I have to say, I was slightly disappointed by the type of comments my inaugral Comment is Free post received. Most people only wanted to discuss the extreme anti-free speech attitude of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference:
perklet: What you’re really asking is, “How do I deal with someone who insults my imaginary friend?”
Happytobeasocialist: Who is insulting them? I find religions and their reactionary, bigoted, backward, and misogynistic beliefs offensive. So where is my redress?
In many cases, it seemed as if the commentators were criticising me for being too religious, or for supporting religious defamation – which of course I don’t. I was, however, trying to empathise with the religious, which seemed to sow confusion.
This from ishouldapologise was more substantial.
Yes, point taken. But, in fact if you had been a little more awake Robert Sharp, and as on your toes as you imply, then you would know and refer to the many spin off Guardian blogs that have been created to do precisely what you say. To disagree with things that were said on the Guardian and to express themselves the way they feel like doing so.
Google is your friend.
Well, yes and no. There are many projects like Islam is Peace which are online attempts to counter negative propaganda. But in my travels around the web I couldn’t find anything to match Theatre J for really grabbing the offensive thing and creating with it. My point was not so much that people should use the web, but rather, they should respond in the same medium as the offending piece. So, a theatrical response to Behzti, for example. If there are examples out there, I couldn’t find the right search terms on Google to harvest them, and would welcome further examples.
Later, imogenblack offers this:
Its just dawned on me that this guy is encouraging extreemists to use the net to air thier views… its hillarious… drivel, but hillarious.
Not quite, Imogen. In the first instance, I am encouraging extremists to use the net to air their views, but only as an alternative to legislating against freedom of speech. I think this is pretty uncontroversial, but its a point needs airing.
Second, I’m not really talking to the extremists, who (let’s be honest) are not really interested in freedom of expression, on the net or otherwise. I am talking to more moderate adherents. To repeat a point I made in the comments at CiF, its possible to be religious, to be offended and distressed by certain “denigration of religious persons” and yet still engage with the insult in some non-violent, constructive way. To the commenters at CiF, it seems, this point is lost: For them, to be religious is by definition to be an extremist and an unworthy partner in dialogue. I don’t share that point of view, for both idealistic and practical reasons.
On reflection, I think my main mistake in the post was not to elaborate on this:
However, when religion comes under attack, the alienation and marginalisation felt by believers is real. How can they achieve redress for a perceived offence, without resorting to censorship, or its kid brother, the boycott?
I think the word ‘perceived’ does the heavy lifting here, but that may have been lost in the sea of words. When I talk of “redress”, I am not advocating that the faith groups be somehow compensated for the defamation of their religion. That way, madness and intolerance lies. Rather, I just mean a form of psychological redress. A catharsis. A satisfying opportunity to speak out, talk back, Have Your Say. If we are going to mock and insult religion, then the least we can do is to grant those who are hurt by our words a platform to say “I am upset by what you say, and here’s why.” If we do not see that as valuable, then we are no better than those who suppress freedom of expression in the name of their religion.