Bogus moral equivalence

Nick Cohen too is unimpressed by the pope’s assertion that we can’t insult religion. He’s also unimpressed by the “Charlie Hebdo had it coming” crowd.

After the Paris attacks, the novelist Will Self claimed moral equivalence. Those who say “freedom of speech is an absolute right” – no one does, incidentally – have “a religious point of view”. Mehdi Hasan, political director of the Huffington Post, agreed that freedom was fanaticism. He condemned “the hypocrisy of free-speech fundamentalists” and cited a thought experiment of an Oxford philosopher called Brian Klug. If an Islamist had joined the free speech rallies in Paris and applauded the murderers, Klug mused on the basis of no evidence whatsoever, he “would have been lucky to get away with his life”.

And yet, and yet – when’s the last time journalists shot up the office of some Islamists? Hmm? That would be never, wouldn’t it. Imagining such a scenario is not quite the same thing as actually being able to point to one, or fifty.

Think before you go along with the pope’s argument that violence is the “normal” response to insults to family honour. Once the law accepted it was. A husband could beat a wife, who failed to stroke his ego and confirm his superiority and the police would dismiss the case as a “domestic”. A man could kill a woman who had betrayed his honour and the courts would dismiss it as a crime of passion.

We don’t live there any more. And you know what? We don’t want to.



  1. says

    Do I need to remind you that insulting the gods, the pope or the synagogue were the charges the faithful levelled against Socrates, Galileo and Spinoza? Or that insulting religion is everywhere the favourite charge of fanatics?

    In Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran, where fanaticism has real force, they always use it against religious minorities and the secular and, indeed, against women demanding equal rights. Religion is a form of power. We do not have absolute freedom of speech, but we must protect our limited freedom to criticise power.

    Give up on that, dismiss it as rudeness or say that supporters of hard-won freedom are just as “fundamentalist” as their religious opponents and you abandon every inch of ground that has to be defended without so much as a fight.

    This is very similar to what I argued in my latest post. However, as I suggested there, I’m not on board with the suggestion of the sort he makes that “we” used to have oppressive and reactionary laws and movements and have moved beyond them. It’s not true, and it minimizes the domestic danger of the Right and their control of and threats to free expression.

  2. Blanche Quizno says

    Leaders like Mr. Popeypants need to review the difference between a culture of honor and a culture of law. The Pope’s “expect a punch” comment demonstrates that his thinking is stuck in primitive tribal thinking where each person has to function as a law unto himself because there is no reliable legal system and each person must protect and defend himself. This, unsurprisingly, is also the case with most extremist Islamic thinking. Vigilantism is simply doing what needs to be done, given the perspective that the government won’t establish adequate laws or law enforcement.

    A culture of law, on the other hand, (ideally) has: one set of rules (laws) that applies to every person within that society, defined consequences and punishments for breaking those rules, and appropriate structures for policing society and enforcing those rules. People give up some measure of freedom and autonomy in exchange for the security of having special operatives within society who will take care of lawbreakers. This arrangement, you’ll notice, DOES remove a lot of retaliation crime – just imagine if everyone had to enforce the laws around them themselves! It would be a nightmare. It also removes a lot of the threat of bullying – those “survivalists” who simply want “government” to “leave them alone” should realize that it is “government”‘s laws that enable them to safely own the property they are holed up on and that protects their right of ownership from a potential gang of thugs with more firepower who decide they want to *take* it.

    The fact that we are seeing vigilantes committing crimes means that these vigilantes must be all apprehended and appropriately charged by the system of laws that we have agreed upon. For someone such a high public profile as the Pope to be promoting vigilantism and a culture of honor rather than law is reprehensible. He should stop for a moment and think about how much he himself depends on the law to protect his own safety.

  3. Kevin Kehres says

    I think the pope is still a trifle upset that he’s not allowed to burn heretics at the stake anymore.

  4. Blanche Quizno says

    Well, yes, I imagine the officeholder of Pope will have his serial nose permanently out of joint so long as that’s the case, along with the occasional “Harrumph.”

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