Respect the believer not the belief

Submitted by Anon on 2 March, 2006 - 8:44

Paul Anderson, writer, journalist and academic (from Tribune)

It’s clear that Jyllands-Posten was deliberately attempting to provoke a reaction when it decided to publish, and by some accounts it seems to have been motivated by a rather crude antipathy to Islam.

I also accept that the cartoons might offend Muslims either because they include images of the Prophet or because a few of them (though by no means all) ridicule aspects of their faith — the ban on depicting the Prophet, the vision of Paradise, the doctrine of jihad (holy war).

But… in the end, so what? Even if Jyllands-Posten’s provocation was gratuitous and unsophisticated — and I’m not convinced it was — it is entirely legitimate to ridicule religious belief. And much of Islam richly deserves ridicule. The same goes for Christianity, Judaism and every other religion. There is a long and distinguished tradition of ridiculing religion that goes back to the Enlightenment. And no one has the right not to be offended.

Which is not to say that Jyllands-Posten was right to publish the cartoons — just that it had a right to do so, and that that right is worth defending against the far-from-spontaneous expressions of Muslim outrage that swept the world last week…

The British press has also played a far from glorious role in the affair. No newspaper has republished the cartoons… The overwhelming majority of pundits and leader-writers opted for rambling on evasively about not pouring petrol on raging fires and the need to understand the depth of religious faith in the Islamic world.

This is not to suggest that secular democrats should abandon religious tolerance. Respect for the believer’s freedom to choose what he or she believes is another of the great legacies of the Enlightenment that deserves unconditional defence (against, among others, the most radical Islamists). But respect for the believer is not the same thing as respect for the believer’s belief. And if we can’t make it clear that this is a fundamental principle of our society, we’ve got a big problem.

Add new comment

This website uses cookies, you can find out more and set your preferences here.
By continuing to use this website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions.