Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Putting the "Fun" In Fundamentalism

Interesting pickle Johann Hari has found himself in, simply for speaking his mind, about things which incidentally happen to be demonstrably true.

It's worth going through the arguments put forward by the rioting fundamentalists, because they will keep recurring in the twenty-first century as secularism is assaulted again and again. They said I had upset "the harmony" of India, and it could only be restored by my arrest. But this is a lop-sided vision of "harmony". It would mean that religious fundamentalists are free to say whatever they want – and the rest of us have to shut up and agree.

The protestors said I deliberately set out to "offend" them, and I am supposed to say that, no, no offence was intended. But the honest truth is more complicated. Offending fundamentalists isn't my goal – but if it is an inevitable side-effect of defending human rights, so be it. If fanatics who believe Muslim women should be imprisoned in their homes and gay people should be killed are insulted by my arguments, I don't resile from it. Nothing worth saying is inoffensive to everyone.

You do not have a right to be ring-fenced from offence. Every day, I am offended – not least by ancient religious texts filled with hate-speech. But I am glad, because I know that the price of taking offence is that I can give it too, if that is where the facts lead me. But again, the protestors propose a lop-sided world. They do not propose to stop voicing their own heinously offensive views about women's rights or homosexuality, but we have to shut up and take it – or we are the ones being "insulting".

The common analogy is that singling out Muslim fanatics as representational of the faith is like making assumptions about Christianity based on what you know about the Ku Klux Klan. This is essentially correct in tone, but not in degree. The KKK does not influence entire countries, nor do they approach nuclear capability.

The problem is even simpler than trying to figure out who gets to decide what is "offensive". It's getting these lunatics to understand what the appropriate response is to being insulted, that not every slight is an excuse to go off the rails. You'd think that it would have lost some its piss even for them by now, seeing as how they outraged by mundane items such as editorial cartoons and opinion columns.

But that's what makes them fanatics -- they don't listen to reason in the first place. It is then the responsibility of rational people -- in this case, the craven act of a supposedly democratic government arresting the editor and publisher of a newspaper for the crime of free speech, but also extending to how the UN Human Rights Commission mollycoddles these freaks -- to not give in to this dangerous bullshit. It's not okay to encase women in portable tents, and bury them to the waist and stone them for the crime of being raped. It's unacceptable to treat half your population like chattel. Nor is it cause for war, but we are under no obligation to pretend that it's merely a matter of cultural differences.

The message that needs to get through to the fundamentalists is that they are every bit as vile as the people they routinely riot against, that the perfidious machinations of the West stand toe-to-toe with their own vicious repression, their insistence on adhering to Mesolithic tribal mores twisted through Quranic misinterpretations.

And if India hopes to continue to be taken seriously as a democratic superpower, it needs to get on the right side of this one.

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