The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Freedom of Speech

Have alleged liberals and left-wingers become far more oppressive than the religious institutions they so distrust? - Breda O'Brien

Anthony McIntyre • 5 March 2006

Twelve people describing themselves as writers, journalists and intellectuals have published a manifesto. On its own and in other circumstances this would normally not amount to very much or attract more than local interest. It is consistent with the style of those who regard their vocation as primarily cerebral. Often their output is regarded or dismissed as 'academic.' On this occasion, they are not publishing some thesis which, after exciting a boffin here or there, will gather dust in some university library.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Chahla Chafiq, Caroline Fourest, Bernard-Henri Lévy, Irshad Manji, Mehdi Mozaffari, Maryam Namazie, Taslima Nasreen, Salman Rushdie, Antoine Sfeir, Philippe Val and Ibn Warraq are literally risking their lives by publishing their manifesto against totalitarianism. Most have had fraught relationships with Islamic fundamentalism. Some have faced extreme danger because of their beliefs. A fatwah was imposed on Salman Rushdie in response to his novel The Satanic Verses. Taslima Nasreen has been threatened with death many times because of the uncompromising stand she has taken against theocratic fascism. A fascist cleric in Pakistan, Maulana Yousaf Qureshi, has offered a $1m bounty to any taker prepared to slaughter any one of the cartoonists responsible. The fate of Theo Van Gogh in Amsterdam in November 2004, who was butchered because he worked on a film with one of the manifesto signatories, illustrates that such threats are not to be taken lightly.

Their manifesto has its origins in their individual and collective opposition to the orchestrated theocratic violence that has been inflicted upon people around the world in response to the publication of cartoons in the Danish newspaper, Jyllands Posten, depicting the prophet Mohammed. In their own words:

like all totalitarianisms, Islamism is nurtured by fears and frustrations. The hate preachers bet on these feelings in order to form battalions destined to impose a liberticidal and unegalitarian world … Islamism is a reactionary ideology which kills equality, freedom and secularism wherever it is present. Its success can only lead to a world of domination: man's domination of woman, the Islamists' domination of all the others. To counter this, we must assure universal rights to oppressed or discriminated people … We plead for the universality of freedom of expression, so that a critical spirit may be exercised on all continents, against all abuses and all dogmas.

These are strong words. They leave little room for ambiguity. Hopefully, they are the sentiments of all at the The Blanket. While the politics of some of these writers, journalists and intellectuals may be anathema to those of us who hail from a left tradition, their opposition to theocratic fascism should bind us to them in a common cause. If we believe in freedom of political expression over censorship, the light of reason over the darkness of religion, vibrant equality over rigid hierarchy, libertarianism over authoritarianism, fear alone should not dissuade us from standing beside the people behind the manifesto. There is no reason to adopt the St Peter stance and deny them for the sake of an easy life. There will be no easy life. The tank of religious totalitarianism will crush every secular value that enriches our lives and allows us to have a future for our children free from the dictat of the obscurantists.

The manifesto, Together Facing the New Totalitarianism, exhorts us to make a stand. Already the political class in Ireland is urging us to lie down. The country's president abdicated her ethical and intellectual responsibility when she told a segregated audience in Saudi Arabia that Ireland abhorred the publication of the cartoons. Who did she ask? Ireland has a thoroughly dishonourable tradition of censorship. The supposedly progressive Mary McAleese, through her Saudi address, in the dark spirit of Section 31 endorsed reaction and validated that tradition.

Mary McAleese does not speak for me. What I abhor is not the cartoons but the theocratic fascist murder and intimidation that followed their publication. Equally abhorrent is the capitulation of many who make a verbal commitment to free speech but roll over at the first sign of having to pay a price to protect the very freedom of that speech. The twelve advocates of enlightenment have placed themselves in the vanguard of resistance to censorship, thought police and mind control. Each of them, the cartoonists and all those who refused to back down on the matter in defence of secular values, are worthy of the support of those who have spent their lives in pursuit of freedom.

In the words of Fahrenheit 451 author Ray Bradbury:

There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches. Every minority, be it Baptist / Unitarian, Irish / Italian / Octogenarian / Zen Buddhist, Zionist/Seventh-day Adventist, Women's Lib/Republican, Mattachine/ Four Square Gospel feel it has the will, the right, the duty to douse the kerosene, light the fuse. Every dimwit editor who sees himself as the source of all dreary blanc-mange plain porridge unleavened literature, licks his guillotine and eyes the neck of any author who dares to speak above a whisper or write above a nursery rhyme.

Over the course of the next twelve issues, the Blanket, holding firm to its editorial commitment to freedom of speech and in support of and solidarity with the manifesto, will carry a profile of each of the signatories of the manifesto along with one of the cartoons their number represents.
















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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



There is no such thing as a dirty word. Nor is there a word so powerful, that it's going to send the listener to the lake of fire upon hearing it.
- Frank Zappa

Index: Current Articles

5 March 2006

Other Articles From This Issue:

MI5 and Omagh — The Bomb to End All Bombs?
John Hanley

MANIFESTO: Together Facing the New Totalitarianism

Freedom of Speech
Anthony McIntyre

The Parameters of Free Speech
David Adams

MI5 and the Stasi Syndrome
Dr John Coulter

Misrepresentation of the Republican Position Must Be Addressed
Francis Mackey

The Progressive Road
Mick Hall

Imperialism and National Revolution
How the Trotskyists got it wrong

Robert Clough

Nick Laird's Utterly Monkey
Seaghán Ó Murchú

No Dangerous Liaisons
Anthony McIntyre

The Letters page has been updated:

Remembering the Hunger Strikes

Sunday Times Responds

Rights and Responsibilities

The Whys

Images of the Dublin Riots
Carol Russell

28 February 2006

Gratefully Remembering
Eoghan O’Suilleabhain

Another Unjust Execution?
Maria McCann

Sinn Fein Be Warned - The Truth Will Out
Martin Ingram

Who Will Be Left?
Aoife Rivera Serrano

Irish Republican Socialists Show Solidarity with the Cuban Revolution
Willie Gallagher

Queens, New York City, Republicans decry Irish parliamentarian's inappropriate intervention on U.S. immigration bill
Patrick Hurley

Bush's Double Standard
Fr Sean Mc Manus

"Democratic Unionist Pharisees"
Dr John Coulter

A Society That Failed to Protect Its Children
Anthony McIntyre

Unreal Paradigms
Mike Marqusee

The Letters page has been updated:

Dublin Riots


Moon Man?

Independent Workers Union rejects Sunday Times allegation of involvement in Dublin riot
Noel Murphy



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