Thursday, 8 January 2015

Blasphemy must be Normalised

Below is a good discussion between Douglas Murray and Maajid Nawaz. Murray says:
...the gunmen went in to assert Islamic blasphemy laws in a European city on twelve people in the office of Charlie Hebdo... to enforce a particular idea of blasphemy law.
If nothing else is clear, that surely is. This is not to say that global politics has not played its part in fomenting disaffection amongst Muslims in the world, but it is to make clear the proximate cause of the atrocity; if Charlie Hebdo had never committed blasphemy against the prophet, they would not have been targeted.

I have often puzzled at theists, and not a few atheists, who complain about those who ridicule religion. Theists consider their gods sacred, and, finding them empirically indistinguishable from imaginary friends, resort to high dudgeon in defence of their beliefs. An excellent tactic for the ambitious authoritarian belief system is to invoke horrendous punishment for any questioning of what they can't prove empirically.

But ridicule is a perfectly normal part of social interaction. It can go too far, that much is true, but its power is in its debunking of authority. Bogus authority needs something to raise its balloon, so it can climb in the basket and look down on us, and hot air and pomposity do just the job. Ridicule punctures that balloon of pomposity to release the hot air, and since religions are amongst the most pompous institutions in the world, it is often an appropriate response to their teachings. Rather than grounds for ring-fencing religion, I see grounds for exposing it to more ridicule than other institutions.

I'm glad to see this sentiment in some responses to Charlie Hebdo. Here is Kenan Malik:
To ridicule religion and to defend free expression is not to attack minority communities. On the contrary: without doing both it is impossible to defend the freedoms of Muslims or of any one else. So, yes, let us challenge the Islamists and the reactionaries within Muslim communities. Let us also challenge the anti-Muslim reactionaries. But equally let us call the fake liberals to account.
And another excellent article by Stephen Law, who articulates my own feelings well:
Laughter may not be the only way of getting people to recognise the truth, but it’s sometimes the quickest and most effective way. Satire and mockery are tools that can be employed entirely appropriately, particularly if we’re criticising figures and institutions that maintain a faithful following in part by fostering attitudes of immense reverence and deference. What the pompous and self-aggrandizing fear most is that small boy who points and laughs - and whose name, in this case, is Charlie Hebdo.
Sadly the little boys and one girl who pointed with their pencils at the Muslim emperor were murdered for their ridicule.

It's good to hear Muslim Maajid Nawaz, from the moderate Quilliam Foundation, saying this:
...the editors need to get together ... to share the risk, enough is enough, satire plays an important role in democratic societies, and freedom of speech an even more important role...
Quite right; the appropriate response to Charlie Hebdo is for everyone to blaspheme, to normalise it, to debunk it and to own it; blasphemy is no reason to harm someone, anyone, and ridicule does not need to tread carefully around religion, any more than it has to around any subject.


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