Richard, Nick, Salman, Ayaan

Richard Dawkins has a response to “Froborr.”

Ok I’m lying, he doesn’t really, but it might as well be. Plus it’s a response to all the “oh won’t you please think of the poor fragile believers?” wails that keep being wailed.

Actually he’s talking specifically about the Jaipur Festival (where he was one of the speakers) and Salman Rushdie and Nick Cohen’s new book – but he’s also talking generally, as is only natural, since all of those items have wide implications.

I have just returned from the Jaipur Literary Festival, infamous for the recent reprise of the 1989 threats against Sir Salman Rushdie by Muslims the world over, lamentably applauded by leading churchmen, politicians, historians and otherwise liberal journalists. Coincidentally, I am reading You Can’t Read this Book, Nick Cohen’s brilliant broadside against ‘censorship in an age of freedom’.

I’ve already read Nick’s book, because I read it as it was being written. I’ll be reading it again though. Anyway the point is, the subject of Nick’s book keeps being re-enacted, more absurdly and invasively and threateningly all the time.

Richard said at Jaipur:

Our whole society is soft on religion. The assumption is remarkably widespread that religious sensitivities are somehow especially deserving of consideration – a consideration not accorded to ordinary prejudice. . . I admit to being offended by Father Christmas, ‘Baby Jesus’, and Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer, but if I tried to act on these prejudices I’d quite rightly be held accountable. I’d be challenged to justify myself. But let somebody’s religion be offended and it’s another matter entirely. Not only do the affronted themselves kick up an almighty fuss; they are abetted and encouraged by influential figures from other religions and the liberal establishment. Far from being challenged to justify their beliefs like anybody else, the religious are granted sanctuary in a sort of intellectual no go area.

Froborr take a bow.

Richard quotes Nick on the new atheists:

The new atheists thought that the best argument against Islamist terror, or Christian fundamentalism, or Hindu or Jewish nationalism, was to say bluntly that there is no God, and we should grow up. Fear of religious violence also drove the backlash against atheism from those who felt that appeasement of psychopathic believers was the safest policy; that if we were nice to them, perhaps they would calm down. Prim mainstream commentators decried the insensitivity and downright rudeness with which the new atheists treated the religious. The complaints boiled down to a simple and piteous cry: “Why can’t you stop upsetting them?”

The answer is simple. If the criterion for what is allowable in public discourse becomes “that which will not upset anyone” then public discourse will be a vast desert of nothingness. We can’t have thought or inspiration or development or change without the risk of upsetting some people. “Not upsetting” is simply the wrong criterion for permissible discourse.


  1. The Lorax says

    That’s the whole damn reason for the 1st Amendment; freedom of speech had to be protected because our only other option was a slippery slope to totalitarian censorship.

    Who was it who said, “I may disagree with what you say, but I’ll fight to the death for your right to say it”? I think that an enlightened society is one in which we can choose to not be hurt by the opinions of others. Shame we haven’t gotten there yet, even though they had at least that aspect figured out 230 years ago.

  2. says

    Yes, absolutely, a great appeal for freedom of speech in Jaipur, from which Rushdie had been excluded. Free speech has had a bad innings over the last week or two, and adds to the concern that Islam is successfully silencing criticism, even of the mildest variety in the name of religious sensibility. A bad sign for the future. I envy you having read Nick’s book already. Mine is on the way — from England. Not available here until March. But this is worrying:

    Anyway the point is, the subject of Nick’s book keeps being re-enacted, more absurdly and invasively and threateningly all the time.

  3. Timothy (TRiG) says

    Who was it who said, “I may disagree with what you say, but I’ll fight to the death for your right to say it”?

    It’s attributed to Voltaire, but not found in his writings. If I remember right, its first occurance was in a biography of Voltaire, so it was probably actually coined by the biographer. (And no, I can’t remember the biographer’s name.)


  4. says

    Evelyn Beatrice Hall was the biographer in question. Busy reading Cohen’s book now – really good, and making points it seems (sadly) perpetually necessary to make. As Gide remarked, “Everything has been said before, but since nobody listens we have to keep going back and beginning all over again.”

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