Saturday, September 24, 2005

Blasphemy Laws, Free Speech, Orianna Fallaci

I was reading Irfan Husain's column in Dawn, where this week's article, Things Better Left Unsaid, refers to (and quotes from) Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's 1972 interview with Oriana Fallaci, the famous Italian journalist. The article makes the point that good outcomes are often spoilt by politicians saying too much.

The article made me wonder about Oriana Fallaci, and I came across another article about her,
Oriana in Exile, which raises an even more vital issue, the future of free speech in the West. Written by Christopher Orlet, whom I have never read before, and who, on cursory research, appears to be a strong supporter of the Iraq war, and an admirer of Ann Coulter and Christopher Hitchens, the article brings up the seldom mentioned advent of political correctness, both vis-a-vis religion in general and Islam in particular. This can be said to have stared with the Satanic Verses, and given a grotesque shape by 9-11 and 7/7. As Orlet says, blasphemy laws of the medieval times are either back in full strength or close to being back.

Indeed, the only safe ecclesiastical criticism, more especially humor, in Western society any more is aimed at either Christianity or Judaism (in Eastern societies in general, public humor is so fraught with taboos that it is moot to discuss in this context). I was watching an episode of the Simpsons some weeks back. It was full of satirical remarks about Catholicism and Judaism. I wondered whether biting humor about Islam, Sikhism, or Hinduism would be tolerated by societies where these communities were in a majority or were powerful. Fallaci, as the title of Orlet's article indicates, is in exile from Italy for her last book in which she made no secret of her poor view of Islam.

The irony of it all is that to spread free civil society to the Middle East, Europe and America are turning into cloistered images of that same society they set out to change, as observed in Niranjan Ramakrishnan's Who's Transforming Whom? and Little Minds and Large Empires).

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