Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Draft: the savagery of satire (free speech an' all that...)

This is just a draft letter to the South China Morning Post.  I'll fiddle with it tomorrow and send it off the next day.  I think they'll run it, as they seem to have an interesting dialogue going on here....
It's in answer to the two letters in the post immediately before this one.
I’m glad that two of your correspondents have expressed their free speech rights to take me to task for my views (“In any free society ‘but’ has its uses” by Chaudhry Hafiz Mohammad and “Let freedom and decency go together”, by Ali Khan, both February 4)
It gives me the chance to clarify a few points.
First, Mohammad says that I’m a member of the “except league”, in that, he claims, I except anti-Semitism or what I “hold sacred” from the scrutiny of free speech.  But I do not, and did not say so.   Laws against anti-Semitic speech in Europe are, in my view, out of date and we should allow even odious anti-Semitic speech.  The best counter to these views is even more free speech.
As to “sacred”, the definition is “entitled to veneration or religious respect by association with divinity…” I thought I had made clear in my letter that I hold no religion and no divinity in veneration.  Politicians are subject to scrutiny, criticism and ridicule; religion should be subject to the same.  The fact that religions are based on no evidence should not exempt them.
Second, Mohammad makes a bogus moral equivalence argument: in football, the referee gives a yellow card to say “play, but within the rules”, and a police officer says “drive, but not while drunk”. Surely the difference is clear.  In these cases what comes after “but”, is not allowed according to clear rules or laws. What come comes after the “but” in the free speech argument is “I believe in free speech, but …show respect… or but don’t offend me…”.  It is something subjective, not a rule or law. To give in to the “but brigade” is to give in to the subjective febrile sensitivities of the ever-aggrieved.
Mr Khan’s moral equivalence is even worse.  He claims that we free speech absolutists are the equivalent of Al-Qaeda.  Get a grip, Mr Khan.  I may be a free speech diehard, but you’ll never find me or my atheist cohorts rounding on critics with a sword.
As to your final question to me: “what is the answer to the ‘savagery of satire’”, my answer is simple: More Satire.