The debate about free speech following the Charlie Hebdo murders has followed a now familiar rights vs obligations narrative. "Yes, of course people have the right to express themselves but is it wise for them to do so?" I don't find the 'of course' in some people's usage entirely convincing but I've been wondering if the question might be posed in a different way: is it either possible or desirable to have a legal framework that protects people from offence, and specifically from that sense of hurt derived from others desecrating what they hold to be sacred? The answer is no, for two reasons:
1) Taking offence is a far too subjective experience to be worked into any rational legal system. Some found Charlie Hebdo's cartoons deeply offensive whereas I have found the fact that some people couldn't even wait for the artists to be buried before they smeared them as racists obscene. I don't want to do a sermon about this. Peter Ryley summed up what I think as well as anyone. France has a long tradition of leftwing politics with a strong anticlerical strand. It was in this tradition Charlie Hebdo stood. We just don't have that in Britain - and boy doesn't it show?
2) A legal fence can't be built to protect what others consider sacred because that enclosure would be so wide as to suffocate free thought. Do we really need to demonstrate this? It's not just about cartoons, or, as others have pointed out, any representation of Mohammed but whole fields of intellectual enquiry. I was glad Nick Cohen mentioned the dearth of form criticism in Koranic studies in his article at the weekend because it's a point that should be made more often. Form criticism is basically lit crit techniques applied to the Bible, an field of theological study pioneered - like so many - in Germany. Wikipedia will inform you that this technique is 'in its infancy' when it comes to the field of Koranic studies. It is in its infancy because it is extremely dangerous, as Professor Nasr Abu Zaid discovered to his cost.
Friday, January 16, 2015
Publicada por Miguel Madeira em 12:34