Thin-skinned religious zealots

Johann Hari wrote an article that said that many western institutions are knuckling under assault from religious fundamentalists. He pointed to the defacement of the United Nations' universal declaration of human rights as an example:

The UN's Rapporteur on Human Rights has always been tasked with exposing and shaming those who prevent free speech – including the religious. But the Pakistani delegate recently demanded that his job description be changed so he can seek out and condemn "abuses of free expression" including "defamation of religions and prophets". The council agreed – so the job has been turned on its head. Instead of condemning the people who wanted to murder Salman Rushdie, they will be condemning Salman Rushdie himself.

The Statesman, an Indian newspaper, reprinted his article (Indian newspapers often reprint American and British columns that the editors find to be of relevance to their readers: and this one's negative reference to a Pakistani probably qualified).

Incredibly enough, a bunch of Islamic hoodlums brought Calcutta to a standstill, and incredibly enough managed to get the editor and publisher arrested! What seems to have raised their pique is the end of the "offensive" article:
All people deserve respect, but not all ideas do. I don't respect the idea that a man was born of a virgin, walked on water and rose from the dead. I don't respect the idea that we should follow a "Prophet" who at the age of 53 had sex with a nine-year old girl, and ordered the murder of whole villages of Jews because they wouldn't follow him.

I don't respect the idea that the West Bank was handed to Jews by God and the Palestinians should be bombed or bullied into surrendering it. I don't respect the idea that we may have lived before as goats, and could live again as woodlice. This is not because of "prejudice" or "ignorance", but because there is no evidence for these claims. They belong to the childhood of our species, and will in time look as preposterous as believing in Zeus or Thor or Baal.


But a free society cannot be structured to soothe the hardcore faithful. It is based on a deal. You have an absolute right to voice your beliefs – but the price is that I too have a right to respond as I wish. Neither of us can set aside the rules and demand to be protected from offence.

Yet this idea – at the heart of the Universal Declaration – is being lost. To the right, it thwacks into apologists for religious censorship; to the left, it dissolves in multiculturalism. The hijacking of the UN Special Rapporteur by religious fanatics should jolt us into rescuing the simple, battered idea disintegrating in the middle: the equal, indivisible human right to speak freely.

If you followed it, he's insulted (in order): Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, conservatives and liberals -- it's a spirited argument, but not a prejudiced one. And of course it is offensive in the right sense of the word -- offended parties should feel welcome to make an equally spirited argument against know-it-all atheists.

It's a sad day for Indian freedom of expression that thin-skinned zealots could scrape away long-established rights and cause the arrest of editors and newspapermen for printing one side of a legitimate argument. Like the zealots rioting against a set of Danish cartoons, their rioting against this article just serves to prove Hari's point -- that we need to rescue the simple, battered idea that there is an equal, indivisible human right to speak freely.

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