hari, be allowed to make their case? All of us should be entirely free to question systems of thought, their premises, their irrationalism (which is not always as dreadful as it sounds), their quaint myths and stories injected into school curricula, etc.
    It’s nice to mind one’s manners, though. On the rarest of points of agreement with Ran, I have a soft spot in my heart for JWs, too. Having married into a family with many active adherents, I got to know them a bit, and they’re actually quite likeable, peaceful souls. I always treat them well at the door.
    On perhaps a related topic: OC Transpo, Ottawa’s bus system, is refusing to allow signs promoting atheism on their buses. Comments?

  4. Hal says:

    “Hari wouldn’t likely”…
    Hmm, “likely”? How do you know?
    “violating his own secularist dogmas — many of which aren’t based on ‘evidence’, either.”
    “Dogmas”? Holy Jesus! (On Darwin’s birthday, yet! Is evolution also “just a dogma”, er, “theory”?) Apparently you don’t know the difference between “secularists” and “atheists” and – heaven forbid! – “liberals” or “libertarians”. Free speech is not a dogma, but idiocy might just be.

  5. Dr.Dawg says:

    Austria’s a funny place:
    “[Elfriede]Jelinek has been showered with awards in Germany, where she has a second home, but she has only recently gained acceptance in her native Austria. Her scathing attacks on Austrian politicians, including the former UN general secretary Kurt Waldheim, for their failure to face up to their own and their country’s Nazi past caused her to be ignored and even ostracised at home. The Austrian authorities banned her plays in 1996 because of her criticisms of the Nazi era. Her works were not staged for two years.”

  6. stephen.reeves says:

    The bible does have some nasty passages,but at present men and women are not waiving the bible shouting God is great and then going out and blowing up people, on buses, subways,cafes, mosques,weddings, funerals,pilgramages etc , but there does seem to be an epidemic of men and women waiving the Koran around and doing just that , whether they are Muslims is another matter, I dunno, maybe they are Buddhists.

  7. s says:

    Dawg sasy
    “Hari’s absolutely right. No religion should be exempt from criticism. I only get upset when some critics segue from “Islam” to “Muslims”–for example.”
    Most criticism of Islam is not of the religion but of interpretation of that religion by extremists, who are usually Muslims, most are careful to make the distinction, but some on the stupid left ,believe that criticism of Islamic extremism is criticism of all Muslims, and that it is Ok to bash the American Christian right, but the Islamic right is off limits.

  8. Dr.Dawg says:

    Well, there are stupid people everywhere. I’ve never had a problem with criticizing extremist Muslims. But I stop at (for example) calling for a halt to all Muslim immigration. That sort of thing.

  9. Ellie in T.O. says:

    Um, Hal? Atheists believe in plenty of things they can’t prove. For instance, many like to prate about “human dignity”, although not one of them has ever explained the scientific basis for “dignity”, what its chemical composition is, or where in the human anatomy it can be found.

  10. DaninVan says:

    “Human Dignity”…not much evidence of IT’S existence either. Fortunately there’s no ecclesiastical hierarchy telling me, as an atheist, that I have to unquestionably believe in it. (No Imam issuing fatwas for my immediate deceasement either…)

  11. Ellie in T.O. says:

    Maybe. But in any case humans, unlike Mr Spock, can’t live on logic alone.
    Dignity is not a logical concept, and its existence cannot be proven. The same goes for justice, truth, goodness, and just about everything that distinguishes human from animal life and makes it worth living.

  12. Alan K. Henderson says:

    There’s a reason for the contrast. Many Muslims believe that Mohammed’s battle orders apply to all generations of infidels, and not just his contemporary foes. Christians were never commanded by Jesus or the Apostles to engage in force; the church was set up as a peaceful, voluntary private-sector organization.
    (Of course, church institutions veered from the original mission just as theocratic Israel occasionally veered from its constitution, and, for a secular parallel, just as American statists veer from theirs. Modern-day Christendom has come a long way from its medieval backsliding.)
    Speaking of Israelites…they did get divine marching orders on occasion, but only against specific (now-extinct) enemies, and only when the order was notarized by some visible-to-the-entire-nation miracle. The post-theocratic era (588 BC to present) shows that the Jews aren’t willing to start unauthorized holy wars. Now if they’d only be more fervent in their secular defensive wars…

  13. Ran says:

    There is one thing that separates humans from animals that truly makes life worth living that is, rather, a demonstrable commodity. It’s called “Bordeaux.”
    sir, if you ever have the chance to savour a fine 2000 Pauillac or Pomerol… The subtle tobacco notes, pain grillé and jam on the nose, the soft tannins and plums and tar and a long, delicious finish… Oh, you’ll Believe, man. You’ll Believe.

  14. Dr.Dawg says:

    I don’t mean that agnosticism is rationalist. I mean that a stance of unknowing is more reasonable (“logical” was the wrong word) than the certainty of either the theist or the atheist. Both of the latter are unprovable.
    I know that it’s the fashion to give atheists a pass on this: their materialism is held to be the default position, with the existence of God an add-on that they shouldn’t have to disprove. The onus is held to be on the theists to prove their case. But I don’t buy this. Our notion of the spiritual, not to mention pain, pleasure and the joy of fine wines, can’t simply be reduced to “objective” scientific explanation, although people do their best (Dawkins, Dennett). That sense of the spiritual, if not of “God” per se, seems inextricably bound up in our very humanity–it certainly crosses all, or nearly all, cultures.
    Atheists, it seems to me, are trying to wish that all away. Yet it, too, is part of the human default position. Surely there is as much onus on them to prove that there is no God–or, better stated, a spiritual dimension–as on theists to prove the contrary.
    And all sides (there are more than two) should get to place their ads on the side of public transport vehicles if they have the money.

  15. Ellie in T.O. says:

    Hal, the point is that you’re a Believer too. You just won’t admit it. Apparently, like some rationalists, you’d prefer that I think of you as some kind of organic, walking computer. Why, I can’t imagine.
    Ran: point taken. I don’t think there are many animals that can appreciate Bordeaux or any other fine wine (though I bet they can get just as drunk on it).

  16. Ellie in T.O. says:

    Agreed, Dawg — though I must say I look forward to the Agnostics’ ad campaign: “We aren’t taking a position on this because we don’t have one, but for some reason we’re forking out cash to pay for a bus ad”.

  17. dkite says:

    Dr. Dawg: it’s difficult to criticize a religion without criticizing a follower. Nor can you stick with the dogmas of the particular creed; it isn’t official dogma of the catholic church to diddle little boys, but catholics should be ashamed of what their leaders permitted to happen, or what happened to their community’s children. And we can criticize catholics who try to minimize what happened.
    I pick on the catholic church because they were a political project. (past tense. The church no longer holds direct political power in Canada.) Speaking of Jehovah’s Witnesses, much of the jurisprudence in Canada regarding freedom of religion come from the battles in Quebec where the political church attempted to stamp out their activity.
    As for muslims, same rules apply. Especially since we have a vulnerable immigrant group needing connections in their new country. A powerful mosque is a recipe for abuse in that situation. One would hope that the agents of government are using their energy to look after the powerless as opposed to entrenching the powerful.

  18. DaninVan says:

    Ellie; “I know what I know and that’s all what I know; I’m Popeye the Sailor man.”
    Ran; as you well know I’m a beer kinda guy…give me a plate of pickled herring, a loaf of rye, and a bottle of Domestica (I’ll be quite now) 😉

  19. John B says:

    “I’ve never had a problem with criticizing extremist Muslims. But I stop at (for example) calling for a halt to all Muslim immigration.”
    The devil is in the details though. Extremist Muslims don’t necessarily self identify at the immigration office and once here – what to do about them.

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