Wednesday, February 22, 2006

February 2006: International Month of Offended Obscurantist Religions

Of course, as of now, there is not a single soul in this world who has not heard about the riots and deaths caused in protests on the publication of cartoons depicting Mohammed. This, however, has not been the only religion-fueled attack to free speech.

First, we also have Catholics in New Zealand urging to boycott an episode of South Park. In the episode, called Bloody Mary, a bleeding statue of the Virgin Mary plays a fundamental role. For those of you familiar to South Park humor, it is enough to say that the statue is not crying blood and it is not because of our sins.

Then, Hindus expressed deep offense about a French film, Les Bronzes 3 - Amis pour la vie. I have not seen the film, but it seems that it shows Goddes Durga carrying alcohol. According to the BBC article, the film is supposed to be a comedy, just like English Carry On films.

Finally, a historian has been jailed for 3 years in Austria for denying the Holocaust. This denial is deeply offensive to Jews. It seems that denying the Holocaust is punishable by law in 10 European countries. Read more here.

Of course there are some differences in regard to the method of these protests. Last time I saw something about the Muhammad cartoons, 10 persons were killed in Pakistan and 18 in Nigeria. Embassies were burnt and diplomatic relations strained. No such thing happened with either South Park or Bronzes 3. New Zealand is not burning the American embassy and has not called for the death of Trey Parker or Matt Stone. Also, neither the director nor the actor of Les Bronzes 3 has been jailed. The consequences, however, are the same for all: Self-censorship.

Now, it also seems that there huge double standards in place, here in Europe. When the protests for the cartoons started, it just prompted more newspapers to print them and allege free speech. When the historian was jailed, everybody just looked the other way, without even mentioning the right we have of say whatever we want, however stupid it may be. The Times is the only exception I am aware of. They have been encouraging a debate, which is always healthy. Kudos for them.

Denying the Holocaust is plain stupid, as we know it did happen. As a historian, the guy would probably starve. We have the testimony of survivors and concentration camps still standing, for everybody to see what happened there. So, I am not defending what the historian said. But I am defending his right to say so (remember Voltaire). In this day and age, I would suppose that we had enough evidence to show him wrong and prove his claims ludicrous without turning to medieval measures.

If supposedly advanced democracies start jailing people for saying things they do not like, are they really democracies? 'Fraid not. What guarantee we do have that we will not be jailed for saying other things? None. If we persecute people for saying what they feel like saying, how long will it be until we start burning books and people again?

It seems that we live in an age where obscurantism is taking all over again. Self-censorship is not free speech.

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