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Defending Debate


Britain’s Labour Party continues with its plans to muzzle religious debate. The London Times’ Matthew Parris is not impressed:

“There is a huge danger at the centre of the thinking which grounds this measure. What counts as hateful depends very much on the sensitivities and tolerances of the complainant. As we never tire of reminding ourselves, you can get away with verbal aggression towards Christianity which would be considered unacceptable if directed towards Islam. It follows that the less tolerant any religious group is of criticism or mockery, the greater the protection the proposed new law will offer them. But these may be the very faiths or sects which ought to be confronted — confronted and attacked for the very intolerance and self-righteousness which, if this measure becomes law, will be adduced as evidence of their “sensitivity”. In the 1970s this used to be defined as “self-defined” oppression: the notion that it is for you to say what oppresses you. It is a nonsense.”

Parris also makes the vital point that religious controversy is not always polite, and nor should it be:

“Religion can oppress. I hate — yes hate — the sect and its followers who are stopping women in Saudi Arabia from voting. Religion can bully, it can cow, it can coerce. One of the ways it does so is by impressing upon its adherents the idea that none dare offend it, twit it or tweak its tail. Such sects or faiths cast a spell — cultural, even political, as well as theological — over their adherents. Such spells must be broken. A necessary weapon in the hands of those who would do so is ridicule, contempt and the power of real anger. Ask Voltaire: scorn, laughter, calumny and abuse are vital to those who confront bullies.”

Indeed they are.

But for a contrary view, we can turn to Madeleine Bunting in the Guardian:

“The clause on religious hatred lays down the kind of crucial boundary necessary for ordering relations in a multicultural society; as Muslim has become an increasingly important and visible political identity in this country, the state has an urgent responsibility to provide that boundary.

Free speech or multiculturalism? That’s the choice, it seems.


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