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March 24th 2015 print

Peter Smith

This Editor Keeps Her Head

Free speech is dandy, writes London Review of Books' Mary-Kay Wilmers, who nevertheless reckons that riling the head-lopping acolytes of a seventh-century warlord goes beyond the pale. By her logic, it is safe to label her a coward and cultural quisling because she won't reach  for a sharp knife

islam for dhimmiesDear Ayatollah, Yes, I know your lot commits butchery on a grand scale; engages in the most godawful terrorism; executes people for the merest trifles; ill-treats women; and, given half a chance, would have us with our posteriors uppermost paying homage five-times a day to a vengeful deity conjured up by a seventh-century illiterate warlord. But, still and all, there is no excuse for our use of hurtful words. Yours Ingratiatingly…

I was skimming through the February 5 edition of the London Review of Books when I came across a letter expressing disappointment with the tepid response of the magazine to the Charlie Hebdo attack. The editor, Mary-Kay Wilmers responded to the letter. She began this way: “I believe in the right not to be killed for something I say, but I don’t have a right to insult whomever I please.”

Magazine editors pay attention to words. Note the formal ‘whomever’. Accordingly, we are entitled to expect that each word is weighed to ensure that within context it is clearly conveying its intended meaning. But, in this case, I simply don’t know what Ms Wilmers intended by applying the same word ‘right’ to two quite different (juxtaposed) propositions.

dhimmiLet’s first take the proposition that we have no ‘right’ to insult others.

Darn tootin’ we don’t, if good manners are the yardstick. It’s ill-mannered to be gratuitously insulting of others and, in former times, you used to get a belt from your dad if you tried it when young. It can also be cruel and vindictive when applied to those who are vulnerable or who’ve suffered a history of abuse. But, surely, the word ‘right’ in this context is a world away from the ‘right’ not to be killed for speaking out of turn.

Conflating the two ‘rights’ in the one sentence is either extremely sloppy or disingenuous; and it is offensive too, in my view, to the families of those killed. But Ms Wilmers is entitled to be offensive. That’s free speech in action.

An essential ingredient of a free society is that people have the legal right to voice their opinions in ways which might be judged offensive. The right of free speech is not put to the test unless it is offensive. This doesn’t necessarily mean that anything goes.

A.C. Grayling makes an important distinction in Liberty in the Age of Terror  between being offensive about what “people cannot change [such as] their sex, race or age” and things that they can, such as their “religious affiliation”. The latter he believes is fair game, whereas placing restraints on the former might be justified in certain cases. Though, in Grayling’s words, these cases must “be specific, narrowly defined, and extremely well justified”.

So, if Grayling is taken at his word, insulting Islam is fair game because a religious affiliation is a choice. Mind you, hold on, there might be a problem. Islam is the only religion where you don’t have freedom of disassociation. Leave it and you’re dead, or potentially dead, depending to which Islamic country, society or family you happen to belong.

This brings me to Ms Wilmers’ other proposition: that we have a ‘right’ not be killed for something we say.

Those of us brought up within Judeo-Christian societies recognise a God-given right to life and that it should not be lightly extinguished. The sanctity of life is a tenet of most religions. Atheists of a humanist bent also believe in an inalienable right to life. So, yes, short of giving secrets or comfort to the enemy in time of war, we can surely all agree with Ms Wilmers that we should not be killed for something we say. Well most of us anyway. And there’s the rub.

Followers of the religion of peace are not enamoured with free speech or the sanctity of life. Examples abound. A taste follows, because we tend to forget:

  • Blogger Raif Badawi sentenced in Saudi Arabia to one thousand lashes (fifty each week for twenty weeks) and ten years in prison for insulting Islam. He received one hundred lashes in January. Reportedly, further lashings have been delayed pending recovery of his flayed body.
  • Mohsen Amir-Aslani hanged last year in the Islamic Republic of Iran for heresy; including for insulting the prophet Jonah. No, this is not a joke.
  • Salman Taseer, the governor of the Punjab province in Pakistan, assassinated in 2011 for opposing blasphemy laws which had resulted in a Christian women facing execution (no, not facing a good dressing down). Pope Benedict weighed in and was told in no uncertain terms to butt out by the then Prime Minister of Pakistan Yousuf Raza Gilani. Thousands showered the alleged assassin with rose petals on his way to court.

Choose to look the other way or not; these are the religious screwballs that we are up against — from those at the top to those on the streets. Beyond belief or not; fatal fatwas are also alive and well in the life of the religion of peace.

I suppose the most well known fatwa is the death sentence imposed in 1989 by Ayatollah Khomeini — the then-leader of the enlightened state of Iran — on Salman Rushdie for writing a book. He and Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, also under threat for insulting Mohammed, have so far bravely eluded the murderous fate meted to Dutch film-maker Theo van Gogh.

Numbers of fatwas are extant; though, unsurprisingly, none on ISIS leaders that I have heard of. They have, however, been sanctimoniously admonished by various imams for straying from the process laid down by Sharia law for brutally killing people. Write a book, draw a cartoon, make a film or be a Christian and you get a death sentence. Burn people alive, throw them off buildings or slit their throats and you get a religious reprimand.

We are repetitively reminded by the PC brigade that most Muslims are moderate. Well, however moderate many might be, they (all of them) have a collective problem: their religion is the antithesis of peace. It has a supremacist, intolerant and violent scriptural component; which, critically, is kept alive by large numbers of literalist and fundamentalist imams and religious scholars. And before the red herring of the violence in the Bible is trotted out; whatever historically-contextual violence is in the Old Testament, it has no life within modern-day Judaism or Christianity.

I doubt whether Islam can ever be made peaceful but, hey, if it can, let Muslims get cracking, construct a new script and dump the imams who preach the old one. Until they do, I can’t think of anything that more legitimises ridicule and insulting barbs than a religion which encourages its adherents to kill you for ridiculing or insulting it.

People like Ms Wilmers better start understanding that while they believe they have a right not to be killed for what they say, Islamists don’t believe that. And, while that situation exists, it might just be excusable to use all the verbal and pictorial ammunition at our disposal. If that means breaching good manners by slinging the odd insult, so be it; let’s sling away, armed by Western civilisation’s hard-fought ‘right’ of free speech.

 

Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economics

Comments [11]

  1. Gogs says:

    But punishment for politically incorrect statements is alive and well in Australia.
    Less than one thousand lashes (fifty each week for twenty weeks) and ten years in prison for insulting Islam, but Rugby player Potgeiter was fined $20,000 and sentenced to “re-education” for a “homophobic” taunt during a match.
    Are we on a similar path to the Islamists?

  2. Keith Kennelly says:

    Peter

    Do you realise you are indulging in the behavior you are criticizing.

    Modern Judaism still extols violence and vengeance. Christianity does not.

    The old testament comes from the Hebrew bible which is still today the modern Judiac scripture.

    The New Testament is the scripture of Christianity and the basis of Western society. The old testament is not.

    Why are you excusing the Judiac traditions and modern practices of the Judaism, where they for the basis if left a and society, and endorsing similar traditions as Islam?

    To Islamists you would appear hypocritical. To me you are simply misinformed but are assisting the spread of propaganda and deception about the practises endorsed in modern Judiaism.

    Cheers Keith

    • Peter says:

      Modern Judaism is best exemplified by the state of Israel. Pluralistic, democratic, civilised. Arabs with full rights. Now with 13 seats in the Knesset. The Old Testament is as much part of Christianity as the New. Christ did not come to change the Mosaic laws. He said so. Cheers Peter

  3. Keith Kennelly says:

    Sorry should read
    ‘… where they form the basis of law and society…’

  4. pgang says:

    Keith Kennelly sorry mate, but your understanding of Christianity seems to be very limited. It would mean nothing without the Old Testament. The life of Jesus would have had zero context, nor would sanctification through the blood of the lamb, nor would the resurrection. From a theological perspective I see no reason why a Jew cannot become a Christian and remain a Jew in every aspect.

    ‘Atheists of a humanist bent also believe in an inalienable right to life.’ As long as it’s the right ‘kind’ of life to suit the current politically correct paradigm. It’s easy to judge Islam but the secular west needs to look to some of its own convenient ‘values’ also. There is an underlying truism about secular humanism. Everyone is equal, but some are more equal than others.

  5. Keith Kennelly says:

    Hi pgang

    How do you think a Jewish person would reconcile ‘an eye for an eye’ with the fundamental Christian beliefs of forgiveness, loving your enemies and turning the other cheek.

    Christ rejected the old testament as did the Catholic Church. Sorry but western laws and society are based in Christianity not the ancient Judean beliefs.
    Whether Christianity drew from parts of it is irrelevant. Western society often abandons the Christian churches dogmas and firms societies which reject those dogmas. Judean societies like Islamic societies have not had that sort of enlightenment.

    To suggest Judaism has but the Islam hasn’t evolved, by attempting to align modern day Judaism with Westernism, is a deception of the true nature of Judaism. Westernism is non secular.

  6. Bill Martin says:

    Keith Kennelly, I am not a Jew, nor do I have any particularly sympathetic feelings towards Jews, but I don’t recall hearing or reading about Jews chopping off heads or throwing people off tall buildings to punish them for not complying with the tenets of Judaism. You seem to have a particularly active bee in your bonnet that causes you to dispute the absolute validity of Peter Smith’s article.

    • acarroll says:

      Judaism is essentially a non proselytizing religion — you can’t be a member of the in-group unless you’re born into it from a Jewish mother or marry in to it. There are plenty of stories of murder committed against non-conforming Jews in Eastern Europe before the Jewish emancipation. Although I haven’t heard of this in recent times, keeping problems hidden from the non-Jewish community or insisting that they be solved within the Jewish community is still very much practiced as we’ve seen recently with the paedophile case in Melbourne.

      It’s said that people shouldn’t judge Jews by the actions of Israel (against the Palestinians — descendants of Amelek??), but that’s exactly what we do when we judge Muslims by the actions of their more militant arm. There are some truely hateful messages in some of the texts of Judaism in reference to, dealings with and treatment of non-Jews. Just like in the Koran (maybe the source/inspiration for Islam’s judgements on infidels and dhimmis?).

      In opinion pieces like this, “Judeo-Christian” is propaganda — it never existed as an idea until the middle of last century or there abouts and is used here to force some sense of solidarity against a common foe. They might be a common foe of Israel and the West but not outside of Israel where the rights of Muslims are strongly defended by Jewish diaspora organisations, e.g. in Australia.

      @pgang — modern Rabbinical Judaism has its roots in the Pharisee sect which from my understanding has favoured the Talmud over the Torah.

  7. Keith Kennelly says:

    You are right bmartain I do have a bee in my bonnet.

    I don’t dispute much of Peter’s opinion.

    I do however dispute his claims, which attempt to align the religions of Judaism and Christianity.

    His claim is false. Whether it is deliberate or through ignorance I care little.

    He attempts to portray western ism as rooted in Judaism. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    Westernism is rooted in and evolves from Christianity.

    I agree with acarroll. Judaism has far more in common with Islam than it has with Christianity.

    Cheers

    I’m not Jewish either but that has absolutely no relevance in this discussion.

  8. pgang says:

    Keith again, you simply have no understanding of Christianity. Westernism is firmly rooted in Judaism. The Jewish worldview was one of cause and effect because they believed in an intrinsic connection between heaven and earth, god and man, and god’s purpose for mankind made manifest through the Temple and Covenant. So while the Greeks and their predecessors were essentially Platonists who believed that heaven was a separate realm (just as postmodernists do today), and lived superstitious lives, the Jews allowed reason to guide them. That is what set them apart, and that was the foundation upon which Christ has meaning.
    Christ rejected the Old Testament? You’ve got to be kidding. Jesus (or Joshua in Hebrew) saw himself as the fulfillment of the Old Testament. He accused the Jews only of misconceiving their Covenant to their own political advantage.

    • acarroll says:

      pgang I disagree. Your assertion that he has simply no grasp is nonsense and at worse is a masked ad hominem attack.

      Westernism is not rooted in Judaism.

      Those who followed Judaism in Europe had very little theological interaction with the Christian mass population. Judaism continued off on its own particularistic path.

      Judaism in the mainstream is descended from the Pharisee sect. In itself this sect is essentially the product of the tribe of Judah. In the old testament many references are made to Israel and Judah as being separate entities with the latter often omitted from covenants.

      Christianity is descended from a more ancient variety of the religion of the old testament Hebrews (here we mean the bulk of the Hebrews who were exiled by the Assyrians), namely a Hellenised version that was deeply influenced by Greek thinking, culture and indeed genetics. In short it rejected the ethnocentric aspects of the religion as practiced by the less cosmopolitan ethnocentric tribes of Judea. This particular brand of Abrahamic faith was often warring with the Pharisee sect. It ultimately disappeared, believed to have been amalgamated into what became Christianity which was spreading throughout the Hellenised Mediterranean and Near East.

      This religion was then adopted by and forced upon pagan peoples of Europe (the base stock from which Westernism sprung) who had more in common religously with the Pantheon of the Greeks than with any other religion. So it’s not really a surprise that Hellenised Christianity became adopted in the main over time — it was already tailored for Europeans versed in various Indo-European religions. Subsequently with the fall of Rome and the rise of the Germanic empire in the West, the Christian religious doctrine was further shaped based on the underlying world-view of the new dominant culture of Europe.

      In fact it’s far more probable that Westernism has had a major impact upon Judaism since the enlightenment.