Tuesday, 10 February 2015

We should not give in to the 'but brigade'

My letter published today in the South China Morning Post:
[The two other letters referred to are here]

We should not give in to the 'but brigade'
Ali Khan ("Let freedom and decency go together", February 4) in his reply to my letter ("By holding back from criticism of Islam, we give in to extremists", January 22), appears to claim that free-speech absolutists, such as myself, are the equivalent of al-Qaeda . 
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 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.
Chaudhry Mohammad also claims I'm a member of the "except league", in that I "except" anti-Semitism. But I do not. Laws against anti-Semitism in Europe are, in my view, out of date and we should allow even odious anti-Semitic speech.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.
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 and not guns.