Thursday, March 02, 2006

Intellectuals risk life for free speech

The other day it was noted in the blogosphere (see here and here) that several influential writers and intellectuals of Muslim origin had courageously signed a strongly worded manifesto in support of free speech, as a response to the cartoon row. I was surprised to see it reported very prominently on the BBC News website:
Salman Rushdie is among a dozen writers to have put their names to a statement in a French weekly paper warning against Islamic "totalitarianism". The writers say the violence sparked by the publication of cartoons satirising the Prophet Muhammad shows the need to fight for secular values and freedom. The statement is published in Charlie Hebdo, one of several European papers to reprint the caricatures.
"After having overcome fascism, Nazism, and Stalinism, the world now faces a new global threat: Islamism," the manifesto says. "We, writers, journalists, intellectuals, call for resistance to religious totalitarianism and for the promotion of freedom, equal opportunity and secular values for all." The clashes over the cartoons "revealed the necessity of the struggle for these universal values," the statement continues. "It is not a clash of civilisations nor an antagonism of West and East that we are witnessing, but a global struggle that confronts democrats and theocrats."
They have also posted the whole text of the manifesto. I'm impressed.
Meanwhile, if you're in London, do consider attending the March for Free Expression on March 25th at 2pm in Trafalgar Sqaure, details here.

Post Scriptum:
Timothy Garton Ash has related comments in today’s Guardian (via Harry’s Place):
If the intimidators succeed, then the lesson for any group that strongly believes in anything is: shout more loudly, be more extreme, threaten violence, and you will get your way. Frightened firms, newspapers or universities will cave in, as will softbellied democratic states, where politicians scrabble to keep the votes of diverse constituencies. But in our increasingly mixed-up, multicultural world, there are so many groups that care so strongly about so many different things, from fruitarians to anti-abortionists and from Jehovah's Witnesses to Kurdish nationalists. Aggregate all their taboos and you have a vast herd of sacred cows. Let the frightened nanny state enshrine all those taboos in new laws or bureaucratic prohibitions, and you have a drastic loss of freedom. That, I think, is what is happening to us, issue by issue.
If someone says "the Nazis didn't kill so many Jews and had no plan for their systematic extermination", he is a distorter of history who deserves to be intellectually refuted and morally condemned, but not imprisoned. If, however, someone says "kill the Jews", or "kill the Muslims", or "kill the Americans", or "kill the animal experimenters", and points to particular groups of Jews, Muslims, Americans or animal experimenters, they should be met with the full rigour of the law. That's why, of all the recent high-profile cases where free speech has been at issue, that of the London-based hatepreacher Abu Hamza is the only one where I feel a criminal conviction was justified. Not because he was a Muslim rather than a Christian, a Jew or a secular European. No. Because he was guilty of incitement to murder. This is the line on which we must take our stand. Facing down intimidation, backed by the threat of violence, is the key to resisting the creeping tyranny of the group veto. Here there can be no compromise.
Do read the whole thing.

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