TAG | blasphemy and defamation of religion
At the Financial Times, Europe editor Tony Barber’s initial response to the atrocity in Paris included this:
Charlie Hebdo has a long record of mocking, baiting and needling French Muslims. If the magazine stops just short of outright insults, it is nevertheless not the most convincing champion of the principle of freedom of speech. France is the land of Voltaire, but too often editorial foolishness has prevailed at Charlie Hebdo.
This is not in the slightest to condone the murderers, who must be caught and punished, or to suggest that freedom of expression should not extend to satirical portrayals of religion. It is merely to say that some common sense would be useful at publications such as Charlie Hebdo, and Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten, which purport to strike a blow for freedom when they provoke Muslims, but are actually just being stupid.
That text was later changed to (amongst other things) remove the words I have highlighted, but the stink of the suggestion (no, more than a suggestion) of self-censorship remains.
Meanwhile the president of the Catholic League, Bill Donohue, “unequivocally condemned” the murders, but in a piece headed “Muslims Are Right To Be Angry”, he also attacked Charlie Hebdo’s sometimes very crude treatment of religious figures:
Stephane Charbonnier, the paper’s publisher, was killed today in the slaughter. It is too bad that he didn’t understand the role he played in his tragic death. In 2012, when asked why he insults Muslims, he said, “Muhammad isn’t sacred to me.” Had he not been so narcissistic, he may still be alive. Muhammad isn’t sacred to me, either, but it would never occur to me to deliberately insult Muslims by trashing him.
For the most part though, the response to the slaughter in Paris has been impressive, moving beyond hashtags, to large demonstrations, to the republication of ‘offensive’ images, the latter vital if the point is to be made—as it must be—that, to quote again those words from Jyllands-Posten (sorry, Mr. Butler) all those years ago, “Free speech is free speech is free speech. There is no but.”
But the real test will be to see if anything changes. Will the creeping reintroduction of blasphemy laws (dressed up in modern clothes, of course, ‘hate speech’, mustn’t give offense, that sort of thing) go into reverse, let alone the self-censorship that is (Butler must approve) such a feature of our times?
Writing in Time, Walter Olson had this to say:
The danger is not that there will be too little outpouring of solidarity, grief, and outrage in coming days. Of course there will be that. Demonstrations are already underway across France. The danger comes afterward, once the story passes and intellectuals and those who discuss and distribute their work decide how and whether to adjust themselves to a more intense climate of fear. At media outlets, among conference planners, at universities, there will be certain lawyers and risk managers and compliance experts and insurance buyers ready to advise the safer course, the course of silence.
And then there are the lawmakers. After years in which blasphemy laws were assumed to be a relic of the past, laws accomplishing much of the same effect are once again on the march in Europe, banning “defamation of religion,” insult to religious beliefs, or overly vigorous criticism of other people’s religions when defined as “hate speech.” This must go no further. One way we can honor Charb, Cabu, Wolinski, Tignous, and the others who were killed Wednesday is by lifting legal constraints on what their successors tomorrow can draw and write.
If I had to guess, those legal constraints will—after the briefest of pauses to honor those murdered for daring to express themselves—continue to tighten.
To take one example of the way things have been going in Europe, let’s look at what Britain’s Theresa May has planned for her countrymen should the Tories win the next election. Reason’s Brendan O’Neill (writing in November) can be our guide:
May wants to introduce “extremism disruption orders”, which, yes, are as terrifyingly authoritarian as they sound. Last month, May unveiled her ambition to “eliminate extremism in all its forms.” Whether you’re a neo-Nazi or an Islamist, or just someone who says things which betray, in May’s words, a lack of “respect for the rule of law” and “respect for minorities”, then you could be served with an extremism disruption order (EDO).
Strikingly, EDOs will target even individuals who do not espouse or promote violence, which is already a crime in the U.K. As May says, “The problem that we have had is this distinction of saying we will only go after you if you are an extremist that directly supports violence. [This] has left the field open for extremists who know how not to step over the line.” How telling that a leading British politician should be snotty about “this distinction” between speech and violence, between words and actions, which isn’t actually some glitch in the legal system, as she seems to think, but rather is the foundation stone on which every free, democratic society ought to be built.
Once served with an EDO, you will be banned from publishing on the Internet, speaking in a public forum, or appearing on TV. To say something online, including just tweeting or posting on Facebook, you will need the permission of the police…..What sort of people might find themselves branded “extremists” and thus forbidden from speaking in public? Anyone, really. The definition of extremist being bandied about by May and her colleagues is so sweeping that pretty much all individuals with outré or edgy views could potentially find themselves served with an EDO and no longer allowed to make any public utterance without government approval.
Both secularists and Christians understand where this could lead.
The Daily Telegraph reported:
Keith Porteous Wood, director of the [National Secular Society], said secularists might have to think twice before criticising Christianity or Islam. He said secularists risk being branded Islamophobic and racist because of their high profile campaigns against the advance of Sharia law in the UK….
Simon Calvert, Deputy Director of the Christian Institute, said traditionalist evangelicals who criticise gay marriage or even argue that all religions are not the same could find themselves accused of extremism….
“Hand a judge a file of a thousand Twitter postings accusing this atheist or that evangelical of ‘spreading hatred’ and they could easily rule that an EDO is needed….”
Freedom of expression is no longer a ‘European value’, not even in Britain, a nation where that right was once a source of pride. That’s not going to change. There will be more ‘blasphemy’ laws, not fewer. In fact, I would not be surprised if there is a politician somewhere already preparing the argument that the murders in Paris could have been prevented if only Charlie Hebdo had been kept under a tighter rein.
The revolting terrorist assault on Charlie Hebdo today is designed to intimidate for the future as much as to ‘punish’ for the past.
And I suspect that it has, to some degree, been encouraged by opinion in Europe that has gone along with the idea that, when it comes to Islam, certain things must not be written, said or shown.
Here’s part of something I posted on the Corner in 2007. It concerned the earlier decision by the editor of Charlie Hebdo to republish the Danish Mohammed cartoons . He was quoted (in part) by the Wall Street Journal as follows:
I invited my colleagues from the daily and weekly press to republish the Danish cartoons, too. Most of them published some of them; only L’Express did in full. Before publication, I was pressured not to go ahead and summoned to the Hôtel Matignon to see the prime minister’s chief of staff; I refused to go. The next day, summary proceedings were initiated by the Grand Mosque of Paris and the Union of Islamic Organizations of France to stop this issue of Charlie Hebdo from hitting newsstands. The government encouraged them, but their suit was dismissed.”
As I noted at the time, “The government encouraged them.”
And in a piece the previous year, I wrote this:
Jacques Chirac was quick to condemn the republication of the Danish cartoons in Charlie Hebdo, an iconoclastic French weekly, as an “overt provocation“, but was able to leave the dirty work to others. The French Council of Muslims, a body set up with official support, is reported to be organizing the prosecution of poor Charlie, quite for what remains unclear, but doubtless the Council’s lawyers will be able to find something useful in France’s laws against “hate speech” or any number of other offenses dreamt up by the enforcers of multiculturalism.
Responsibility (moral and legal) for today’s murders lies unequivocally with the criminals who butchered the innocent, but it’s hard not to think that they went about their killings knowing that intimidation has been shown to work.
I concluded that piece, which mainly concerned the reaction elsewhere in Europe to the stance taken by the Danes, as follows:
Denmark, and its tradition of free speech, has been left to twist in the wind, trashed, abused, and betrayed. An article published in Jyllands-Posten (yes, them again) on Friday revealed clear frustration over the way that the country is being treated. It’s in Danish only, but one phrase (“Ytringsfrihed er ytringsfrihed er ytringsfrihed. Der er intet men.”) stands out, and it deserves to be translated and repeated again, and again, and again: “Free speech is free speech is free speech. There is no but.”
And to the victims today, slaughtered for the ‘crime’ of free expression, RIP.
This is a terrible day.
The Yale Daily News has some of the details:
Representatives from 35 campus groups and student organizations have signed a letter drafted by the Muslim Students Association (MSA) that expresses concern over an event that is bringing a controversial speaker to campus.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali — a Somali-born American activist known for her women’s rights advocacy and critical remarks about Islam — is slated to give a lecture titled “Clash of Civilizations: Islam and the West” on Sep. 15 as part of the William F. Buckley, Jr. Program speaker series. The daughter of a Somali politician and opposition leader, Hirsi Ali has publicly voiced criticism of practices such as female genital mutilation and has also voiced support for atheism and women’s rights. The MSA’s letter does not ask for a withdrawal of Hirsi Ali’s invitation, according to MSA board member Abrar Omeish ’17, but rather draws attention to her allegedly hurtful anti-Muslim statements and her lack of qualifications to speak broadly about Islam.
Because, of course, strong opinions (or, more accurately, strong opinions of the wrong sort) are not something that should be allowed to be expressed in today’s universities without a self-important little melodrama.
And then there’s the credentialism, that “lack of qualifications to speak broadly about Islam”. Credentialism has long been the hallmark of the intellectually desperate. That it now appears to flourish at Yale is disappointing, but, I suppose, in the degraded campuses of today, no longer surprising.
The Yale Daily News:
Omeish referenced a 2007 interview with the London Evening Standard, in which Hirsi Ali described Islam as a “destructive, nihilistic cult of death.”
Omeish said that the group and their Islamic values uphold freedom of speech.
“The difference here is that it’s hate speech, [which] under the law would be classified as libel or slander and is not protected by the First Amendment. That’s what we’re trying to condemn here.”
Hate speech? Libel? Slander? Not protected by the First Amendment? Really? If we’re playing the credentials game, perhaps Omeish would like to set out the qualifications she has that enable her to find that those words by Ali crossed some very specific legal lines. I can fully understand why she might disagree—and disagree profoundly—with what Ali said (indeed, I don’t agree with it myself), but, in asserting what she has done, Omeish has gone rather farther than that.
Back to the Yale Daily News:
After becoming aware of the Buckley Program’s plan to bring Hirsi Ali to campus, Omeish met with [Buckley Program president] Lizardo last week to discuss Hirsi Ali’s speaking engagement and the MSA’s requests. According to Omeish, the MSA never intended to disinvite Hirsi Ali, but instead requested the invitation of a second speaker with academic credentials on the subject. The MSA also asked that Hirsi Ali’s speech be limited to her personal experience and professional expertise.
But Lizardo responded that the Buckley Program would not adopt the MSA’s requests and would not change the format or content of the lecture.
“If the principle is freedom of expression and freedom of speech, then having someone there to correct her views, which is essentially what MSA would like to happen … would only hinder the principle or idea further of free speech,” Lizardo said.
And then there’s this squalid intervention:
University Chaplain Sharon Kugler and Coordinator of Muslim Life Omer Bajwa issued a joint statement to the News in which they confirmed the University’s commitment to free expression but raised concerns over Hirsi Ali’s prior comments about Islam.
“We are deeply concerned … by Ms. Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s long record of disparaging, and arguably hateful, comments about Muslims and Islam,” the statement read. “To better represent the whole Yale community and its educational goals, we recommend the organizers consider actions to expand the event, such as allowing concerned students to present their perspectives or adding a scholarly voice to create a more nuanced conversation.”
Yale students would do well to understand that if they wish to learn about debate, tolerance, open-mindedness and a genuine respect for free speech, they should turn to some other place than the Chaplain’s Office.
In the course of an article triggered by the bullying of climatologist Lennart Bengtsson, Mark Steyn digs up this extract from a tremendous “imaginary address” by Yale law professor Stephen Carter to America’s Class of 2014, currently so busy, as Steyn puts it, “disinviting truckloads of distinguished speakers from their graduation ceremonies”:
The literary critic George Steiner, in a wonderful little book titled “Nostalgia for the Absolute,” long ago predicted this moment. We have an attraction, he contended, to higher truths that can sweep away complexity and nuance. We like systems that can explain everything. Intellectuals in the West are nostalgic for the tight grip religion once held on the Western imagination. They are attracted to modes of thought that are as comprehensive and authoritarian as the medieval church. You and your fellow students — and your professors as well; one mustn’t forget their role — are therefore to be congratulated for your involvement in the excellent work of bringing back the Middle Ages.
They never really went away (see Marx, K., to start with), but otherwise spot on.
And, yes, read the whole of both Steyn and Carter’s pieces.
A poster which replaced the image of God from the Sistine Chapel with a picture of the Flying Spaghetti Monster has been removed after with a row with a London University.
The South Bank University Atheism society created the graphics for their freshers’ fair stall last week, but returning to the pre-prepared stall on the University campus for the first day of the fair, they allege the posters were removed by union representatives.
Cloe Ansari, president of the Atheist society, alleges she was told initially that the Michelangelo Sistine chapel ceiling was offensive in itself, because it included a “naked man”. But she claims she was later told, having offered to blur the image, that the issue was that ‘The Creation of Adam’ is a religious painting.
Pause to consider the absurdity of the fact that Michelangelo’s depiction of Adam could be considered “offensive”.
And then there’s the whole business about religion.
Ansari claims the stall was removed entirely the following day and says she has lodged an official complaint, though a union representative told HuffPost UK that any such complaint had yet to be seen by officers.
“This incident is just one of a catalogue of attempts to censor our society,” Ansari said in a statement. “I never expected to face such blatant censorship and fragile sensibilities at university, I thought this would be an institution where I could challenge beliefs and in turn be challenged.
Good grief, Cloe, where have you been living all these yours? I thought atheists were meant to see the world as it is….
In any event, the university has now apologized.
We are writing in response to a package presented by news correspondent Katie Razzall, on Tuesday 28 January 2014, which looked at the controversy surrounding Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate, Maajid Nawaz, and his recent tweeting of a Jesus & Mo cartoon.
We were surprised and extremely disappointed to see that Channel 4 News took the decision to cover up the image of Mohammed when showing the Jesus & Mo cartoon, and we are thus keen to elicit the rationale behind that particular editorial decision.
During the report, it was noted that this decision was taken so as not to cause offence to some viewers; however we would like to point out that by your making this decision you have effectively taken a side in a debate where a Muslim man has suffered violent death threats after he explicitly said he did not find the cartoons offensive. You have taken the side of the reactionaries – the side of people who bully and violently threaten Muslims, such as Mr Nawaz, online.
By redacting the picture of ‘Mo’, you have contributed to a climate of censorship brought on by the unreasonable and reactionary views of some religious extremists. Rather than defending free expression, one of the most precious pillars of our liberal democratic society, you have chosen instead to listen to extremists and patronise British Muslims by assuming they will take offence at an irreverent and satirical cartoon. By taking the decision you did, not only did you betray the fundamental journalistic principle of free speech, but you have become complicit in a trend that seeks to insidiously stereotype all Muslim people as reacting in one uniform way (generally presented as overly sensitive and potentially violent).
Given that your editorial decision seems to be have been weighted by a concern with offence, we might also note that you ended up with a report that was, in fact, very offensive to many; offensive to those who take seriously and cherish our basic freedom to speak and question, and offensive to many Muslims, whose voices you do not hear because you insist on placating the reactionary voices of people claiming to represent what it is to be an ‘authentic Muslim’…
Writing in the Guardian, Nick Cohen, with more grim news about the state of multiculturalist Britain:
Extremists are menacing the career and life of a Liberal Democrat politician and respectable society hardly considers these authentically scandalous threats to be a scandal at all. The scandal, in short, is that there is no scandal.
The reasons for the attacks on Maajid Nawaz are so bland, it makes me yearn to live in a grown-up country where I could shrug them off. But we don’t live in a grown-up country and I had better explain. The BBC asked the executive director of the Quilliam Foundation, an anti-extremist thinktank, on to a discussion show. Two atheist members of the audience wore T-shirts showing Jesus saying: “Hey” and Muhammad saying: “How ya doing?” I beg you to keep the innocuous nature of the cartoon at the front of your mind as we descend into a modern Bedlam.
The BBC decided that extreme Wahhabi and Salafi Muslims, who would ban all images of Muhammad, represented all Muslims. It ordered its producers not to show the offending T-shirts.
A few days ago Theotory blogger Cranmer weighed in on just this point:
Setting aside the irrefutable historic fact that Shia Muslims have a centuries-old tradition of depicting Mohammed, and this sort of strict censorship being principally a Sunni assertion of belief (including the malignant Wahhabi-Salafi strain), it is surely not for the state broadcaster to take a dogmatic view of the deeply-held sensitivities of one religious denomination, or to impose a moral view of religious blasphemy when Parliament has abolished the concept.
Back to Cohen:
Nawaz left the studio in some disgust. He tweeted the cartoon of Jesus saying: “Hey” and Muhammad saying: “How ya doing?” and added: “This is not offensive & I’m sure God is greater than to feel threatened by it.” God may not have felt threatened, but his supporters did. A Liberal Democrat activist called Muhammad Shafiq took it upon himself to organise a national and international campaign against Nawaz. At the time we went to press, about 20,000 people had signed Shafiq’s petition to Nick Clegg, saying that the tweet had caused an “extreme amount of insult, hurt and anguish”. The Lib Dems must stop Nawaz standing as their candidate in Hampstead and Kilburn at the next general election, they demanded. Nawaz told his critics he had merely said that he did not think the BBC should censor a mild cartoon. He then went to the core of what is wrong with extremist religion and Britain’s thoughtless multiculturalism which, in the name of “diversity”, spatchcock people into ethnic and religious blocks that deny their individuality. If you want to ban inoffensive images of the prophet, Nawaz said, then I am sorry, I am not that type of literalist Muslim.
In other words, neither “community leaders” nor multicultural bureaucrats could talk of “the Muslim community” whose taboos must be observed. There were many “Muslim communities” and ex-Muslims, too, and they should be free to argue without fear.
As for the “Liberal Democrat” activist objecting to Nawaz:
…Shafiq is not your standard Liberal Democrat. He is in charge of the Ramadhan Foundation, which has hosted speakers whose attitudes towards gay people and Jews are anything but liberal.
The keeper (allegedly) of Britain’s liberal flame (and David Cameron’s partner in coalition government) has, it seems, ‘evolved’, and it will be interesting to see how the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg responds. To their credit, Nawaz’s local party branch, at least, is standing behind him.
Nick Cohen, writing in The Spectator:
Firoozeh Bazrafkan is frightened of nothing. Five foot tall, 31 years old, and so thin you think a puff of wind could blow her away, she still has the courage to be a truly radical artist and challenge those who might hurt her. She fights for women’s rights and intellectual freedom, and her background means her fight has to be directed against radical Islam. As a Danish citizen, she saw journalists go into hiding and mobs attack her country’s embassies just because Jyllands-Posten published cartoons of Muhammad that were so tame you could hardly call them ‘satirical’. Bazrafkan is also the daughter of an Iranian family, and the Islamic Republic’s subjugation of women revolts her.
When I met her, she was enduring a crash course in politically correct Europe’s many hypocrisies. White Danes reported her to the police for writing that Muslim men abuse and murder their daughters, and adding for good measure that the ‘Koran is more immoral, deplorable and crazy than manuals of the two other global religions combined’.
You could say that her remarks were offensive. You could say that the inattentive reader might just take them to mean that all Muslim men abuse and murder their daughters. But if every remark that someone might find offensive or misinterpret were banned, the human race would fall silent.
Liberal principles once held that the Danish state should only punish Bazrafkan if her words provoked violence. As it was, the court asked for no proof of actual incitement. (There was none to be had.) Instead, it acted as if criticism of religion — a system of beliefs which individuals should be free to choose and others should be free to criticise — was identical to racial prejudice, which all thinking people condemn because no one can choose his or her ethnicity.
The white ‘liberal’ judges therefore ruled that the Iranian-born artist was a ‘racist’ and gave her a criminal record for condemning honour killings and clerical misogyny…
And the story gets worse. Read the whole thing.
Cross-posted on Ricochet.
The Tab reports:
[The London School of Economics] has sparked a free speech row after banning atheist students from wearing t-shirts which depicted Jesus and the Prophet Mohammed. Two members of the uni’s atheist society were threatened with expulsion from Freshers’ Fair unless they removed or their t-shirts
Student Union officers and security guards surrounded Abishek Phadnis and Chris Moos and forced them to remove their t-shirts because they were “in danger of eroding good campus relations and disrupting efforts to run a Fresher’s Fair.”
When they finally agreed to cover up their t-shirts, staff instructed security to follow them round the event. The atheist students, were manning a stall as representatives of the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society. They say they were approached by Community and Welfare Officer Anneessa Mahmood who removed material from their stall without explanation.
A number of SU representatives allegedly then told the group to remove t-shirts they were wearing containing pictures from the satirical ‘Jesus and Mo’ cartoon. According to the Phadnis and Moos, when the group asked the officials which rules they had broken, they were told that the SU did not need to provide a reason at that time.
Phadnis and Moos said: “We refused to take off our t-shirts or leave without appropriate explanation, we were told that LSE security would be called to physically remove us from the building”.
After resisting expulsion from the event, without being informed as to which rules they were in breach of, they say they were then approached by the Head of Security and a member of LSE’s Legal and Compliance team who informed them that the T-shirt could be considered ‘harassment’ towards other students.
I suppose it’s pointless to note that there is no right not to be offended.
Yes it is:
…five security guards [allegedly] then positioned themselves around the stall and insisted that the group wear jackets or coats to cover up their t-shirts. According to the students, after they agreed to cover up the cartoon, “the head of LSE security told us that as he believed that we might open the jackets again when he was going to leave, two security guards were going to stay in the room to monitor our behaviour” and that the group were subsequently followed around for the rest of the event by security. The Student Union denies restricting freedom of expression and say the t-shirts “were clearly designed to depict Mohammed and Jesus in a provocative manner” and that action was taken after they “received a number of complaints from other students”.
Because God forbid (if it’s not indelicate to put it that way) that any university should ever have room for anything that could be construed as “provocative”.
Atheist and professor Richard Dawkins has spoken in support of the students, tweeting that “Everything probably offends somebody, to be on the safe side, LSE Student Union, better ban everything.”
He later added: “I’m ‘offended’ by backwards baseball caps, chewing gum, niqabs, ‘basically’ and ‘awesome’. Quick, LSE Student Union, ban them all.
Dawkins also described the student union’s censorship squad as “sanctimonious little prigs”.
Too kind, I reckon.
MOSCOW, Russia — The march of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster had all signs of being a satirical stunt – some of its 100 participants were armed with colanders on their heads and pasta in their mouths.
But the reaction of Russian authorities to so-called Pastafarians has been anything but lighthearted.
Police and members of a Russian Orthodox group set upon the group last Saturday, knocking some to the ground. Eight members of the church were detained and subsequently charged with organizing an unsanctioned rally. Although those detained have since been released, they are due back in court before the end of August. Pastafarians are part of an international ‘religious’ movement founded in the U.S. in 2005 in opposition to the teaching of intelligent design and creationism in public schools. It has become an international movement, generally recognized as satirical poke at organized religion. But its adherents insist that it’s a ‘real religion’ and the dogma they follow is the rejection of dogma. They claim to have 15,000 adherents in Russia.
Aside from demonstrating how some Muscovites may not appreciate the Pastafarians’ sense of humor, the recent crackdown reveals just how close Russia’s Orthodox Church and state agencies have become in what was once an officially atheist nation…Alexei Romanov, a member of the Pastafarian Church, called the move and subsequent legal proceedings against it “absurd.”
“The country is gradually turning into an authoritarian state,” he said.
Romanov’s fellow Pastafarians are falling victim to a recently introduced law that bans insulting the religious feelings of believers.
This time members of an unregistered Orthodox Christian group who call themselves “God’s Will,” called the police when they found out about the procession, according to Romanov.
They accused the spaghetti worshipers of insulting the religious feelings of believers – an accusation that, if found to be true by a court of law, can have mean up to three years in jail….