I’ve come to the conclusion, having given this a lot of thought, that there is a fundamental difference between personal abuse (sexism, racism, homophobia etc) and the mockery of someone else’s beliefs. The first is unacceptable because it’s against a person, but the second is acceptable and often necessary because, although people cannot help what they are, they can often be way out of line in terms of what they believe – and religion, any more than politics, should not be protected from satirists pointing the finger and saying ‘That’s ridiculous!’ It may not be sensitive to mock the Prophet, and I wouldn’t do it – but that’s a far cry from saying that it shouldn’t be done; and a whole world away from storming a magazine’s office and killing the offending cartoonists.
And there’s the rub. The killers are worlds away from us democratic liberals, so where does that leave our society? What are the limits of tolerance? I believe those who come here should subscribe to our laws even if they don’t agree with them – even if they believe them to be fundamentally wrong – even if, with every fibre of their being, they are convinced that our laws are evil, just as I would be if I went to live in Saudi Arabia. (And I hope I never do.) The way forward is through debate and argument; all you achieve by murder is to harden and solidify opposition to your views.
One after another, Muslims have come forward to say that the Qu’ran does not support the terrorists’ actions; that Mohammed himself (peace be upon him*) said that the only response to mockery is to walk away. I can’t comment: I don’t know the Qu’ran well enough, and those parts I have tried to read seemed quite obscure and hard to comprehend. But if you’re a Muslim I’d really like to know what you think. And thanks to Martine (see comment on yesterday’s post) for a link to an interesting article on this.
It all reminds me of when I was in Spain one Christmas. ‘Why is Father Christmas saying jo jo jo?’ I asked myself. Eventually I realised that’s how the Spanish write ‘ho ho ho.’
Ho, ho ho – laughter really is the best politics… and possibly the best religion as well. If anyone doubts whether God has a sense of humour, just reflect on the fact that she created men.
Just kidding, Steve! Honest!
PS Drink and Think at the end of the month will be focussing on the Charlie Hebdo murders and their aftermath.
*I say this in solidarity with moderate Muslims, not because I believe it to be necessary.