Who died and made you Allah?

Quite how or why LSE’s came to be called ‘The Beaver’ is not a matter on which I care to speculate.

It has, however, published an article by a Tasif Zaman which nicely illustrates when the real cause from which the recent outbreak of the religious asshole virus in a number of London’s university’s stems – and to save time, I’ll skip the preamble and get right to the main course:

As a European Muslim, I find myself at the heart of the debate and the recent controversy has led me to reflect on how the solution to this tension will shape the future of our society.

Okay, so there’s your basic totalitarian mindset at work right from the outset. Zaman intends to regale us with ‘the solution’ (singular) which ‘will shape the future of our society’. Evidently the idea that some people might not like his solution or wish to go along with it simply hasn’t occurred to the guy. The possibility of dissent just doesn’t figure into his thinking at all.

It is argued that drawing cartoons in order to ridicule religion is a natural extension of freedom of speech and freedom to criticise religion. Therefore cartoons ridiculing religion should be published without restrictions. Any opposition to the cartoons is an attempt to silence criticism of religion, and, in particular, criticism of Islam.

If we’re talking about Jesus and Mo then, yes, that’s about the size of it but if we talking about cartoons generally then it really depends on the specifics of individual cartoons. Some are eminently defensible, some less so and its therefore impossible to make any blanket judgements on the merits of particular cartoons sight unseen; a rather simple concept but one that appears to have escaped our erstwhile problem-solver.

When analysing the nature of the cartoons, however, one could conclude that defending the right to draw such cartoons is not related to promoting freedom of speech if the cartoons serve no purpose in actually criticising religion (or anything else).

When analysing ‘the cartoons’ it helps considerably if you actually bother to look at the cartoons and consider them on their merits and in context.

I will propose that the cartoons are designed to promote and reinforce a reductive and perverse view of religion often based on prejudice or ignorance. However, I will not argue that the cartoons should be censored or banned because they may cause offence.

Still not entirely clear what ‘the cartoons’ are but, again, if its Jesus and Mo we’re talking about here then Zaman is quite clearly going to be barking up the wrong tree with his arguments when its nothing more or less than the reductive and perverse views espoused by religion, and religionists, and their manifest prejudices and wilful ignorance that J&M satirises.

I strongly believe that the question shouldn’t be whether “offensive” cartoons should or shouldn’t be published. Rather, we should question whether using freedom of speech to cause offense and provoke sections of society is compatible with civic responsibility within a pluralist, tolerant and diverse society.

Fuck me, this is really going to be hard work.

Frankly, I’m tired of endlessly repeating the same arguments in response to people who simply do not, or will not, listen and so, on tis occasion, I’ve decided to place the argument into the hands of a couple of English authors whose freely voiced opinions on the subject of free speech I consider to be unimpeachable.

The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error. ~ John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1859

Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties. ~ John Milton, Aeropagitica, 1644

As for the question of whether causing offence is compatible with civic responsiblity my answer is simply that there are occasions and situations when it not only compatible with civic responsibility but when it is  absolutely my civic responsibility and duty to cause offence and provoke some sections of society, to know, utter and argue freely according to my conscience.

Galileo offended the Catholic Church, Darwin offended creationists – and continues to do so to this very day – and Sir Isaac Newton offended just about everyone they ever came into contact with.

Parliament and the ruling elites of this country were offended, at various times, by the Levellers, the Diggers, Thomas Hobbes, Thomas Paine – who also had an unerring knack for offended just about everyone – the abolitionist movement, the Chartists and the Suffragettes.

Every tentative and often faltering step our species has taken on the long road to civilisation and intellectual enlightenment, every advance, every discovery, every innovation, every novel thought and new idea that has ever challenged the status quo has offended and provoked some section of society – and from that, and from our history, we learn that it is not only permissible to cause offence to some people, but also right and necessary and a civic duty.

So my argument can be summarised as follows: (1) the cartoons do not promote a critical discussion of religion and (2) just because you are allowed to do something, it doesn’t mean you should do it.

And Zaman is wrong on both counts.

Even if ‘the cartoons’ – and we’re still no closer to an understanding of which cartoons we’re talking about – are reductive, perverse, prejudiced and ignorant, that in and of itself is sufficient to promote and stimulate a critical discussion of religion.

Why is it that some people see religion in that way?

What is it about religion, or about particular religions, that serves to provoke such strong sentiments?

Are those sentiments genuinely lacking in any rational or factual basis?

Are we actually even correct is describing these sentiments as reductive and perverse, or are these labels nothing more than a convenient means of delegitimising ideas, arguments and criticisms that we find uncomfortable, or which challenge our personal beliefs in ways we’d prefer not to contemplate or open up to scrutiny and critical examination?

Are they – whoever they are – the one’s who are prejudiced and ignorant, or that just our own ignorant prejudices speaking for us?

That we are allowed to do something doesn’t automatically mean that we should, but it also doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t either or that we shouldn’t do something just because it upset and offends some people and they we shouldn’t be doing it.

Handwaving platitudes do not an argument make, a lesson that Zaman has yet to integrate into his personal view of the world.

Before I continue, it is important to introduce three points. Firstly, there is, and must be, a limit on what we can and can’t say (and, therefore, draw). Legislation against discrimination, antisemitism and incitement to violence are entrenched in most democracies to balance the liberty of the individual with the protection of wider society.

Discrimination and incitement to violence, yes. Antisemitism, not so much in its own right other than in those parts of Continental Europe where the legacy of Nazi occupation and concerns as the risk of a resurgence in public support for fascist groups has resulted in legislation that specifically addresses antiSemitism and/or Holocaust denial outside the general framework of antidiscrimination – not that this is necessarily relevant or application to any of ‘the cartoons’ that Zaman may or may not have in mind.

Therefore, absolute “free speech” can’t really exist.

In practical terms, it doesn’t but, again, from the fact that we do place some limitations on freedom of speech it does not follow that any limitations you might prefer to see put in place are either reasonable or acceptable.

Secondly, violent responses to “offensive” cartoons are wrong, counter-productive and, frankly, illogical. They follow the same logic of violent and extremist “pro-life” campaigners that murder doctors who perform abortions.

Wrong and counterproductive, yes. Logical? Well that all depends on whether the use of violence has any realistic prospect of securing your objectives or not and depends, therefore, entirely on context.

Thirdly, “offensive” cartoons are a particularly sensitive issue for Muslims because the depiction of any prophet (including Jesus Christ) is strictly forbidden.

Here we go…

Also, perceived attacks on Islam can easily escalate due to the contemporary geo-political situation. For example, extremists can easily manipulate the issue to reinforce their West versus Islam narrative.

So violence is wrong, counterproductive and illogical but we should nevertheless accept censorship because some Muslims turn violent when they’re offended.

That’s your argument?

Well, no – to be fair, and precise, the sum total of Zaman’s argument is that he doesn’t need to argue that cartoons should be censored or banned, just so long as cartoonists are prepared to self-censor their work in line with his opinions on what it and isn’t acceptable.

Or, to put it more simply – he’s full of shit and weaselling as if his life depended on it.

The use of sarcasm, ridicule and irony to highlight vices and abuses of individuals with the primary objective of constructive criticism is at the essence of satire.

Sorry? Only individuals can legitimately be criticised by means of sarcasm, ridicule and irony – which I’m guessing also means that  metaphor, bathos, puns, parody and litotes are right out as well – and yes, that is the mandatory Python reference for this article.

Not companies and businesses?

Or groups and association?

Or monolithic theocratic institutions that seem incapable of deciding whether they believe one god or three, even after a heavy night on the magic crackers and sacramental wine?

Incidentally, that would make for a hell of advert for the Catholic Church – Catholicism – Buy one god, get two free! Now there’s the slogan to go with a Buddy Christ statue?

Memo to self – defines satire in way that explicit excludes religion as a legitimate target… check.

Neither the Danish cartoons nor the “Jesus and Mo” comic strip can really be categorised as satire.

Conflates Jesus and Mo with the Motoons… check.

What is the critical observation behind Jesus Christ and Prophet Muhammad sharing a pint or sleeping together?

Well, let’s take a look, shall we… (any Muslims who’ve got this far – fat chance – might wish to look away now)

To state the bleeding obvious, we not only have pictures of Jesus and Mo sharing a bed – a visual meme with, in both the UK and US, a reasonably rich comedic heritage, e.g. Laurel and Hardy, Morecambe and Wise, Ernie and Bert – but we also have words and these, if you read them, turn out to be a joke – in this case at the expense of the Anglican Church and the internal difficulties its experiencing, and failing to deal adequately with, that have arisen as a result of its permitting the ordination of women priest.

That’s the bed thing done, what about the pub?

Well, whaddya know – there’s some more words and another joke.

Do really really need to explain why the juxtaposition of the ‘Jesus loves you’ meme with all the fire and brimstone shit that fundamentalist love to lay on their audiences is funny and eminently deserving of satire?

Incidentally, before anyone starts with any of the usual ‘you must be scared of Muslims’ shit. these were the first J&M cartoons with the bed and pub scenes that turned up using the site’s random cartoon function, so the fact that Christianity is the butt of both gags is pure chance.

What’s the intellectual and witty suggestion behind a picture of the Prophet with a bomb on his turban? The latter example is clearly Islamophobic and promotes the prejudice that all Muslims are terrorists. It is simply reducing a religion or people to a perverse perception and then broadcasting that as legitimate criticism.

Actually, the suggestion was more that the violent aspects of the Koran were inspiring and being used as justification for acts of terrorism, which may not be witty or particularly intellectual but at least carried a grain of truth.

That said, and although I’ve no real desire to revisit the whole Motoons thing, as it has absolutely fuck all to do with atheists posting Jesus and Mo cartoons on Facebook, its as well to recall that the two images the did most to promote sales of Danish flags across the Middle East weren’t cartoons and the weren’t published by Jyllands Posten, or any other European newspaper – they were fabricated images that modified and were tacked on to the original cartoons by Islamic fundamentalists specifically to provoke a violent reaction, all which is something you should perhaps take up with those who were actually responsible for producing those images.

Take a bit of responsibility for your own cess pit, for once.

If you were genuinely concerned about the violent message of Islam, is drawing a provocative cartoon which attacks all Muslims a reasonable way to begin an intellectual discussion?

‘Discussion’ implies dialogue, i.e. a two-way exchange of information and ideas, and as I’m not detecting much in the way of a willingness, on Zaman’s part, to make this a two-way debate or entertain any challenging ideas on the nature of free speech and the necessity of the freedom to cause offence then I really don;t think that he’s in any position to determine what is and isn’t reasonable.

The “Jesus and Mo” strip is also useless in promoting critical dialogue. In reality, the comics are for entertainment purposes only and promote simplistic and dogmatic views of religion which may be humorous to atheists, but are of little value to the case for scrutinising religious beliefs and practices. People should be allowed to be entertained by whatever they see fit in the private sphere but what purpose do these cartoons have in the public sphere?

Well whaddya know – everyone’s a critic, or to put it another way, opinions are like assholes… and Zaman is shaping up nicely as a major asshole. Still, its big of him to concede that we might just about have right to be entertained by Jesus and Mo cartoons in the privacy of our own homes, so I’m guessing that J&M should be moving quickly to secure their own .xxx domain name.

To be honest, I’m not even inclined to respond to his question about the ‘purpose’ that J&M serves in the public sphere as its perfectly evident that he doesn’t see the purpose because he doesn’t want to see it, he just wants everyone to blindly accede to the strictures imposed by his own religion, without dissent, just so he can feel better.

In a diverse society people are bound to hold differing opinions on a range of issues. Managing our diversity so that we promote cohesion through mutual respect and avoid imposing our views on others is therefore essential. In order to maintain this harmony our responsibilities towards one another may sometimes be a priority over our personal freedom.

Oh dear, there speaks the totalitarian mindset again – diversity is to be ‘managed’ and compelled into a state of cohesion and mutual respect in which the imposition of our views on others is to be avoid.

Except, of course, that Zaman’s idea of mutual respect is one-way street predicated on the imposition of his views and values on us, whether we like it or not. The idea that I don’t believe in his god and am therefore under no obligation to follow his god’s rules and regulations just doesn’t compute.

From my understanding, radical or militant atheists would like to eradicate religion from society.

Not eradicate as such… it’s more that we believe that allowing religion to die of natural causes if preferable to the current situation, in which its basically shambling along like a zombie with bits dropping off it, this being one reason amongst many why we argue that religion should have its state-sponsored life support system taken away, forcing it to stand or fall on its own merits.

So, our actual position is pretty much that set out by Benjamin Franklin in a private letter written in 1780:

When a religion is good, I conceive that it will support itself; and, when it cannot support itself, and God does not take care to support, so that its professors are obliged to call for the help of the civil power, it is a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.

If you’re unsure what that means in practical terms, a good example would be the argument we make that there should be no state funding for religious schools or for the provision of religious instruction in state-funded schools.

That doesn’t mean the prohibition of any teaching about religion in state schools. We’ re no fans of ignorance and so we’re absolutely fine with comparative religion as a branch of the social science and theology as one branch of philosophy amongst many. Nor does it mean an absolute prohibition of religious schools and religious instruction, religious institutions, communities and individuals are free to do as they please as long as they pay their own way and don’t look to the state for a subsidy or other special privileges.

It’s called secularism and you really should give it a try as it just one of many reasons why you’re free to express your opinions in a student newspaper and engage in open debate.

At least for now, religion and religious people will continue to exist, so I would like to ask them what should happen to people that disagree with the radical atheist worldview? Aren’t your attitudes as dogmatic as the people you claim to be fighting?

Well, we’re not big on threats, violence, and executing people who don’t see things the same way we do, if that’s what you mean.

Our weapons are ideas, which is why we take freedom of expression very seriously, as you may well have noticed by now.

So, when you ask what should happen to people who disagree with us, the answer is that they should be encouraged to think for themselves, ask awkward questions and challenge the validity of received wisdoms and claims of divine revelation.

Of course, that kind of thing does tend to scare the fuck out of many religious groups and religionists, especially the one’s who’ve constructed monolithic edifices of political and social control – and a life of luxury – out of fostering and promulgating widespread public ignorance and prejudice, because the free exchange of ideas and the freedom to voice dissenting opinions does tend to fuck with powerbase in ways that can sometimes get them tossed of the great celestial gravy train.

But then you can’t make an omlette without breaking a few eggs.

In the name of maintaining tolerance and developing a strong, pluralist and cohesive society, we must reassess the role of offensive cartoons in the public sphere.

We?

Look, I really don’t think that you genuine mean ‘we’ because, as should already be perfectly apparent, ‘we’ have very different ideas as to the role of ‘offensive’ cartoons in the public sphere, view that aren’t going to reconciled any time soon by the look of things, not least because you’re not interested in any kind of ‘solution’ that doesn’t get you exactly what you want, irrespective of the feelings, opinions and argument of others.

You want to be treated as a special case and afforded special privileges – the answer is ‘no’.

I reject UCL ASH Society’s claim of “victory” in defence of free speech and at the same time believe that it is unwise to take these cartoons seriously – I am convinced that Prophet Muhammad wouldn’t be troubled by these pathetic drawings, but he would definitely be distressed by those who distort his message.

Sorry, but you appear to have mistaken me – and a hell of a lot of other people – for someone who a toss about the feelings of a dead guy.

Do, however, feel free to come back again when you’ve learned that ‘Because my god says so’ is not an argument, just a statement of personal prejudice.

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  • radical or militant atheists would like to eradicate religion from society.”

    Ah, the old “militant atheist” rhetoric. It’s astonishing how low the bar is often set for an atheist to be described as “militant” by the religious. “I disagree with yo…” “MILITANT ATHEIST” *sigh*.

    But seriously, is this really the level of rhetoric the LSE is churning out these days? I do hope Zaman isn’t studying philosophy, media or law; his professors would be weeping in to their beer.

  • “I am convinced that Prophet Muhammad wouldn’t be troubled by these pathetic drawings, but he would definitely be distressed by those who distort his message.”

    So after all that, he says Mohammed would give a toss about the J&M. So Zaman is taking offence of behalf of someone he presumes wouldn’t be offended, even though he doesn’t know if the someone would actually be offended or not.

    What a complete waste of time this Zaman chap is.

  • Alfonso Armenta

    If Allah is so f-ing offended, why doesn’t HE do something about it? Oh wait. Imaginary friends can’t do anything.

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  • With his way of describing what satire ought to be, he sounds awfully like Lt. Steven Hauk.

    http://youtu.be/tDOH18D3l9o