Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Controversy Caused By Unfunny Cartoons Whipped Up By Extremists Of All Stripes

Christopher Hitchens, in a somewhat confused contribution to Slate, mocks faiths of all sorts:
Cartoon Debate - The case for mocking religion. By Christopher Hitchens:

"It is revolting to me," Hitchens writes, "to breathe the same air as wafts from the exhalations of the madrasahs, or the reeking fumes of the suicide-murderers, or the sermons of Billy Graham and Joseph Ratzinger."

In mixing up what is truly "offensive" with what is pumped-up hysteria (as both Islamists and the right-to-blasphemers are feverishly doing) many new misunderstandings are actively being evolved, as this whole wretched "cartoon controversy" unwinds.

To equate the new Pope in a list with suicide bombers, as Hitchens does, is tendentious at least, especially in light of the Pope's first encyclical, God Is Love. But it's an understandable thing for a polemicist, who is only interested in stoking up controversy, to write. Equally understandable that jihadist imams should encourage their flocks to burn down Danish embassies. It's in the nature of such people.

It is however foolish for us mere people, who live and work among Muslims - or indeed Jews and Christians - to allow the concepts "freedom of speech" or "the right to blaspheme" to be degraded to a kind of moral duty to insult people of faith. It is foolish in the same way as it is for mainstream Muslims to allow their religion to be hijacked by jihadist psychopaths, eagerly sniffing out new sources of mortal offence.

Freedom of speech certainly contains the right to provoke. But the one should not be substituted for the other. Nor should "freedom of speech" become a "duty to insult," as Hitchens implies. That just allows the debate to be hijacked by extremists and polemicists from all sides, something which is close to happening - to the cost of all us non-extremists, alas.

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