16. September 2010 · Comments Off on Freedom and Fear · Categories: Ain't That America?, Fun With Islam, General, Media Matters Not, Politics

So, what do you call it when you – theoretically speaking – have a certain designated freedom bestowed upon you, such as freedom of speech or thought . . . but you are afraid to exercise it, for whatever reason? What then, oh wolves; are you then truly free if you are constrained from exercising that right because . . . ? If honest discussion of certain topics is essentially forbidden because it is infra dig, or rude, or may cause hurt feelings to another, or offend a segment of society, then can we still claim that we have freedom of speech, or any sort of intellectual openness, even if convictions for sedition or blasphemy are relatively rare in the West? That speech is still unspoken, those thoughts un-aired are still un-aired, whether it is fear, social pressure or the rule of law what keeps them so.

Which brings me back to the matter of the Danish Mohammad cartoons – even after four years, the matter is still resonating: at the time I wrote this:

(It) depresses me even more, every time I think on it. For me it is a toss-up which of these qualities is more essential, more central to western society: intellectual openness to discussion and freewheeling criticism of any particular orthodoxy, the separation of civil and religious authority, and the presence of a robust and independent press. The cravenness of most of our legacy media in not publishing or broadcasting the Dread Cartoons o’ Doom still takes my breath away.

They have preened themselves for years on how brave they are, courageous in smiting the dread McCarthy Beast, ending the Horrid Vietnam Quagmire and bringing down the Loathsome Nixon – but a dozen relatively tame cartoons? Oh, dear – we must be sensitive to the delicate religious sensibilities of Muslims. Never mind about all that bold and fearless smiting with the pen, and upholding the right of the people to know, we mustn’t hurt the feelings of people . . . The alacrity with which basic principals were given up by the legacy press in the face of quite real threats does not inspire me with confidence that other institutions will be any more stalwart.

The latest iteration in this farrago of freedom of the press is the fatwah on American cartoonist Molly Norris, who originally created “Everybody Draw Mohammad Day.” The fatwah originated in Yemen, a place which I am sure a great many members of the American public would have difficulty pin-pointing it’s exact location on a map of the world. But the tentacles of the murderously offended reach a long way. She is now in hiding, and in various discussion threads, a dismayingly large number of commenters are blaming her for provoking Moslem ire.

But that is my point – what good is it to have brave principles about open, intellectual discussion, freedom of the press, of thought and expression, if in the end they are not exercised out of fear?
Here’s the thing – the other half of the intellectual freedom thing; there is no right of the individual never to be offended. In a free and open discussion, there will be differing opinions and interpretations, and there may even be people offended by the exercise of it. God knows, the artistic set have been cheerfully offending the bourgeoisie for decades, on the principle that it is good for us to be shaken up now and again, just to make us all consider or reconsider our preconceptions, or expand our consciousnesses or whatever twaddle they will use to justify themselves with. And the good bourgeoisie, even if offended, usually wasn’t motivated to do much more than grumble and write a letter to the editor; they didn’t go around chopping off heads. One might therefore have grounds for suspecting that in the case of the Danish Cartoons o’ Doom, and Everybody Draw Mohammad’ that a good part of this sudden unwillingness to offend is plain old fear.

Compounding the irony is the fact that those who are the most fearful of repercussions are also afraid to openly admit their fear in the first place – that some Islamic radical nutbag would come after them with a knife, or a car-bomb, or even just get their asses fired for ‘Islamophobia.’ So much easier to transfer the blame, and never have to admit that intellectual freedom has been stifled – not by law, but by fear.

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