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When Fear Trumps Reason


David Adams • Irish Times, 29 September 2006

Since publication of the Danish cartoons, and now more vociferously in the wake of Pope Benedict's comments on Islam, some sections of western opinion have argued that we must all show more respect for the religious beliefs of others. On the face of it, this sounds reasonable enough, but in a world of competing religions, it is an absurdity.

Am I expected, for example, to show respect for Pope Benedict's belief that, as a member of the Church of Ireland, I do not belong to a "proper" church but one suffering from "defects"? Similarly, are the adherents of religions other than Christianity to be respectful of his conviction that their faiths are "seriously deficient"?

It is not possible for any religious leader to articulate fully their sincerely held beliefs without being open to the charge of not respecting other faiths. It is impossible, therefore, for the rest of us to give equal respect to all religious views while at the same time recognising that, by definition, they do not entirely respect one another.

What we must do, of course, is defend a person's right to hold whatever religious convictions they like, but that is as far as it goes. There is not, nor can there ever be, any obligation to give value to the actual beliefs themselves, no matter how sincerely held.

As discussion around this issue has developed, it has become increasingly clear that what is actually being suggested is a limitation on freedom of expression where matters of faith are concerned.

If we entertain, for a moment, the fiction that this is meant to include all religions, then why should religious belief be elevated above, for example, political belief? Why should one type of sincere conviction be immune from public scrutiny and criticism, but not another?

Whether religious or not, once aired, all points of view must be open to public challenge, discussion, debate and even ridicule. How can we allow it to be otherwise?

In this part of the world, with first the Anglican and then the Roman Catholic churches, one does not have to look too far back to be reminded of the inevitable consequences of allowing any religion or its elites to be above question, scrutiny and accountability.

But, of course, it is not Christianity or most other religions that purveyors of the "more respect" line have in mind. What they are saying is that we should give special dispensation to just one religion, and refrain only from subjecting Islam to any public criticism. The supposed reason for this, is that we in the secular West cannot possibly understand how dearly held is the Muslim faith. Therefore, we are unable to comprehend the deep hurt and offence caused to its adherents by our questioning of their religion and what is being done in its name.

This is more nonsense designed to conceal an altogether different motive.

We are being asked to refrain from criticising Islam only because extremist Muslims have a tendency to wreak murderous retribution on those who dare question their religion. In essence, we are being asked not to challenge or criticise those who might do us harm - irrespective of what harm they have already done us.

This line of reasoning is as anti-Enlightenment as it is possible to get. If the great thinkers and leaders of the Enlightenment had adopted the same attitude, and avoided challenging those that were prepared to resort to violence, then we might still be struggling under the yoke of all-powerful and merciless religious institutions and their servants.

It is precisely those who are wreaking murderous havoc in the name of a religion that should be challenged. Particularly when barely a word of unqualified condemnation is emanating from Islamic leaders themselves, despite the vile and repulsive the acts that are being committed by their co-religionists.

We should not allow ourselves to be sidetracked, either, by the bloody history of Christianity being presented as some sort of "proof" that we employ double standards where Muslims are concerned.

The very fact that it is only by dredging the distant past that such examples can be found serves to highlight how far Christianity has come in comparison to Islam.

The freedom of expression that we are now being asked to set aside played a central role in dragging Christianity to this point.

Freedom of expression is not absolute - it is ring-fenced by rafts of defamation and anti-hate legislation to ensure it is not abused - nor am I aware of anyone arguing that it should be.

No responsible person deliberately denigrates anyone's beliefs just for the sake of it.

But neither the sensitivities of others nor the threat of violence should be allowed to push us into forgoing our freedom to criticise and protest.

If we submit to intimidation now, then the crazed fanatics that stalk the margins of all other religions will soon start employing the same methods to cow us into silence.

Reprinted with permission from the author.



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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.
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Index: Current Articles

2 October 2006

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Anthony McIntyre

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Lights Out
John Kennedy

Creating A Viable Alternative
Dr John Coulter

Teflon Kid
John Kennedy

When Fear Trumps Reason
David Adams

Stay Out of Neo-Con Mire
Mick Hall

Who really is the Biblical Anti Christ?
Dr John Coulter

Serving Judas, Not Justice
Anthony McIntyre

25 September 2006

DNA and Diplock: A Recipe for Injustice
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Carrots and Sticks
Dr John Coulter

The Time of My Life
Ray McAreavey

Hunger Strikers for Sale on Ebay
Breandán Ó Muirthile

Strange Logic
Anthony McIntyre

Digging Up the Past
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The History of the Belfast Anti War Movement
Davy Carlin

Federal Unionism—Early Sinn Fein: Article 11 & 12
Michael Gillespie

Federal Unionism—Early Sinn Fein: Article 13 & 14
Michael Gillespie

Lights Out
Anthony McIntyre

Papal in Glass Houses
Derick Perry

The GFA and Islam
Roy Johnston

Muhammad's Sword
Uri Avnery

We Are Not As Evolved As We Think
David Adams

Stone Me
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