Saturday, September 16, 2006

Religion and Freedom of Speech...

Following the pope's comments yesterday which outraged Muslim opinion, the Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci died of cancer aged 76. Fallaci had stood trial on defaming Islam in her book 'The Rage and the Pride', following the 9/11 attacks.

I do not wish to give credibility to Fallaci's musings, which were of a bigoted and racist nature. But her right to voice her views, however abhorrent, should have been defended. That is democracy. If one viewpoint is curtailed then whose will be next?

The pope is a different matter somewhat. He will not stand trial for what he said, and is clearly in a more powerful position than Ms Fallaci was. But what were his comments? The offending remark in question was not his own invention, it was a quote from a medieval scholar which he went on to admit was 'startlingly brusque'. It seems what gave offence was his view which conceded that the spreading of faith via violence was 'something unreasonable'.

His crime here appears to have been one of hypocrisy, as Christianity has not always been spread in a peaceful manner either. And it may well be argued that the remarks were not conducive towards building good relations between Muslims and Christians.

But was the response to it in any way rational? I think not. Due to the state of current world politics it is understandable to some extent that the Muslim world may feel over sensitive and somewhat under seige. But this does not justify the reaction which occured. No religion has any right to view itself as being immune from criticism. The response was that of the fanatic. Burning effigies is an act of hate, of simulated violence. Perhaps those who took part in the activity would like to consider the feelings of the world's Catholics. But bigots tend only to care about their own feelings.

It is also worth asking as to who in today's world believes that spreading faith through violence is something 'reasonable' - nobody who is peace loving or belongs to this century for that matter either. If Muslims do not hold proselytising through violence to be a tenet of their faith (as I am sure most of them do not) then why this reaction? They could simply point to what the truth of their belief actually is, and ask the pope for a clarification of what he meant or a retraction if the statement was innaccurate. All the burning of dummies does is seemingly confirm the existing Western prejudices concerning the Muslim world. These people really are not doing their own religion or it's public relations any favours whatsoever. The same with the demonstrations against the Danish cartoons. The cartoons may well have been a provocation using racial stereotypes. But the demonstrations did not take place for this reason. They took place because a cartoon of the prophet was printed, and Islam forbids such depictions. But not everyone shares this faith, therefore not everyone is bound to obey it's rules.

Neither should they be forbidden from criticising this faith lest they get a court warrant or symbolically burnt. If these criticisms are innacurrate or a distortion of actual belief then feel free to challenge them in return. But through dialogue and reason, not through fanatacism the like of which saw a Sikh play banned in this country and plagued 'Jerry Springer the Opera' on it's tour with the result that it will be unlikely to be shown again in the theatre.

I have respect for genuine religious belief, I am no militant atheist. What I have no time for is fundamentalism of any stripe - Sikh, Christian, or Muslim. It has nothing to do with race, simply religion. And the right to freedom of speech.

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