Sunday, 15 February 2009

Lacking Dutch Courage

Interesting article below by Dani Garavelli from Scotland on Sunday, entitled "Lacking Dutch Courage". I will be charitable and assume from the use of past tense that Dani no longer regards members of UKIP as wild eyed oddballs. The really telling paragraph however comes right at the end. With the sentiments in this last paragraph I agree 100%

Anyway, enjoy......
IT'S weird and somewhat unsettling to find yourself allied with members of UKIP you previously regarded as wild-eyed oddballs, and with Tory peers whose very existence you disapprove of. And it is bewildering to feel the need to rally to the defence of as distasteful a figure as Geert Wilders. But convictions are convictions, no matter how odious the personalities of those who set out to test the limits of them. And freedom of speech is one of those convictions that go to the very heart of what it used to mean to be British. This is something the Government seems to have overlooked in its eagerness to get the rabble-rousing Dutch MP off its soil before his anti-Islamic opinions stirred up religious division in a country already riven by them.

Far from highlighting its liberal credentials, the way it capitulated in the face of a prospective Muslim backlash showed how far the country has travelled since the publication of Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses in 1988 prompted Iran to issue a fatwa against him. Back then, the Government of the day was prepared to break diplomatic relations with a foreign power to protect the rights of individuals to insult religions. This Government doesn't even have the gumption to take on a handful of extremists within its own borders.

It isn't as if the pendulum has swung that far since the Rushdie affair – that where once we sought to protect the rights of people to offend, we now protect the rights of people not to be offended. If that were the case, buses wouldn't be allowed to carry slogans saying: "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life"; and everything from the plaster cast of Christ with an erection exhibited last year in Newcastle's Baltic Vaults, to Jerry Springer: the Opera would be banned.

Thank goodness they're not. After all, religious arrogance ought to be challenged and the world would be a lot less vibrant place if it weren't for the clash of ideologies, even when the differences are expressed in intemperate language.

I have no problem with comedians, humanists or politicians having a go at clergymen who oppose gay rights, abortion or the ordination of women.

But it is strange to live in a country where Christian sensitivities are ridiculed, while Islamic ones are pandered to; a country where the right of Orangemen to walk through Catholic heartlands (and Catholics to march through Protestant ones) is defended to the death, but an elected member of a friendly country who has been invited to the UK by members of the House of Lords can be thrown out for voicing his controversial opinions.

But then the very showy ejection of Wilders was not motivated by a desire to protect religious freedoms, it was motivated by the fear of those who do not accept that with democracy comes the right to comment, criticise and lampoon.

It mattered not that turning the Dutch MP back guaranteed his 17-minute film Fitna would be seen by three million people – via YouTube – rather than a handful of peers, because the point was not to stop the dissemination of his opinions, so much as to underline Labour's disapproval of them.

Admittedly, Wilders made it easy for them by being so loudly provocative. Demanding freedom of speech for yourself, while calling for the Koran to be banned, is both unpleasant and intellectually unsustainable. And anyone who has ever said, "I believe we have become too tolerant of the intolerant" virtually invites the response "OK, then, get lost."

I don't like the way Wilders chose to make his film; interspersing images of terrorist atrocities with lines from the holy book of Islam was gratuitously emotive. I believe he should do more to distinguish between the minority of fundamentalists who support the jihad, and the more moderate believers who make up the majority of Muslims across the globe.

And of course I think his call to halt Muslim immigration and ban the building of mosques and Islamic schools is repellent. But I do think other people need to distinguish between the expression of hostility towards a particular religion and inciting hatred of individual followers.

Yes, Wilders is clearly less than enamoured with Islam: just as Donald Findlay is less than enamoured with Catholicism; and Richard Dawkins is less than enamoured with all religion. And, just like them, he uses rhetoric which is often scathing and contemptuous. But is his central premise – that verses from the Koran have been used to justify acts of terrorism – really so outlandish? Or does portraying him as a bigoted madman just obviate our responsibility to take this difficult issue on board? And doesn't the fact that Gordon Brown appears to be so scared of engaging in any kind of debate on Islamic fundamentalism almost prove his point: that our civil liberties are being jeopardised by those who think the answer to having their beliefs challenged is to threaten civil disorder?

Personally, I think that's a legitimate topic for debate amongst Islamic as well as indigenous communities. But even if I didn't, I would think Wilders should be allowed to speak.

One thing that particularly perturbs me about this whole affair is Liberty's deafening silence. Why has Shami Chakrabarti, so strong and articulate when it comes to the torture of inmates at Guantanamo Bay, not spoken out on an issue which is central to her cause? It strikes me it may be because increasingly freedom of speech in this country means the right of those who belong to the liberal consensus to castigate, satirise and offend those who oppose it. And that's no freedom of speech at all.


  1. The link at the bottom of your post doesn't work but here's one we prepared earlier: