The freedom to think what you like, and to express those thoughts, whether in print, on film, in speech or art without fear of censorship, imprisonment, torture or death. That to me is what free speech means.
Why is this so hard for some religious people to understand? My advocacy of evolution, or of Atheism come to that, should hardly cause a believing Christian, Hindu, Jew, Muslim, Sikh or anyone else much heartache, other than perhaps regret that I may be punished at some future date by their respective deities.
In the space of barely seven days we have seen blood shed against a pretty bad film (by all accounts) that has offended some clerics in the middle east who have not seen this film. We have seen some christians in The Hebrides protesting that an award-winning evolutionary scientist and author is coming to their book festival in Lewis. And once again, a wealthy muslim fundamentalist organisation has put a bounty on the head of Salman Rushdie.
These despicable acts of repression have been met with hand wringing by those on the liberal left who still have the decency to object to the curtailment of our freedom of conscience, which is after all enshrined in the U.N. Human Rights Charter. Yet outside of novelists and media types, where are the big battalions of politicians willing to defend our right to be offended? Who will stand up for the individual who dares to say what they believe to be true, even if they are mistaken?
Politicians of left and right keep as quiet as the grave, not daring to say a word to power.
Defence of each of the three subjects does not mean that you agree with any of their arguments, or like their work, or want to invite them to tea. What it does mean is that you are willing to defend their and your right to liberty of thought. There is no argument that can be made for the fanatics and fundamentalists who, like wealthy libel lawyers, infest the earth with one purpose – to shut you up and keep you ignorant. No argument citing “cultural sensitivities’, “provocation”, “islamophobia” or “atheist fundamentalism” can hold any sway when the shedding of blood of people with absolutely NOTHING to do with film production takes place.
There is no justification valid under the Sun for any of the actions that have taken place – it is not “western imperialism”, “cultural imperialism” or any other such nonsense that idiots of the western far left and despotic clerics of the middle east parrot to stock outrage.
This is a sad state of affairs for anyone to observe. We need to be stressing that religious tolerance, a keystone of our society, in no way means a cowardly subservience to religion.