01. February 2006 · Comments Off on Die Gedanken Sind Frei · Categories: General, GWOT, Pajama Game, Politics, War, World

“I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

So this is where we stand, with Voltaire’s noble words about intellectual freedom and the right to contemplate and openly discuss orthodoxies and heresies of any sort, with an eye towards seeing that they stand or fall, strengths and weaknesses dissected and revealed. A former President of these united States, whose grasp of the concept of intellectual freedom is as apparently as shaky as his grip on marriage vows, appears to interpret belief in it to mean that a certain favored class of adherents to a particular orthodoxy are free from ever having those beliefs challenged, criticized, mildly mocked, or even having their feelings hurt. Such is the state of their tender sensitivities, this class must be treated with special regard, their core beliefs never questioned – or as it turns out, illustrated.

One might, with a great deal of experience and cynicism, suspect that a large part of this exaggerated deference is mostly due to the very high probability that self-styled representatives of the offended orthodoxy will show up at the door of the affronting party, singly or in force, wielding sharp weapons, explosive items, fatwas, lawsuits, serious armaments, or merely shrill accusations of racism and prejudice, according to the inclination, location and experience of the offended parties. One might also suspect that not a few intellectual, political and cultural establishments might have already made a quick calculation of the risks and benefits and preemptively rolled over, and quietly began self-censoring themselves. Speaking truth to power might really have some risks, best be sure that the power spoken to is either defanged or merely rolls its’ eyes derisively at yet another dreary polemic by Noam Chomsky, Oliver Stone or John LeCarre. Best not say anything at all about the “religion of peace” lest the gentlemen with sharp knives be forced to demonstrate their imperfect acceptance of the Western tradition of open debate and dissent.

Mohammed Cartoon #5

There is an old saying, to the effect that the most binding chains are the ones we put on ourselves. And the most insidious and effective censorship is that kind that we also put on ourselves, the censorship that strangles the question before it can even be asked. And that might be one of the points raised by the editor of the Jyllands-Posten all these months ago; that thoughtful people, earnestly wishing to be polite, tolerant and sensitive of others, began moving down that path that eventually ends— if we are not aware— with our wrists humbly held up for the manacles of imposed censorship to be firmly snapped on. A drift that began with good manners ends with limits imposed by maladroit legislation or a baying mob, maybe even both, and all the important issues of the day, which ought to be discussed— vociferously, noisily and with all the thrown crockery at our disposal— are removed from the arena where they ought to be, to fester and simmer away in odd corners. What has been more insupportable in recent years, is that our courtesy in this respect is not even reciprocated: the vilest sort of caricatures and insult imaginable regarding Westerners, Christians, Jews, Americans and others too varied to mention have free and frequent circulation in Muslim and Arab-oriented and funded media.

One does wonder about a religion and culture so sensitive of insult, yet so free about dealing it out wholesale and by the bucket to others?
Is this Prophet and belief set so fragile that the merest whisper of non-adoration, of criticism and caricature will shatter it, irrevocably? Are its dutiful defenders secretly in such fear of that shattering, of the doubt that might be raised by any breath of irrelevance in a country which pays allegiance to another tradition, that the doors of dissent from orthodoxy must be slammed shut on parody, criticism, literary hyperbole, and scholarly analysis?

Umm, no. I think not. Not here. Not now. The strength of the West is in that very noisy disputation, our freedom to put everything on the table, to question, to non-conform, and by disputation and argument, make our beliefs even stronger for having all the idiocy knocked out of them. As such has been our custom, and in the reported words of Martin Luther, at the Diet of Worms: “Since your majesty and your lordships desire a simple reply, I will answer without horns and without teeth. Unless I am convicted by scripture and plain reason–I do not accept the authority of popes and councils for they have contradicted each other–my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, God help me. Amen.”

Everything is on the table. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. These are the cartoons, here is a good link, curtesy of Samizdata. (Later: More discussion here…. oh, and buy Danish!!!!)

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