Monday, March 20, 2006

Dress Danish March for Free Expression this weekend

ML1 has kindly taken the time to write some lengthy comments on my previous post about the March for Free Expression this weekend. I should clarify my position. I believe that we should ruthlessly criticise religions where we believe they contribute to oppression or ignorance. I support the Enlightenment principle of free inquiry. I do not, however, believe that freedom of speech is an inalienable right that should be put above all others. I do not, for example, support the “right” of fascists to publish racist and anti-semitic material. I don’t want the state to intervene to stop fascists publishing racist and anti-semitic material – I don’t support censorship. But I am never going to make any effort whatsoever to defend fascists from censorship, as Chomsky has done for example. I see free speech fundamentalism – the placing of free speech above all other rights, seeing it as an inalienable, sacred principle – as ultra-liberal ideology.

I have a problem, too, with some of the rhetoric coming from certain types of secularists, including Christopher Hitchens, which sees all religion as bad, period. I am not religious, but I think that religion – even Islam – can add something to political debates in a public sphere based on respect and tolerance. So, while I want to join the fight against Islamist totalitarianism, disrespect and intolerance, I do not want to be conscripted into a war against Islam – or religion – in general.

The Danish cartoons are hard for me to call because I am not sure really that they were in the spirit of criticizing Islam(ism) for its totalitarian tendency. Looking at the cartoons, they actually strike me as gratuitous, infantile and possibly racist attacks on Islam as such. They do not make a responsible contribution to any debate. That is why I am glad no British publisher actually published them.

So, as the Danish cartoons were the starting point of the current campaign for free expression, I am not sure I want to endorse the campaign, even though I sympathise with its aims and am clearly on its side (in a “with us or against us” kind of way).

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Meanwhile, Peter Tatchell is going to speak at the march, as is Sayyida Rend Shakir al-Mousawi, a direct descendent of the Seventh Imam. And Nick Cohen has written about it in his column:
“Next Saturday at 2pm in Trafalgar Square, there will be a rally for freedom of expression. I think it's fair to say that previous generations would be astonished that their descendants would have to take to the streets to demand such a basic right, but after the death threats against cartoonists, it seems we do.
Fortunately, the British National Party is nowhere to be seen and the rally will be filled with democratic leftists, Liberal Democrats, secularists and Iranian and Saudi Arabian dissidents.
With the white far right out of the picture, the brown far right has barged in and Islamic fundamentalists are proposing to hold demonstrations against free speech away from central London. So, if you want to protest on Saturday, you have a choice: for free speech or against? Come on, it's not that hard a choice. All will be welcome in Trafalgar Square. Dress? Danish.”

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As if we need more reasons to fight against the new totalitarianism, read this on the Afghan theocrats: capital punishment for choosing the wrong faith (via LGFWatch). But for food for thought about getting into bed with the wrong allies in the fight on the new totalitarianism, read this on Theo Van Gogh (also via LGFWatch).

Tags: , Islam, Denmark, Free Speech, Muslim, Cartoons, Jyllands-Posten

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