Fundamentalist Islam and freedom of speech

Re-posted after accidental deletion…

Those who find the truth of human evolution repugnant (“I’m not descended from a monkey!”) can never be persuaded that evolution is a scientific fact. All the proof in the world will never be enough to convince them. They’ll create their own strange alternative universe in their head: a conspiracy theory in which scientists the world over have fabricated fossil evidence, carbon dating (and other radioactive isotope) data, DNA and RNA trees, …

Personally, I find it incomprehensible that anyone could read Richard Dawkins’ The Greatest Show On Earth : The Evidence for Evolution, and still deny that evolution occurs. But of course, those who deny evolution aren’t going to be reading Dawkins. Or Stephen Jay Gould’s magnum opus, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory. And if they did, they’d simply assert that Dawkins and Gould are (or, in Gould’s case, were) a part of the grand conspiracy. Evidence schmevidence. There is no logic that can be brought to the table.

To be truly religious, one needs a blind, unshakeable faith. I know a fair few truly religious people. For the most part, we coexist pretty happily – I try not to convert them, they try not to convert me, and all is good. We try not to be offensive to each other. (Mind you, I haven’t always been like that, as my wife loves to remind me…)

But here’s the thing. The Quran, the holy book of Islam, contains over a hundred verses that call Muslims to war with nonbelievers. Muslims who don’t join the fight are threatened with Hell. Of course, the majority of Muslims choose to interpret their holy book in a different way, just as most Christians ignore or reinterpret the more insane and/or genocidal parts of the Old Testament. Unfortunately, the fundamentalists who gunned down the staff of Charlie Hebdo don’t believe in watering down the Quran. Non-believers are to be put to the sword, as in fact are moderate Muslims, for they too are sinners.

For Islamic fundamentalists, there can be no such thing as free speech. A cartoon that mocks Islam or its prophet can only be punished with violence. It’s a war with the fundamental ideals of the West.

So what of Charlie Hebdo? The magazine and its editors and contributors have been accused of bigotry and intolerance by many. And at face value, many of their cartoons seem decidedly bigoted and intolerant. Nonetheless, I can’t read or speak French, so I don’t know whether there’s important context or subtext that I’m missing. At any rate, a great deal of their cartoons that I’ve seen online seem decidedly tasteless, at the very least. (For a defence of Charlie Hebdo, follow this link.)

However, it shouldn’t need to be said that no one should ever be executed on the grounds of taste. And even if Charlie Hebdo’s content was bigoted and intolerant, it also shouldn’t need to be said that bigotry and intolerance aren’t grounds for execution either.

Religion is an idea, and any idea should be able to be defended in debate. These fundamentalists are attempting, through violence, murder and intimidation, to suppress a contest of ideas. And for that reason – regardless of whether Charlie Hebdo’s publications were tasteless, bigoted and intolerant – the offending cartoons should be reprinted around the world, to show that those who seek to spread their ideas through violent means will never win.

2006 Charlie Hebdo cartoon: "Muhammad overwhelmed by fundamentalists".

2006 Charlie Hebdo cartoon: “Muhammad overwhelmed by fundamentalists”.

2011 response to the firebombing of the Charlie Hebdo offices.

2011 response to the firebombing of the Charlie Hebdo offices.

"I'm the Prophet, moron!" "Shut up, infidel!"

“I’m the Prophet, moron!”
“Shut up, infidel!”

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