Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Mouthing Off

One of the most interesting things about living in the States is seeing at firsthand the obsession placed upon the First Amendment. While people are divided over the other Constitutional Amendments (no right to privacy via the Fourteenth, what exactly the Second Amendment's "right to bear arms" means - when the most vocal adherents of a living constitution suddenly become originalists), generally when you ask people here, the right to free speech comes up over and over again as the most fundamental right of all, in a way that I don't think would happen in the UK.

I could think about that, about what that really means, all day and all night, but as I have memos to finish, I'll ponder on what actually got me here. Which is the declaration in the last few days by a Pakistani government official that knighting Salman Rushdie will lead to more suicide bombings and, most worryingly, that such bombings are justified. That to knight him is "utterly insensitiv[e]" in the wake of trying to rebuild relations between Britain and Pakistan.

I once stated, to someone's utter disgust, that I think people should take responsibility for what they write, even fiction. The Satanic Verses was not exactly a neutral title, now was it? We place curbs on people's right to speech much of the time, particularly when the right thinks that somehow saying "fuck" will warp children's minds (more so of course than telling them that creationism is scientifically equivalent to evolutionary theory). And I stand by my comment to a certain extent. If you're trying to be provocative, admit it, at least.

Nonetheless, the reaction of Iran at the time and now this man, Ijaz ul-Haq, is just bewildering to me. Insulting, yes, the book may well be, but I'm sure Allah, God, Jehovah, the Flying Spaghetti monster, whoever, can deal with it her/him/itself. Say you're offended, yes. But blow up people, try to murder them for it? That seems somewhat insulting to the strength of your faith in God's retribution. But then, as you may know, faith is not necessarily something I understand that well.

I don't believe freedom of speech is that important when you're starving or dying of thirst. But for the rest of us, it's something that we should be highly vigilant about. Particularly when they're saying something we don't like. So, Mr ul-Haq, you have the right to say what you have. I wouldn't throw you in prison for it (although in Britain it's probably incitement to religious hatred in some way). But note this: I want to. I'm just going to resist.

Sorry if this is utterly illogical in its flow and incoherent - tiredness is taking over. I just wanted to write about this before it disappears from the news. Undoubtedly more fodder for Hitchens, Dawkins et al.

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