Sunday, March 08, 2009

Religious defamation

Last week at the LSE Literary Weekend there was a lecture about religious defamation. It got me thinking, so I decided to write a few words about it. When the Danish cartoon crisis broke out three years ago, I was quite angry at the Danish. I didn't see the use in publishing those cartoons at all, to me, its only effect was insulting people's culture and identity, provoking even the most moderate Muslims.

There is another side to the story. Religious people think they know the absolute answer to some questions: questions about how our existence came about, how we should conduct our worldly affairs, what will happen after life. They refuse to engage in a debate, and even posing these questions is sometimes enough to offend them. Sometimes they think the other side is not looking for the answer, but simply trying to offend them.

Being around people who get easily offended can be tiresome. It forces one to self-censorship, and this is sort of a defeat. You tacitly accept their version of the truth because you don't want to deal with the fall out. And as one of the speakers in the panel rightly pointed out, this is an impediment to the pursuit of truth. If we keep considering all the ways in which everyone could get offended, we would never speak. (Next time I look offended, remind me this please. And what you just said probably had some truth in it if I look offended. If it was really wrong, I would just be jumping up and down trying to correct you.)

It goes without saying, however, that provoking people is not the only way to get them thinking. There may be better ways.

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