Wounding Religious Feelings — Should That Be Forbidden?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Christopher Hitchens wrote an article in Vanity Fair about the western media censoring itself out of fear of violent Muslim retaliation.

This fear is justified. Writers have been killed, publishing houses have been firebombed, and death fatwas have been declared, leaving writers and cartoonists living in fear for their lives. Hitchens writes:

Sometimes this fear—and this blackmail—comes dressed up in the guise of good manners and multiculturalism. One must not wound the religious feelings of others, many of whom are poor immigrants in our own societies. To this I would respond by pointing to a book published in 1994. It is entitled For Rushdie: Essays by Arab and Muslim Writers in Defense of Free Speech. Among its contributors is almost every writer worthy of the name in the Arab and Muslim world, ranging from the Syrian poet Adonis to the Syrian-Kurdish author Salim Barakat, to the late national bard of the Palestinians, Mahmoud Darwish, to the celebrated Turkish writers Murat Belge and Orhan Pamuk. Especially impressive and courageous was the list of 127 Iranian writers, artists, and intellectuals who, from the prison house that is the Islamic Republic, signed their names to a letter which said: “We underline the intolerable character of the decree of death that the Fatwah is, and we insist on the fact that aesthetic criteria are the only proper ones for judging works of art.… To the extent that the systematic denial of the rights of man in Iran is tolerated, this can only further encourage the export outside the Islamic Republic of its terroristic methods which destroy freedom.” In other words, the situation is the exact reverse of what the condescending multiculturalists say it is. To indulge the idea of religious censorship by the threat of violence is to insult and undermine precisely those in the Muslim world who are its intellectual cream, and who want to testify for their own liberty—and for ours. It is also to make the patronizing assumption that the leaders of mobs and the inciters of goons are the authentic representatives of Muslim opinion. What could be more “offensive” than that?

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