Saturday, May 28, 2005

The rage, the pride, the lawsuit

A few months ago, there was an attempt in the UK to bring in a law against 'incitement to religious hatred' (as opposed to 'racial' hatred). The law was dropped shortly before the election, but the Government still intends to re-introduce it. Apparently Rowan Atkinson has secured a commitment that comedians won't get prosecuted -- but how else could it be used?
An interesting indication is coming from Italy, where an Italian judge is allowing a lawsuit against journalist Orianna Fallaci (known in the US for The Rage and the Pride, her post 9/11 diatribe) to go ahead. She's being sued by a Muslim-Italian activist for passages in the Italian version of her 2004 book The Force of Reason which allegedly 'defamed' Islam. (The exact laws under which she is being prosecuted can be found here).
Some of the allegedly defamatory passages are factual statements that may or may not be true ("infibulation is the mutilation that the Muslims force on little girls to prevent them, once they are grown... from enjoying the sexual act. It is a female castration that the Muslims practice in twenty-eight countries of Islamic Africa and because of which two million persons die each year from sepsis or loss of blood...”), others are opinions about political realities I believe to be true ("...despite the massacres through which the sons of Allah have bloodied us and bloodied themselves for over thirty years, the war that Islam has declared against the West... is a cultural war... they kill us in order to bend us. To intimidate us... Their goal is not to fill cemeteries. Not to destroy our skyscrapers... It is to destroy our soul, our ideas. Our feelings and our dreams. It is to subjugate the West once again"), and some are genuinely offensive generalizations ("... Islam is a pond. And a pond is a trough of stagnant water... it is never purified... it is easily polluted, like a watering hole for livestock of little value").
Clearly, the line between the three categories is thin and what belongs where depends on who you're asking. The point is, however, that the law is being used to stop not only genuinely and clearly 'defamatory' statements, but strong opinions which people must have the freedom to express, although some may very well find them offensive. Indeed, allowing people to debate the nature of the acts of terror carried out by Muslims against the West or to debate the impact of a large Muslim presence in Europe is crucial to a free society and to our future.
I personally would prefer to live in a society where people can voice important concerns about a Muslim war on the West but are also allowed to call Islam 'a pond... never purified... easily polluted,' than a society in which no one can say anything at all because they're afraid of prosecution. Dealing with 'defamatory' statements is a cultural problem, and not a legal/criminal problem (as opposed to actively discriminating or inciting to violence). And I would say the same if Fallaci's book concerned Jews, not Muslims. Indeed, at least one of the passages she is coming under fire for concerns Jews:
“…halal butchery is barbarous” just as “shechita butchery is barbarous. That is, the Jewish version which is carried out in the same way and consists of slitting the animals’ throats without dazing them.”
-- Not nice, but surely not a case for prosecution.
In short, such laws are going to be increasingly used to stifle all debate about issues which are crucial to the future of Western civilization in the name of 'political correctness.' I hope Tony Blair's taking note.

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