Sunday, 18 January 2015

A right not to be offended. An Enlightened View?

Salman Rushdie defending his novel The Satanic Verses said  Nobody  has the right not to be offended , it has been repeatedly quoted in the media these past few days as a defence for CHARLIE HEBDO’s cartoons in general, and in particular those castigating or mocking  Islam.

The Enlightenment’s freedoms certainly allow us , in Great Britain and France at least, not to be bound by the fear or the manacles and chains of  lèse-majesté  so today we are free to offend or mock the Monarchy, equally the Church. I am minded of the words of the Enlightenment philosopher Diderot : Man shall not be free until the last king is hung on the entrails of the last priest such was the hold the Monarchy and the Church had over the common man at the time, before the Enlightenment.

But with the freedoms of the Enlightenment come responsibility, not to replace one intellectual tyranny with another, rather to understand how a free and open society works.  We must take time to understand each other's points of view, it is a case of tolerating,  respecting the other’s point of view, that tenet is fundamental to the liberal democratic society we live in.

My thoughts are  rooted in the cliché I may not agree with what you say but I will defend to the death to your right to say  it*.  Rushdie can, at face value,  seen to be right but he makes no reference to how a liberal democratic society functions, effectively.  Such societies are founded on mutual respect and tolerance, without either they are doomed to endlessly fighting ideas and beliefs with knives and bombs rather than Enlightened reasoned rational thought.

So, for me, CHARLIE HEBDO was as wrong to create such ugly images not just of Islam but of Christianity and Judaism as their images are unremittingly offensive to and disrespectful of those beliefs.

I'll conclude, for now, not with a cartoonist's drawings but with the words of the French cartoonist - Tomi Ungerer : Mutual respect is after all the key to peace and understanding.

* Voltaire is often quoted as the source but (sadly) he never said it!

Having written this post I am now moving on from posting #JeSuisCharlie in Facebook and Twitter but I'll continue to post in Pinterest from time to time.


  1. I was taken aback by not only the number of emails I received in response to this post but the depth of feeling many felt and wanted to share.

    Clearly the murder of those CHARLIE HEBDO cartoonist touched many of us. I asked those who emailed me if I could post their comments with just their initials.

    The comments that follow are those responses....

  2. KK emailed me to say:

    Nothing, but nothing, justifies this cold blooded murder.

    And yet, and yet ... I couldn't help but be reminded of reading about Nazis pissing on the Torah, and not just because of the "hooked-nosed Semites" regularly depicted in Charlie Hebdo as representatives of Judaism.

    On the one side you have guys and galls getting their rocks off on ultra-violence - doesn't it remind you of Baader Meinhof, Red Army and the like, with the ends justifying the means?
    On the other, the not very blurred dividing line between satire and offence.
    The freedom to be provocative is probably not seen like that in Niger or Pakistan at the moment, where it takes a lot more bravery to be a Christian than in secular France.

    I'm with Pope Francis on this one.

  3. PT emailed me to say:

    I have been following the stuff you have been posting on Facebook over the past few days and I must say I have been somewhat uneasy about how glib the "Je suis Charlie" debate has become. I'm generally pretty sceptical about these sort of bandwagons because they tend to oversimplify what are often complex issues.

    Having read your blog now, I think I can say that I am pretty much 100% in agreement with you that with freedoms come responsibilities and that one of these is to show respect for other cultures, religions and ideas and that there is no real principle of burning importance that is being supported or defended by causing offence to others in this way. There are many criticisms one could make of Islamic fundamentalism or Christian fundamentalism for that matter which could be far better done than by drawing pictures of Mohammed. This has always seemed to me rather second rate journalism akin to name calling in the playground. There should be better and more subtle and intelligent ways of doing this.

    Two pieces you put up on Pinterest are spot on. The long cartoon by Joe Sacco which points out a delicious irony which allows Muslims to be fair game whereas caricaturing Jewish or black stereotypes is out of order. The other one is the Nigerian one - quick hold this and tell him you're French!

  4. LC emailed me to say:

    There have always been extremists, fundamentalists etc. but the problem now as far as I’m concerned is exacerbated beyond imagination by the internet. As someone was saying on the radio this morning (for once I wasn’t listening to radio 1 on the way to work!) the majority of Muslims (or Christians, or Jews…) are completely opposed to violence and this would be reinforced in their mosques, churches, synagogues. Not to mention atheists, who in this ‘Christian’ country surely outnumber anyone of faith? Surely we are secular really in the UK? Anyway, I digress.

    When (mostly) young people who have other issues of self-esteem, of identity, of belonging, get hooked on some of the extremist propaganda it’s then into the bedroom via the internet and so underground. The elders of their established faith, parents etc. have no chance of tempering their ‘enthusiasm’.

  5. CW emailed me to say:

    I'm concerned and fearful about the complex business of one person's "rights" trumping those of another, as though all of humanity were engaged in a global game of gin rummy. There will be no winners at all in such foolhardiness. In all of the equality legislation we seem to have lost sight of the basic tenet that our parents' generation seemed to understand so well: that of simply "do unto others as you would have them do unto to you." The watchword now seems to have been twisted into "do it to others before they do it to you."

    The most concerning aspect is that we have actually reached a point where we're being told what it is acceptable for us to think, and any deviation from the laid down rules brings punishment and public scorn. How on earth did we get here?

    I'm heartily sick of the competitive struggle for rights in which every win seems to constitute not only a loss for someone else (usually someone else weaker, or less brash) but all-too-often a public trouncing in a television studio, a newspaper headline, or a court of law. Those with no celebrity endorsement, less of a voice, or just less of a bully, are trampled underfoot, and the eye of the camera moves on without a backward glance for the lives that have been ruined and broken in the rush for oneupmanship.

    If I had the money, I'd be inclined to buy an island.

  6. ON emailed me to say:

    I remember my own anger and disgust when I was a young devout Catholic and my English contemporaries and certain media belittled the church and the Pope. I never quite got round to killing anybody over it and have now reached a state of living within a world of very differing opinions where the absolute drive for peaceful coexistence depends on a large degree of tolerance of other people's opinions and way of life. That's the easy part it gets a lot more difficult when their opinions include imposition on oneself or include practices some of us would consider to be barbaric.

  7. AI emailed me to say:

    I think offending people and ridiculing their religious beliefs (whether it's Muslims, Jews, Christians or any others...) then badging it as 'freedom of speech' is wrong. The further publication of cartoons in apparent defiance is misguided and irresponsible (I'm convinced it's just an opportunity to make money...). It probably makes it more difficult for 'moderate Muslims' to speak out against the terrorists when people around the world are lending so much support to publishers/cartoonists who are so determined to mock and offend their faith. I think #JeSuisAhmed is more inclusive and enables more people to get involved in the discussion/debate. Although, as you know, I don't really do social media...

    Also, Islamaphobia/ignorance being what it is - many people will automatically be suspicious of any and every Muslim person they come into contact with - particularly the further north you come, where most people do not have friends/colleagues from a range of cultures and backgrounds. Damaging stereotypes are being fuelled by the media and Muslim people going about their everyday lives will feel the impact.

    I suppose my other thought relates to Muslim communities feeling the biggest impact/repercussions - not just in Europe - but even more so in Africa and the Middle East. It's absolutely right that the world has supported France and it's horrific that totally innocent people have lost their lives. But hundreds of innocent lives are being lost to Muslim extremists/terrorists every day, particularly in Nigeria. I don't see the world mourning their loss in the same way...Sorry. Just my view.