Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Fundamentalist Bullies Provoke Crisis Of The First Amendment



On CNN the other night Fareed Zakaria asked Salman Rushdie whether he thought CNN should have aired the anti-Islam video and shown the cartoon ridiculing Mohammed in the magazine Charlie Hebdoe.  Rushdie said yes, because CNN’s job is to report the news, not to censor it out of fear.

He said the First Amendment was the most important part of our western civilisation, and that the west should not be held hostage by fear of inflaming fundamentalist passion.  There have been plenty of cartoons, videos and films denigrating the Pope but Catholics don’t go on a killing spree about it.  Is that because they’re not really passionate about their religion?

Of course not.  Rushdie added that when one sees a stupid Youtube video, the healthy and normal response is to say it’s a stupid video and move on with your life.  And that deliberately inflaming people’s passion with it is about politics and power, which has nothing to do with religion.

It’s an old business, using religion as a guise to mobilize those prone to violence.  It’s a frightening business these days, when entitlement is so out of control.  I have found myself giving into the fear that fundamentalists prey on – if you do something don't we like we kill you.  Even Christiane Amanpour seemed pretty convinced that it was irresponsible to create and print the derogatory cartoon.

I wasn’t sure whether I agreed with her or not, or whether I thought it should have been aired.  But when Rushdie spoke, I realized that if you give in to the fundamentalist threat it’s a slippery slope.  Pretty soon you’re not reporting anything they do.  In case you inflame them more.  Here’s the truth, they’re inflammable.   And that kind of neurotic abuse of power doesn’t diminish when you kow-tow to it.  I admired Rushdie for his courage and solid good sense.

This situation reminds me of when I was a child.  A Catholic priest asked me what I would do if I was given a choice to denounce my faith or lose my life.  I was very clear about it, because I was already disenchanted with Catholicism.  I’d lie, of course.  But now, if I was given the option to support fundamentalism – by not criticizing violent criminal acts - or lose my life, it wouldn’t be such an easy choice.

Fundamentalists, regardless of their religion and whether they're from the Middle East or the West, are bullies with no respect for life, a lot of repressed anger looking for an outlet, and an exaggerated entitlement.  They seek to destroy freedom of speech.  Salman Rushdie was right.  The First Amendment is one of the most important rights we have in the west.  Give it up and you violate your soul.