Monday, February 20, 2006

Just wondering...

I realise I am rather ill just now, and might be missing some major point, but...

isn't it a little odd that the same sorts of people who would print cartoons portraying the prophet Mohammed with no regard for Islamic concern about idolatry, and do so in the name of free speech,

would also sentence David Irving, a British 'historian', to three years' jail time for denying the Holocaust?* (Story here.)

If free speech were truly the unalloyed universal good that it is trumpeted as being -- religious convictions being immaterial -- then why would this 'historian's' free speech gain him prison time?

I want to make it clear, in case there is any doubt, that I think Irving merits my inclusion of scare quotes when I call him an 'historian'. (And in case that isn't clear enough, I also think he's a chump.)

But this very clearly opens up the space to ask the question, then, 'which free speech is allowed as a universal, unalloyed good, and which is prohibited?' And if denying the Holocaust is culpable, then why might idolatry not be? Is it just a matter of whose definition of idolatry to use? And if that's true, then why shouldn't we shrug off our pretense of universal goods (such as free speech), at least as we conceive of them now?

I am grieved over the 'cartoon riots' (an awful name if ever there was one), and the distance that it reflects and introduces between Western Christo/secular culture and Islamic culture; I certainly don't know that I have anything like an answer for this (beyond prayer).

I have found AKMA's ruminations on the topic helpful, and maybe you will too.

* Just for reference, Denmark, which originally published the cartoons, has no such law about denying the Holocaust; France, which has agreed to publish more such cartoons in the wake of rioting and protests, does have a law against denying the Holocaust. (I love the French, but they can be so pigheaded sometimes.) Also, the trial of David Irving took place in Austria. Britain has no such law about denying the Holocaust, but in 2000 a libel suit brought by Irving was thrown out and the court called him "an active Holocaust denier... anti-Semitic and racist". It's not a jail sentence, but it's about as official as you can get just short of one. (I suppose I'm duty-bound to say, in fairness to Irving, he does claim to have changed his views since he first aired them in 1989.)


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