Sunday 18 January 2015

The charge of the "but brigade": They're NOT Charlie Hebdo

Letter to South China Morning Post:

Oh dear. The usually reliable Frank Ching has joined the ranks of the “but brigade” (Drawing a line, Jan 14). Salman Rushdie recently coined this phrase to describe those who say “I believe in free speech, BUT….”, followed by a choose-your-own bias, presented as a show of the “tolerance" and “respect” of its author.

When that “but”, is done at the point of a gun it is giving in to intimidation. And if the intimidation is successful it will only lead to more intimidation. For, make no mistake: if the murderers of Charlie Hebdo journalists win, if the outcome is western submission to Islamic blasphemy laws to outlaw any depictions of Muhammad — as sadly seems to be the trend -- there will be more intimidation for further submission by the west, for further submission to Islamic laws. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation is already pushing the UN to outlaw all criticism of Islam. That surely, will be the next “red line” not be crossed by western journalists, implemented by violent intimidation. And if that’s successful, it will render us — Frank Ching included -- mute in the battle of ideas against murderous jihadist violence.

It was even worse to see the Pope come out as a member of the “but brigade”, when he said he believed in free speech, “but”… “one cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people’s faith, one cannot make fun of faith.” But why not? Why should we be able to satirize and excoriate politicians, but leave religion alone? Marx noted that the free criticism of religion is the basis for all our other freedoms. (I’m no Marxist, but he had this one right!). [LATER: see this!]

Rushdie says “Nobody has the right not to be offended”. Flemming Rose, the man who published the Danish cartoons in 2005, has said “Satire is a sound civilisation’s answer to savagery”. These are powerful observations, so much more than the pusillanimous posturings of the “but brigade”.

So It’s a shame to see that the likes of Ching, joined recently by his colleague Alex Ho (Price of free speech is sometimes too high, My Take,17 January), are so casually trampling on a key victory of the enlightenment in bowing to violent theocrats.

Yours, etc...