Friday, 6 February 2015

Letter re free speech

To the South China Morning Post today:

Ali Khan claims that free speech absolutists, such as myself, are the equivalent of Al-Qaeda.  (“Let freedom and decency to together”, February 4).
 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.
It is only because fanatics murdered satirical journalists that we now have agonised debates about free speech or its limits.
Those who claim they denounce terrorism and support free speech “but….” must acknowledge that in so doing they implicitly support the murderers: there would be nothing to discuss if they had not gone on their rampage.
All the calls for “sensitivity”, “responsibility” and so on, do nothing but cede ground to the terrorists.
We are assured by Muslim and non-Muslim apologists alike that the Charlie Hebdo murderers “do not represent Islam”.  If that’s the case, why not criticise them, rather than round on cartoonists with arguments of moral equivalence.
Chaudhry Hafiz Mohammad (“In any free society ‘but’ has its uses”, February 4) has his own moral equivalence argument: in football, the referee gives a yellow card meaning “play, but within the rules”; 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 a law. To give in to the “but brigade” is to give in to the febrile sensitivities of the ever-aggrieved.
Mohammad also claims that I’m a member of the “except league”, in that I “except” anti-Semitism and what I “hold sacred” from the scrutiny of free speech.  But I do not, and did not say so.   Laws against anti-semitism in Europe are, in my view, out of date and we should allow even odious anti-Semitic speech.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 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 all religions are based on no evidence should not exempt them.
Mr Khan finishes his letter with a question to me:  “what is the answer to the ‘savagery of satire’”, my answer is simple: More Satire. 
Not moral equivalence.  Not guns.