Belated thoughts on Charlie Hebdo, religion, free speech, and all of that jazz

“A shocking crime was committed on the unscrupulous initiative of a few individuals, with the blessing of more, and amid the passive acquiescence of all.”

Tacitus

I haven’t been much inclined toward blogging of late. Which is strange, as a lot of troubled thoughts have been rattling around my head – most of them relating in particular to the Charlie Hebdo murders. I’m sure you’d all like to know my opinion – however belatedly it might have arrived. And that’s what you’re going to get.

My overriding emotion is one of indignation. If there’s one thing more unedifying than a senseless massacre, it’s the pack of dribbling morons that follows – unable to offer any comment but a reflexive concession that senseless massacres are inevitable as long as we haven’t yet capitulated to those that might commit them.

Britain is a nation of weaklings. We value courtesy, tolerance, and – well – politeness. We do so at the expense of all other considerations.   Is there anything more hopelessly British than politeness toward those who deserve scorn, respect for those who deserve none? When someone bumps into you, isn’t your first instinct to say sorry? I’m not sure what ‘sorry’ means in this instance; the best I could come up with is “I regret that you are a cunt.” But I’d venture that this isn’t the sort of respect most of us would like to receive.

If you wanted a demonstration of this sort of respect, then you didn’t need to look very far. Shortly after the leaders of the not-quite-so-free world had finished their meaningless stroll through Paris, the King of Saudi Arabia, Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz, dropped dead. Leaders of the free world immediately hurried toward Mecca, so that they might respectfully wrap their lips around the engorged Saudi phallus on our behalf, and imbibe the resultant black succour. Even Obama – who didn’t even bother with the Paris demonstration – took the trip to bend the knee. Would it have been naive to expect anything else?

Sure, the Saudis routinely brutalise people for crimes like blasphemy and sorcery – but they are important to our National Interest. Westminister even lowered the flag at the news – to widespread chagrin. I suppose if Josef Stalin had died shortly after VE day, we’d have given him the same treatment.  Maybe Churchill, whose funeral we recently commemorated in a typically British festival of second-world-war fetishism, was a monster to have ever held meetings with him.

Perhaps the most famous victim of the almighty Saudi sarlacc – at least in recent times – is Raif Badawi, a blogger who has become something of a hero among free speech advocates. For the crime of ‘insulting Islam’, he’s been sentenced to a thousand lashes, to be delivered in weekly chunks of fifty. He’s served the first of these chunks – but at considerable cost to his health, according to his doctor. And so the state has stayed its hand for the moment. This is the sort of mercy that obviously deserves our respect.

It’s hard to bring to mind the terrible reality of this sort of punishment: a big long whip rending the flesh of a person’s back into blood-sodden pieces. I’m sure in the Middle Ages, the people of England would have had a fairly clear idea of what brutal punishments entail – they would undoubtedly approved of them, in much the same way the Saudi populous does currently. But now it seems surreal.

Here’s a confession which might shock you: I’m not sure I’d be blogging if doing so would put me at the slightest risk of being flogged to death. Most bloggers cower in fear in the face of a menacing email – this guy is prepared to defy the world’s most well-financed brutality. He must have balls of steel.

The Pope voiced his opinion on the Charlie Hebdo affair, and drilled down to that which we all know is the real problem: gratuitous offence-giving. His solution – and, to his mind, the only solution – is to react with violent force against anyone who offends your conviction. His view would find much sympathy among the Saudi courts, I’m sure.

“If my good friend Dr Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch. It’s normal. It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”

His Holiness seems to not only want to absolve those that might react violently to perceived slights, but to suggest that they had no choice but to do so. According to Francis, this is not only a probable consequence, but an inevitable one. You will get a punch if you insult his mother; he is as much to blame for this as, say, clouds are for rain. The puncher is thereby absolved of all agency, and the person being punched is the victim of some act of (ha!) God.

Think about that for a second. If you’ve ever at any point wondered how Christianity managed to mutate from a celebration of one heretic being tortured on a cross to a justification for thousands of them to be tortured on a rack, you’ll find an answer in this demented logic.

Could there be a more regressive, more stupid statement on violence? Isn’t this the precise opposite of ‘turning the other cheek’? This isn’t even an eye for an eye. This is an eye for an eyelash. This is a person who over a billion people look to for ethical guidance. I can’t be alone in finding that worrying.

Religion, eh? If it’s not a young man in a balaclava shooting cartoonists, it’s an old man in a dress spouting bland pieties about how cartoonists might avoid getting shot.

Ol’ Frank has, during his short time in office, picked up something of a reputation for progressiveness among (how can I put this delicately?) thick people. The Vatican PR machine deserves a lot of credit for this; Ratzinger left the building and every thought of raped little boys completely vanished from the agenda. Wow, this new Pope’s so progressive. He even says that gays might not be inherently evil? That’s so swell! Wow, according to this guy, dogs can go to heaven! What a cool pope! Catholicism seems just so sensible now!

The standard for Islam is similarly low. Islam can now be said to be tolerant because, if interpreted correctly, it might allow that apostates be permitted to live. I also once heard a story of how Mohammed gave his last Rolo to a Zoroastrian – how magnanimous of him. If I were to pick one seventh century warlord on whose values to base mine, it would be him.

From where do these terribly low standards come? The fear of being labelled bigoted is a powerful deterrent.  Just look at the spread of term ‘Islamaphobia’, which is like kryptonite for Guardianistas. Whether or not there’s any organisation behind this – and there is certainly reason to suspect that there is – makes little difference to the outcome. Islam is an idea – or collection of ideas. Some are historically suspect; some are morally repellent; some are plain nutty. Some, astonishingly enough, are even wise – the idea that the entire lot exists as some indivisible package, however, is not among them.

I desire a world in which people can bring themselves to say things like ‘I believe in freedom of speech’, without having to clench shut their jaws to prevent the escape of some ‘respectful’ caveat or other:  Yes, while we do all agree in freedom of speech, but it should have limits. Let’s be fair, the cartoonists did insult Mohammed. As for the Jews in the supermarket, well: they were Jews. Come on.

I’m going to be writing more in the future, and on this subject. The alternative seems an act of near-complicity.  Fortunately, there already exists an healthy body of lucid writing on the matter; all that’s left is for a large amount of people to write, speak and draw whatever they like, regardless of any lingering fear of being censured, censored or shot in the head.

Until next time!

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