Rethinking Salman Rushdie
We are able to condemn Salman Rushdies attacker without celebrating Rushdie.
If someone insults your mother, you clock him. As a guy, at the very least, theres really nothing else that you can do. It could not be strictly legal, but its perfectly honorable. Conversely, in the event that you dont need to get clocked, dont insult anyones mother. Legally, he might be in the incorrect. Morally, though, hes right.
Free speech has limitslegal, yes, but additionally moral. You cant shout fire in a crowded cinema without legal consequences, and you also cant rip on someones mom without needing to square up.
Salman Rushdies novel The Satanic Verses didnt violate the legal limits of free speech. But, as even his staunchest defenders will admit, it had been deliberately insulting to Islam. Though Rushdie now calls himself a hardline atheist, he was created to a Muslim family in Mumbai, a city with a big Muslim minority. He knew what he was doing. He knew he was offending the deepest convictions of two billion Muslims all over the world. He wasnt offering a smart critique of these faith. He was mocking it. Thats not incidental to the book. For Rushdies biggest fans (like Christopher Hitchens), its area of the appeal.
No, he didnt deserve to be stabbed the other day. Which should go without saying. But getting stabbed doesnt make him a hero, either. On the other hand. Rushdie is really a first-rate wordsmith, but an extremely banal blasphemer. His treatment of Islam was shallow and flippant, and Muslims have every to be angry with him. Weren’t obliged to lionize him because some have overreacted so terribly.
It feels a little low causeing this to be argument only a few days following the attack. Id prefer never to ensure it is at all. But when the news headlines broke, libertarian pundits began attempting to canonize Mr. Rushdie as a full time income martyr free of charge speech.
At National Review, Charles Cooke issued an ultimatum: You either support free speech or you dont. In accordance with Cooke,
Certainly, individuals who dont have confidence in free speech have different known reasons for their opposition: They would like to protect peoples feelings or even to aid public virtue; they believe the religion they have confidence in is too important; they fear the results of bad people hearing bad words. But, really, who cares? The main question is if we are to possess a clerisy of individuals who, via direct violence (murder, acid) or indirect violence (government) can easily tell everybody else what they could or might not say.
If any fundamentalist Muslims eventually read Cookes blog, Im sure theyre duly chastened and wont repeat. But think about ordinary people? What exactly are we likely to take away out of this argument? That anyone who doesnt uncritically support Rushdie is cut from exactly the same cloth as Ayatollah Khomeini.
Later, Cooke mentions the Charlie Hebdo shooting of 2015. The comparison is apt, however, not for the reason why he thinks. The magazines offices were targeted by radical Muslims over their crude, satirical drawings of Mohammed. Twelve people died in the attack, while eleven more were injured.
And that which was the idea of everything? For what cause did those twelve give their lives? The solution is, insulting Muslims. Speaking to the press following the attack, Charlie Hebdos editor said they might continue mocking the faith until Islam is simply as banal as Catholicism. Thats it. But dying for an underlying cause doesnt ensure it is right, and Charlie Hebdo doesnt have even a cause. They provide offense with regard to being offensive. How tragic.
Likewise, the truth that someone tried to kill an author doesnt make that author’s books worthwhile. To many people, I believe, that’s just good sense. But apparently, Douglas Murray disagrees. He thinks we ought to react to the attempt on Rushdies life by reading The Satanic Verses. The illiterate can’t be permitted to dictate the guidelines of literature, he writes. The enemies of free expression can’t be permitted to quash it.
The point of a novel isnt free expression. Anyone can express himself by putting words on a bit of paper. Thats why teenaged girls keep diaries. Literature must desire to something more. And the irony is that none of the tributes to Rushdie explain just what makes him an excellent novelist. Reading them, you have no idea whether theres anything good or true or beautiful in The Satanic Verses. Whatever you can glean is that it pissed off a lot of Muslims in the ’80s.
Since it happens, nearly all Muslimshowever pissed offhave taken care of immediately The Satanic Verses quite peacefully. Yet folks like Charles Cooke and Douglas Murray dont provide them with credit for practicing free expression. Why? Because theyre just so earnest. Making fun of peoples religion is cool; getting offended when someone mocks your religion is square.
This is exactly what Rushdies champions are actually getting at. Whatever Cooke may say, most critics of The Satanic Verses dont think the book ought to be banned or its author beheaded. They’re saying that humans ought to be more respectful of every others convictions. Religion shouldnt be treated as something banal. Art shouldnt be flippant.
They are moral judgements; also, they are literary criticisms.
And theyre perfectly fair. If Evelyn Waughs Brideshead Revisited ended with Charles Ryder still mocking the Flyte familys Catholicism, it could fail as a novelnot because Catholicism holds true (though it really is), but because mocking other peoples religion is childish. And its own boring. It doesnt lead to good art.
Rushdies defenders obviously dont value his literary merits, though. It has nothing in connection with art and everything regarding politics. They only value free speech. They reduce The Satanic Verses to a propaganda piece. This does a disservice to Rushdies craft. It misses the complete point of literature. In addition, it undermines the reason for free speech.
Aside from libertarian ideologues, nobody really believes that expressions ought to be treated as equals. Most folks arent ready to divide humanity between Rushdie fanboys and Khomeini acolytes. We are able to condemn violent extremism without endorsing a frivolous nihilism. We are able to support the proper to free speech while urging our countrymen to exercise that right more responsibly.
We are able to, and we have to. Because, if we dont, this might turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Cooke tells Rushdies critics they could as well link up with the Ayatollah; the difficulty is, eventually they could believe him. Give people a selection between violent extremism and frivolous nihilism & most of these will pick the former. Actually, they are already.
This is actually the problem with libertarian conservatives. Their deepest loyalties are to legal abstractions. If someone insults your mom (or your God), they expect one to shake his hand and cry, I might not trust everything you say, but Ill defend to the death your to say it!
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This is why Russell Kirk described J.S. Mill, that a lot of classic of classical liberals, as a defecated intellect. In fact it is why they’re more threatening than violent extremists, even violent Islamic extremists. Since when a guy is ready to fight for his God (or his mom), this means he loves something a lot more than himself. He could do terrible things in the name of this love. His heart could be in the incorrect place. But at the very least hes got a heart. What do the classical liberals have? Theories. White papers. A brain in a vat.
I dont want the type of freedom Rushdies supporters are providing, and neither in the event you. It erases any distinction between beauty and ugliness, between good and evil, between truth and lies. It’s the enemy of poetry, art, music, romance, community, worshipof precisely what makes us human. It’s the freedom to scoff and sneer, to never love or hate. Even though it could keep us safe from death, it offers us no reason to call home.
Natural rights do exist. But only because so does human nature. If we disregard the latter, we have been sure to reduce the former. If we force men to select between liberty and loyalty, most will choose loyalty. So, it is possible to write endless blogs insisting on your own First Amendment to insult other peoples mothers. But in the event that you make an effort to exercise that right, you will get clocked.