By Suzanne Moore | 14 January 2015
Voltaire is being quoted everywhere at the moment, although some say his words were different to what we are being told. He actually wrote in a letter in 1770 to Abbot le Riche: “I detest what you write but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.” And of course lives have been taken rather than given for writing what many detest.
The arguments go back and forth between those who think Charlie Hebdo should not have published its latest cover image of Muhammad and those – and I am one – who think that they are publishing anything at all is amazing and heartening. The image of a crying man does not offend me. I am not a Muslim but I see that the cover has been read as yet more provocation, even an undoing of the unity of the marches in Paris and other cities. To certain scumbag preachers it is “an act of war”.
Equally disturbing is this talk of blasphemy. Jesus H Christ, remind me what year this is. At one end of the spectrum we have talk of blasphemy, then at the other a kind of liberal anxiety about bad manners – as if showing images was akin to bringing the wrong wine to a dinner party. To all of this, I must say I am pretty gobsmacked. There is a kind of faux respect floating around that I do not trust at all. For it is fearful.
Last week I asked for us to continue in our disrespect and I meant it. Why must I have respect for religions that have little respect for me? That seek to curtail the rights of women? That find me unclean? I am not just talking about Islam here, but pretty much all religion. So there is some equal opportunity offence for you. Faithophobia. Add it to the list of my crimes.
I don’t have to go back to seventh-century texts to find faiths in which women are not seen as equal to men. This is from the founder of another religion: “A society in which women are taught anything but the management of a family, the care of men and the creation of the future generation is a society which is on the way out.” That’s L Ron Hubbard for you. And you can satirise Scientology all you like.
In the mess of blood and tears and accusations of racism flying around, cultural difference is a sensitive issue. Offence is often caused by the conflation of culture, religion and identity. Recently, at the Jewish Museum in Berlin, I saw an exhibition on circumcision, titled Snip It!, that revealed many of the similarities between this ritual practice for Jews and for Muslims. Unravelling the cultural is key in understanding the differences within faiths as well as between them. Where there is ignorance of how identities are formed there can be no tolerance. The lost boys who cling to dogma do not even know their own history, never mind anyone else’s.
Voltaire once asked what tolerance meant and said this wonderful thing: “It is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each others’ folly – that is the first law of nature.” There is the crux: reciprocity. I keep hearing that free speech is a right with a responsibility, although surely it cannot attempt to be responsible to everyone. If tolerance is about something reciprocal, then it becomes very difficult. And important.
Out of courtesy we may choose not to publish images that cause hurt but we are not duty-bound by that. Do I have the right to enter the male-only spaces of many sacred places? It may be none of my business what women of faith do but I am offended by segregation, by literal interpretations of texts, by the treatment of women as second‑class citizens.
Oh sure, this is the wrong time to bang on about gender when cartoonists and Jews are being slaughtered in Paris and thousands are being killed and raped in Nigeria. Because isn’t it always? When hate speech is everywhere, when antisemitism thrives, when we are nervous about publishing images of Muhammad – and this is just Europe – then women’s rights are not top of the agenda. But let’s make the connection here between those who would ban imagery and those who wouldn’t.
There is no right never to be offended. Images are removed quietly sometimes. The artist Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ is withdrawn from Associated Press images. This photograph had already been attacked in France after demonstrations by Christians and the far right. Actually, I am offended daily by images of women reduced to body parts but I do not incite violence. So, please, let’s not talk about the fundamentalism of those of us who believe in free speech. Rather like feminism, we would actually like it to start.
There is much discussion of us and them, but the “them” are not simply or only Muslims. There are ultra-conservative forces at work at the moment, some deadly, and what they all share is an absolute refusal to give women agency and autonomy. So don’t ask me to have respect for these kinds of fundamentalism that have none for me.
Critique is not blasphemy. Texts can be reinterpreted. Tolerance has to be reciprocal or it is not tolerance at all. We should at least be honest now. Those who don’t believe in any god have as many rights as those who do.
Douglas Murray – Full Debate on Charlie Hebdo [Sky News]
The Islamic State (Full Length)
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