Wednesday, 19 August 2009
Yale University Press & Freedom of Expression
Christopher Hitchen’s latest article for Slate entitled, “Why did Yale University Press remove images of Mohammad from a book about Danish Cartoons?’ is a well reasoned piece that points out some ominous facts that if left to run their course, will result in not only the watering down of the medias effectiveness, but further the erosion of free speech and open inquiry.
Cast your mind back to 2005 and the controversy surrounding the Danish newspaper Jylland Portem that hosted a competition for cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammad. This caused a media shit storm that reverberated around the world, consequently resulting in the deaths of at least one hundred people.
I thought this particular issue had been laid to rest, but recent events have placed it firmed back onto the political agenda. Yale University Press has decided to publish a book called “The cartoons that shook the world” by Danish –born Jytte Klausen, who is professor of politics at Brandeis University. It tells the story of the horrid and preplanned campaign of “protest” and boycott that was orchestrated in the closing months of that year. The publication will see the removal of the twelve original caricatures that caused the initial hysteria. On one hand, this could be seen as expedient maneuver considering the related murders and threats carried out by Muslim extremists; on the other hand, a question has to be asked:
How far can the religious push this kind of censorship, and where will it end?
We can already hear Mullahs in the West shouting from their minaret tops for the banning of innocuous children’s fairy tales like “The Tree Little Pigs” and nonsensically lambasting fictitious television character like Miss Piggy. Laughably, one of the twenty centuries most revered novels, George Orwell’s profound and powerful “Animal Farm” has been banned from Muslim curriculums because of the central character is a pig.
The decision taken by Yale University is a momentous blow to all who believe that free speech is necessary and healthy within a functioning modern society. As Hitchens states, “According to the Yale logic, violence could result from the showing of the images-and not only that, but it would be those who displayed the images who were directly responsible for that violence.” This kind of logic creates all kind of problems and complexities. In theory an individual or group could be seen as the aggressor and perpetrator when in actual fact, they were upholding their right to freedom of expression.
During the first calamitous episode in 2005, those vehemently against the cartoons exclaimed that they would result in the “instigation” of violence. As Hitchens points out, “If you instigate something, it means that you wish and intend it to happen. If it’s a riot, then by instigating it, you have yourself colluded in it.”
The ramifications of this type of misinformation prove to be fatal, as the religious continue on their sadistic and sectarian crusade, against rationality and secularism. This particular masochistic bending of the rules by the religious can not go on if we are to maintain a level of decency and modernity in our world. Media outlets and the population writ large must have the confidence to stand up to these socio-religious bully boy tactics.
Sam Harris, one of the spearheads within the so called, “New Atheist Movement” postulates that religion should not be given such an elevated position within society, as it is merely a belief system, on a par with political allegiance. By this assumption, religion is given an artificial position within our society; one that can and should be challenged.
Hitchens surmises about the possibility of his own life being threatened or put in danger by his high profile polemics. He imperiously states, “Who’s to say a homicidal theocrat won’t decide to be offended now. I deny absolutely that I will have instigated him to do so, and I state in advance that he is directly and solely responsible for any blood that is on his hands.”
I take my hat off to Mr. Hitchens, and feel like him, that it is time for the media and people to stop sound biting democracy, and face facts that there is an encroaching beast at work - organized religion, that is not content to keep its views private; but insidiously attempts to force them upon others.
One would think that the religious would be overjoyed with the fact that they have uncovered the truth and discovered the dark and wondrous secrets of life to which, the rest of us are ignorant, but this is not the case. The religious with their tele-evanjelist conmen and their apocalyptic Mullahs continue to peddle fear, lies and damnation to the credulous, playing on peoples’ innate fear of death, and need for simple answers to life’s difficult questions.
A lot of blood has been split in attaining things that we now take for granted, such as free speech, which has undoubtedly accelerated our development as a race, and enhanced the lives of millions of citizens. It’s important to remember these undeniable facts, and not let the zealots dilute the effectiveness of progress made.
The monotheisms written as they were, by men sitting round iron-age campfires, have little relevance today and their majestic mutterings now look frail under the microscope of modern science and philosophy. These ‘great’ religions were probably our first attempt at understanding the big questions in life, of which some still baffle people today; but the point is that out first attempt at philosophy, has now been overshadowed and overtaken by sober, rational inquiry.
Evidence and facts, have felt their way slowly to the mainstream, and there they will stay.
The Yale University happenings are not the way forward for a democratic society and set a macabre example to all those who want to further their own fraudulent agendas. As Hitchens concludes, “What a cause of shame that the campus of Nation Hale should have pre-emptively run up the white flag and then cringingly taken the blood guilt of potential assassins and tyrants upon itself.”
I will conclude by saying that we all have the right to free expression in any form, and Yale University Press has provided a copybook example of what can happen when rationality is pushed a side in favour of a capitulation to the demands of opportunistic dogmatists.