On the freedom to write and draw

January 8, 2015

Reflecting on the dreadful events yesterday in Paris:

It seems to me that the more ‘civilised’ we become, freedom to becomes more important than freedom from; I’ve mentioned this idea in previous posts. There’s no need to enumerate all those who have suffered and died for asserting the freedom to think/ say/ write what they liked/ felt/ believed. Tyrannical regimes allot no special place at all to writers and creative artists: I don’t know why I was shocked when I found out that the writer Irene Nemirovsky was killed at Auschwitz, a faceless murder among millions of others…

The notion of ‘the sacred’ is a complex one; many people and things are sacred (whatever that may mean) to millions of people; if one feels – as an atheist, perhaps – that one has gone beyond such stuff, has left religion behind, as superstition or whatever, then that person perhaps also leaves behind their understanding of how someone or something can have that special meaning and significance to others. Another step on, and perhaps that person (unwittingly?) permits her or himself to be offensive towards something that others revere…

To question, to discuss, to analyse religion, as a believer or not, is surely permissible, as long as there is respect for what some hold sacred. To mock, insult or degrade a religion is a different matter, for me, at least: it’s a much greyer area and though I may not understand a particular aspect of a faith, I think I must recognise others will think differently. We come up against an old question: how far does freedom of speech extend?

Yes, that’s a typical Western bourgeois liberal approach, perhaps… but what else should one do? The old adage about sticks and stones is true, and religions that have survived centuries or millennia are not about to vanish because of a few cartoons. But this I do believe: to kill and slaughter in the name of a religion is not acceptable; killing has nothing to do with religion; killing is killing.

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