71 replies

  1. Je suis entièrement d’accord avec vous

  2. He also said: ‘We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation’. (‘Nous nous tournons vers l’Écosse pour trouver toutes nos idées sur la civilisation’).

    • Yep that was then when Scotland looked outwards and had great minds at work, not now! The parochial nationalists are now the establishment wallowing and making an industry out of blaming everyone else for their lack of industry and ideas.

      • ??? what are you talking about UKIP? Or the general right wing movement of the Westminster parties?

      • No doubt, Alison, you’ll be proud we in North Britain can still produce intellectual giants like Jim Murphy, John McTernan and Kezia Dugdale.

      • It’s no coincidence that the Scottish Enlightenment took place when most of the aristocrats, politicians, and parliamentarians moved out of the country following the dissolution of the Scottish parliament, which allowed the scientists, doctors, intellectuals, philosophers and engineers to take control. It all went to pot when the aristocrats moved back in.

      • Then let Scotland be free, free to either wallow in our own pish or free to establish a thriving, freethinking and innovative country: run by Scots for Scots. Why hold on to a nation that blames everyone else for their lack of industry and ideas? What can be the attraction or advantage in having to continually subsidise, in every way, a lame duck? BTW Scotland looked outwards and had great minds at work because it actively pursued free education throughout. What contribution do you make to an outward looking Scotland apart from commenting here about parochial nationalists and their issues?

      • Alison

        What the nationalists (small n) want is independence to create the environment u suggest we should dream of.

        In fact they are doing a fine job with the hand out pocket money given by imperial london masters.

        On the other hand the Nationalist (capital N) westminster parties – red tories, blue tories, liberal tories and ukip tories – have a suspicious view of immigration. We should be wary of them.

        One thing u can be certian of..
        The nationalists (small n) have Scotlands interests at heart.

        They work hard and have lots of ideas about making this place we live in better for *all* of us.

        Our place can reach a higher potential with demicracy closer to home and the people who live here managing our own affairs.

    • A quote that seems to be apocryphal, it doesn’t appear in his works (rather like the one by Ghandi, “first they fight you…” etc).

    • He was taking the piss.

  3. “the best of all possible responses” eh Greg?
    Thank you for this good work.

  4. Non, je suis Charlie!

  5. Reblogged this on lopesjaque22.

  6. Excellent, Greg, simply excellent.

  7. Freedom without responsibility isn’t real freedom, it’s just self- indulgence.

  8. Voltaire also wrote a play called Mahomet – it wasn’t just the Catholic church he took aim at:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahomet_(play)

    Napoleon wasn’t happy with Voltaire’s treatment of Mohammed, considering that he’d degraded one of history’s “great men.”

  9. This is a powerful and beautifully drawn piece of work. At one level, the point it makes is irrefutable. At another level, the position is more complex. I too am concerned for freedom of speech and with that, concerned for those with roots in countries like Algeria that have been brutally colonised by the west, subjected to deep racism, and those whose countries – including Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria – owe their instability in no small part to multiple western interventions of which most western voters would be hard pressed even to sketch the histories, such is our selective amnesia. As a Christian, a Quaker, I feel for both the cartoonists and the Muslim Ummah (community) at this time. I feel especially for the powerless amongst the latter, shamed at what has been perpetrated in the name of a religion whose name, Islam, means “peace”, and frightened for their own safety with the prospect of mindless reprisals and compounded racism embittering their kids.

    I would therefore like to share from an email just received from Rabbi Michael Lerner in America who edits the wonderful progressive Jewish magazine, Tikkun. His comment is entitled: ‘Mourning the Parisian “Humorists”‘ Yet Challenging the Hypocrisy of Western Media.’ Michael writes, and all that follows is quotation:

    “… when the horrific assassinations of 12 media people and the wounding of another 12 media workers resulted in justifiable outrage around the world, did you ever wonder why there wasn’t an equal outrage at the tens of thousands of innocent civilians killed by the American intervention in Iraq or the over a million civilians killed by the U.S. in Vietnam, or why President Obama refused to bring to justice the CIA torturers of mostly Muslim prisoners, thereby de facto giving future torturers the message that they need not even be sorry for their deeds (indeed, former Vice President Cheney boldly asserted he would order that kind of torture again without thinking twice)?

    “So don’t be surprised if people around the world, while condemning the despicable acts of the murderers in Paris and grieving for their families and friends, remain a bit cynical about the media-circus surrounding this particular outrage while the Western media quickly forgets the equally despicable acts of systematic murder and torture that Western countries have been involved in.

    “… there is a deeper level in which the discourse seems so misguided. As Tikkun editor-at-large Peter Gabel has pointed out, there is no recognition in the media of the dehumanizing way that so much of the media deals with whoever is the perceived threatening “other” of the day…. The media has refused to even consider what it would mean to a French Muslim, living among Muslims who are economically marginalized and portrayed as nothing but terrorists, their religious garb banned in public, their religion demeaned, to encounter a humor magazine that ridiculed the one thing that gives them some sense of community and higher purpose, namely Mohammed and the religion he founded.

    “To even raise this kind of question is to open oneself up to charges of not caring about the murdered or making excuses for the murderers. But neither charge is accurate. I fear those fundamentalist extremists just as much as I fear the Jewish extremists who have threatened my life and the Christian extremists who are now exercising power over the U.S. Congress. Every form of violence outrages and sickens me.

    “Yet the violence is an inevitable consequence of a world which systematically dehumanizes so many people who are made to feel powerless and despairing and deeply depressed about the possibility of finding the milk of human kindness anywhere. The representation of evil dominates the media, and becomes the justification for our own evil acts. And that evil is made possible because so many among us avert our eyes and shut our ears to the cries of the oppressed.”

    • “perpetrated in the name of a religion whose name, Islam, means “peace”,”

      A common misconception, salam is the Arabic for peace (e.g. the common greeting: As-salamu “alaykum”, peace be upon you).

      “from Arabic islam, literally “submission” (to the will of God), from root of aslama “he resigned, he surrendered, he submitted,” causative conjunction of salima “he was safe,” and related to salam “peace.”

      http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=Islam

      • That’s fair comment, but only up to a point, Crubagan. The word seems to be surprisingly recent, 1613 according to the OED, even as late as 1818 in its sense of “the Moslem world”. “Islam” is, however, cognate with “salam” meaning “peace”, whilst at the same time encompassing a considerable richness as to what such peace means and how it is attained.

      • Ps – the above said, Crubagan, I’m left thinking that I should have acknowledged your point more wholesomely, since what I wrote was jumping one step ahead from the word itself to the etymology behind the word. Perhaps, at the risk of being pedantic, I should have expressed it with more nuance? That acknowledged, did you have any view on what I quoted from Lerner?

      • Hello,

        Islam might only be of recent in English usage – it’s been used in the Quran from the beginning (e.g. 6:125). Salam and Islam have a common root (S-L-M submit/conform/sincerity/humility/salutation/peace) but the term Islam does not mean peace. Wiki has a good, basic explanation.

        Lerner? I think he isn’t familiar with religious texts. If he’s upset by what cartoonists draw, and thinks that can lead to (justifiable? or at least explicable, violence) he should check out some of the religious traditions in Islam, Christianity and Judism, and indeed what they have had to say about the “other.”

        Not that pantheists are all plain-sailing – do you think Voltaire’s “Mahomet” should be published?

    • To fear Jewish, Christian and Islamic extremists sums up the terror that these primitive beliefs have caused over the centuries.
      I fear the men and women who dictate that they are the sole intermediary between man and “god” and use fairy stories from “divine” books to manipulate the minds of the faithful.
      Whether Pope or priest, imam or ayatollah or rabbi, these are the real people to fear.

  10. Alison Brown -“Yep that was then when Scotland looked outwards ”

    So a country can only be outward looking if it’s government is outwith it’s borders? Is this your answer to everything. As part of the UK we are outward looking, independent we would be narrow bigots. It’s back to the old British Nationalism = Good – Scottish = Bad. Just listen to yourself Alison you would think there was no other model than the failed UK. Wee countries Denmark insular,Eire insular,Norway insular,Poland insular, Finland insular,Sweden insular,Switzerland insular…Big countries USA outward looking, Russia outward looking , UK, China.

    You see where you are going wrong Alison. You insult every small independent nation and favour large states. Why. Because you are ignorant and disrespectful. shame on you.

  11. The oft misused word here is Islamophobia. A phobia is an irrational fear of something, like heights or spiders or snakes. There are those who do not like this religion because they see it as aggressive, intolerant, murderous, misogynistic and illiberal. There are at least 15 countries in the world where there is a lot of evidence that this is the case.

    OK, I know the guy down your local paper shop, by and large, isn’t like that but there are millions of people who support the practices of the Jihadis (those who wage war), Salafists, Wahhabis and general takfiris. There were around 7000 terrorist incidents last year and more than 90% were carried out by the above-mentioned groups/organisations.

    Whether we like it or not political Islam is a big threat in the world today and I appeal to western liberals/’socialists’ to stop ignoring this issue whilst concentrating on their pat hates of Israel and the US. The events in Gaza and the West Bank, whilst bad, pale into insignificance compared to what’s going on in Syria and Iraq, for example. The numbers prove it: 2000 dead in Gaza, 250,000 dead and 10 millions refugees in Syria.

    Israel may have committed atrocities in the past but they usually have to suffer a shower of Hamas rockets before they respond, and they are nothing compared to the dreadful human rights abuses carried out by Assad’s forces, the Al Nusra Front and the execrable IS. Start criticising them, all you care about Human Rights.

  12. It’s hilarious that a point about universal rights instantly decends into tribal squabbling; guess that’s free speech. I wonder what Voltaire would have made of the indyref?

  13. Eh, what tribe are you referring to, Bernie?

  14. Gonzalo. I made the point in another post that all religions were born from cults. A religion only stops being a cult when it is widely accepted and enough people follow it. You are correct about Islam being a threat. However I believe all religions are bad in some way or another. The main thing they teach is indoctrination at an impressionable age, intolerance whether soft or hard intolerance, feelings of superiority , fear, false worship, segregation..What’s not to love about religion.

    Ultimately it’s an antiquated hangover from the dark ages before laws and law enforcement was established.

  15. Panglossian perhaps? – niavely optimistic, blind to realities, that no other state except the best possible outcome is assumed, yak yak yaking all the time?

  16. I couldn’t disagree with you more Alastair. I understand the need to walk in someone else’s shoes before you judge them. And I understand the need to ensure that our politicians and our leaders strive to act with integrity and compassion. But I am not going to shoulder the burden of guilt of these murderers. The world is not to blame for these murders. You are not to blame and I am not to blame and our neighbours are not to blame.

    The media is not to blame for the fact that some news in the world goes unreported or unread. Do you read everything that is reported on the BBC news website everyday? Can you name all the 195 countries of the world, can you put them on a map, do you know the names of their capitals, their heads of state, do you know the state of their economies, their health care system, their religious values, their concern for human rights? Of course not. We are not responsible for the whole world. To imagine that we are is a hangover of the very colonialist arrogance that you blame for all the current misfortunes of the world today. We are not responsible for things we cannot know and cannot change. We are responsible for our own corner of the world and how we interact with others. And, luckily for us, we live in a corner of the world which is not systematically bad.

    I teach in a school where our universal human rights are taught year in year out. My pupils could list them for you and explain perfectly what they mean. Those rights are observed in our school and in our community, throughout Scotland, Britain and the whole of Europe. They are wonderful rights, drawn up to enable all of us to live with dignity and peace and harmony. They are the same rights which mean that people can wear their ‘religious garb’ with fair and reasonable modifications to enable individual recognition, to believe what they wish, to be treated fairly and with dignity. Yes there are wars and those wars are awful for all concerned and no, some of those wars are not justifiable. Some of those wars are indeed a reflection of the inappropriate desire to take responsibility for things we are not responsible for. And there are individuals who do not respect the rights of others, for sure. But the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo did not promote war or support war. Nor did they take away anyone’s rights.

    There is a right to freedom of speech and because of that fundamental right, some of us may sometimes be offended by what others say. So be it. It is not such a great harm. My pupils know that they have rights to be listened to, to be treated with respect, but also that they have no automatic right to be liked or agreed
    with or to have anyone do exactly what they want. The cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo drew cartoons which were poking fun at people who they thought were acting out of turn, who were taking themselves and their own ideas too seriously. They had a right to do that. They harmed no one. Some people chose to take offense. That is their choice and they are perfectly free to feel offended. They have the right to complain, to argue for a change in the law. But they don’t have a right to take away other people’s rights. And when they do, no one else is responsible for their actions. On Wednesday morning, two idiotic, arrogant fools got up in the morning to take away the rights of others. For that there is no justification, no explanation. We don’t need any more apologists for murderers. We don’t need to assume responsibility for others. We just need to take responsibility for ourselves and, in this case, to lay responsibility precisely where it lies, at the feet of people who would oppress others and deny them all manner of human rights, even the right to life itself.

    • Elspeth M – not forgetting Afghanistan, Iraq, and antecedents, please see the more recent article on Bella by Ruari Sutherland, “Liberté, égalité, and Fraternité is hypocrisy in our Racist Culture.” I quote:

      “The grotesque parodic images of hook­nosed Jews and Muslims peddled by journals like Charlie Hebdo are all too familiar to me from my work and these caricatures have been put to use by racists for decades in order to dehumanise their subjects and reproduce unequal relations of power. I frequently come across such images in far right web forums which serve to goad Muslims and position them as ‘the intolerant other’ when they protest.”

      • Alastair,

        I feel that you have missed my point entirely – which suggests that perhaps I didn’t make it very well.

        Firstly, Afghanistan, Iraq and its antecedents. I’m not quite sure what you meant by this, but I am guessing it has to do with responsibility. Am I, are you, are we responsible for Afghanistan and Iraq? Well, although our soldiers went to war in someone else’s name than mine, yes, I am still equally responsible for the terrible things that were done in our joint name, for sure. But whatever wrongs (and rights) were inflicted in our name in Afghanistan and Iraq, none had anything to do with the decision of two cruel young fools to kill the journalists of Charlie Hebdo. They made those decisions on the basis of their appallingly cruel and unjust political ideology. They may have justified their cruelty to themselves on the basis that unjust things have happened to others in the world, but that doesn’t make them right or me responsible.

        Secondly, racism. Racism exists everywhere, it is the inherent fear of the other. The most ingrained form of racism that I come across repeatedly is anti-English or Scottish sentiment. People write things in the print and social media which sometimes cause me to despair about my compatriots. The anti-Scottish sentiment in some sections of the English press and social media before, during and after the referendum was at times overwhelming. The anti-English sentiment exhibited by contributors to numerous online forums was equally revolting.

        We don’t live in a wonderful country because of the wonderfulness of our fellow Scots. They are just as racist and bigoted as any group of people you will ever hope to find. But I would hope that you could distinguish between a country where racist sentiments are shared by racist individuals and one where racism is systematically built into the legislature and social structure. By the latter standards, ours is absolutely not a racist culture. We have enshrined human rights in our laws precisely to try to ensure that our culture is fair and we teach those human rights in schools because we want them to be recognised as the core values of our society, irrespective of race, religion, sexuality, class, gender.

        That is why I was so rattled by your initial response above. I simply don’t recognise our culture in the description you wrote above or the one which Ruari described. If you came to my school you would have no doubt that the milk of human kindness is most definitely to be found here. Education is at the very heart of culture and so I feel qualified to comment when my culture is described as racist. I work unbelievably hard to instil values of fairness, justice, integrity and compassion into our young people. I follow a national curriculum which is geared towards doing just that. It is far from being a perfect curriculum but its aims are absolutely fair.

        The men who butchered journalists and police officers and maintenance men in Paris espoused a political ideology which would do the very opposite. They would remove the rights that we champion, the right to freedom of belief, the right to freedom of expression, the right to freedom from discrimination, the right to life. In the hours after the killings on Wednesday I wanted to say loud and clear, kill the journalists, kill me, because we are one and the same. But I hesitated to do so precisely because I was unfamiliar with Charlie Hebdo and didn’t feel sure of my ground. I didn’t want to defend racists or bigots and I didn’t want to cause offence. Now I am ashamed of my hesitation. It matters not one jot whether they were racist or bigoted (although I have no reason to believe that they were). They had a right to their opinions, no matter whether I shared them or not. They had a right to freedom of expression and a right to life. The men who took those rights from them had no justification for their actions whatsoever.

        And that is the point I was trying to make above and clearly failed to persuade you of. If we live in a culture of human rights, those rights are absolute and can never be diluted. There is nothing that anyone can do to cause them to lose their rights. They can be the most vile human being on the earth but they have not lost their right to life, to justice, to freedom of expression. The rights are not distributed according to power but rather to all. Thus there can be no justification when someone removes the rights of another. There can be no saying, ah but you don’t know how it feels to be a disenfranchised Muslim living in Paris who feels offended. No I don’t. I can’t. But I do know that it is no justification for the murderous and barbaric act that they perpetrated on their neighbours.

        I think you and Ruari are trying to look behind the grotesqueness of the murders to find some understanding. I can understand that. But I think it requires the greatest of care. Of course the actions and inactions of Britain on the world stage have affected how other people view us and view themselves in relation to our society. Of course there are still injustices in our society and vile misrepresentations in some sections of our media. I would never dispute that. I accept that we have a responsibility to work to improve things both internally within Scotland/Britain and in terms of our international relations. But while I think it is perfectly acceptable to be critical of our government or our media in general terms, I think it utterly abhorrent to blame them for the barbarous behaviour of individuals. I don’t believe for one minute that you or Ruari are trying to justify the actions of the individuals involved in Paris but I do think you tread on extremely dangerous ground when you criticise the murdered for their politics or their actions. Their politics and their actions are utterly irrelevant when their rights have been denied them.

        I am persisting with human rights here because they are so very fundamental and I am so very glad and grateful to live in a country which champions them. But somehow, in his criticisms of Charlie Hebdo, Ruari seem to be diluting them. Ruari suggests that equal derision of all is only legitimate if all are equal. I beg to differ because to me that is no different to saying equal treatment of all people is only legitimate if the people concerned are equally deserving. Life is unfair and we will never all be equal. But I hope we will always have equality of rights. I hope that the children I teach grow up to respect their neighbours whether they agree with them or not. I hope they grow up to be tolerant of difference and welcoming of strangers. I hope they grow up to be compassionate citizens of a fair and just state. But if they grow up, as some of them will surely do, to be mean, rude, offensive idiots or worse yet, violent, cruel sadistic killers, I would hope that they will still be living in a society which accords them their fundamental human rights, no matter what.

        • Just to repeat, Elspeth, in post I made here about this I am entirely quoting Rabbi Michael Lerner. They are not my words, though I very much agree with what he has written, albeit coming from his American and Jewish perspective.

          I am a pacifist, a Quaker who has devoted much of his life to applied nonviolence. See http://goo.gl/xwgC4R . Do I correctly infer that you too are a pacifist – committed to nonviolence given your statement, “They can be the most vile human being on the earth but they have not lost their right to life, to justice, to freedom of expression”? If so, we are standing on common ground, and that will perhaps shed light on why I try so hard to understand (not to excuse, but understand, so as to ameliorate) those who perpetrate unthinkable violence; and also, in our democracy, why I believe we share a collective responsibility for the violence perpetrated in both past and present in our names by our governments.

          I regularly guest lecture to military officers in several European countries on nonviolence. Paradoxically I have developed considerable respect for them. Many of these men and women are wrestling in moral and practical terms with paths to world peace far more deeply than their political masters. We disagree on means but not on ends. Ten years ago, the question I was most often being asked was, “Do you understand what makes a terrorist, a suicide bomber?” In the past five years nobody has ever asked that question. Why? Because they have now studied it, listened to both academics and ex-terrorists (some of the IRA men are especially good on speaking about this), and have developed an understanding. I am generalising in what I am saying here, of course, but speaking from 16 years experience.

          For me, that understanding is summed up by words spoken by Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari of the Muslim Council of Britain. They caused much outrage when published in the Daily Telegraph on 10 Nov 2007 but I think they’d be better understood now. He said: “I deal with emotionally damaged children … children come to hate when they don’t get enough care and love … it makes a young person angry and vulnerable.”

          According to The Guardian of 8th Nov 2015, “Cherif Kouachi, 32, and his brother Said, 34, were born in eastern Paris to Algerian immigrants who died when they were young. They were raised in an orphanage in the city of Rennes.” As a teacher you must be sufficiently versed in child psychology to sense the possible (though not inevitable) implications of that kind of a background. I don’t know how much you know about French society, but my French wife spent part of her childhood in Algeria, and French colonisation there helped to set in train processes of brutalisation with which both countries are still coming to terms. Consider reading Frantz Fanon’s “The Wretched of the Earth” and Sartre’s introduction to it. It was an early attempt to diagnose what happens when a peoples are “inferiorised”. Fanon was a black psychiatrist from the Caribbean. His insights came from his experience of the Algerian War of Independence.

          Elspeth, I believe, perhaps naively, that killing another human being can be a right of self defence, but it is also a right that, for moral and spiritual reasons, we may consider renouncing. Such is the position of principled (as distinct from instrumental) nonviolence: namely, that it is better to be killed than to kill.

          At the heart of the matter is – as you correctly state – the question of human rights, and it goes even deeper than that. Nonviolence in my Christian view takes us to the heart of the meaning of the Cross, though most of the church, at least since Constantine, has missed that point, with gut-wrenching consequences. In nothing that I have quoted from Rabbi Lerner above have I sought to justify the cold-blooded murder of the CH cartoonists. Everything that I have quoted has been orientated towards trying to understand, and share understanding.

          If we do not seek to understand those who hurt us and ours – if we let ourselves be swept along in the consensual trance reality of instinctual reactions – then we risk, unwittingly, for all our veneer of culture and civilisation, becoming a part of the very spiral of violence that we so rightly deplore. I would like to think that what I’m saying here is indirectly what you’re trying to say in your defence of human rights? Whether that’s the case or not, thank you for raising these searching issues here.

  17. While the sentiment of this strip is admirable, it only functions properly out of context. Unfortunately some speech is freer than others. In terms of France, we’re talking about a state that up until two years was officially suppressing information on the murder hundreds of pro-Algerian demonstrators by its police force. Of course that alone will never turn anyone to (or justify) terrorism, but then neither will one cartoon. People are pouring their own petrol around without realising there are many different fires burning at the one time.

  18. Shaun what is nationalism? Is it only applicable to Scotland. Are not all nations born out of nationalism. The word internationalist can only exist with nations. Not a drop of blood has been spilt in the modern cause of Scottish independence. The yes movement was a rainbow alliance of the people who live in this we area in north west Europe. No one is excluded not even hard line unionists. We can leave the door open for you. Religion is not like nationalism. Religion is not about democracy or the betterment of your country and fellow men. Religion is a narrow opinion on how god should be worshipped which excludes those with different opinions.

    You did not have to be in a party or club to vote yes. You don’t have to be Scottish to vote yes. You don’t have to be white to vote yes. You don’t have to be Catholic or protestant to vote yes. You don’t have to be heterosexual to vote yes. How is Scottish independence like religion please explain!

  19. Publishing “Je Suis Charlie” is easy. Re-publishing the relevant cartoons is difficult. But in the interests of free speech, I wonder if Bella is prepared to do so?

    • Not really, no. I find most of them pretty poor quality and racist. I’ll defend their right to publish them but I’ll also defend my right to describe them as a) not very good and b) not very interesting and c) low-grade racism

      • agree with your assessment as far as regards a) and b). got so bored with these cartoons I didn’t look at enough to decide if they were also indicative of c). Also agree with their right to publish them whether they are good, bad or indifferent

  20. Je ne suis pas Charlie, but perhaps Je suis Will Self, honest freedom of speech, well expressed on Channel 4 News tonight. This is a rather complicated business, if you are French I get the passionate, heartfelt reaction, but here in Scotland, rather tiresome, imo, the folks that jump on any bandwagon going.

    A Balharry

    • I watched the Channel 4 discussion and agree with most of what the Will Self and Martin Rowson said about there are limits to free expression and responsibilities come with it, but Will was well wide of the mark on a couple of points. Firstly, the dismissal of ‘Je Suis Charlie’ misunderstood what a tremendous, spontaneous expression of defiance it was. It was not a manifesto, but an expression of solidarity against those who would plan such a cynical, murderous act. Even more poignantly ‘Je Suis Charlie’ was a very human reaction to give some sense of succour and strength in others who might otherwise feel a lot more vulnerable and frightened. Will Self – and Bella – looking down their noses at this seems to me to be a (ahem) wilful misunderstanding of what it was.

      Also Will seemed to be implying that caricaturing Mohammed is (at least) the wrong target. It may be offensive to many people, but who is whipping up the hatred, the outrage, the reaction – and why? For power. It is attacking abused power just as surely as his preferred target of “state power”, because ultimately this religion is backed up by state power, specifically that of Saudi Arabia.

      Saudi Arabia’s ruling House of Saud publlcly beheads its citizens at an average of two a week, including rape victims who they characterise as “adulterers”. And they flog people even more regularly including, this very week, Raif Badawi for “insulting Islam”. What he actually did was suggest the Saudi regime claim to BE Islam, and that their Wahhabi sect of the faith was the one, true strain. As demosntrated by that very action the House of Saud do indeed claim they ARE Islam and any insult to them is an insult to the prophet. This is exactly why we need to question, criticise, challenge, satirise and, yes, caricature religion, because otherwise it becomes an ever stronger shield from which the powerful can operate. The entire history of the West since (at least) the Enlightenment can be seen as kicking back against that stultifying, bigoted, repressive political strategy.

      • I certainly don’t support the Saudi regime, however who turns a blind eye to their human rights violations, who sells them arms, etc. Western governments can’t have it both ways.

        And then we can go back and look at the creation of what is known as present day Saudi Arabia, born out of Western enlightened thinking, I don’t think so. The growth of Wahhabism has been as a direct result of Western powers supporting specific countries, to suit their own needs.

        And for anyone who didn’t see the Self/Rowson discussion, here it is.

        http://www.channel4.com/news/will-self-martin-rowson-cartoon-charlie-hebdo-satire-video

    • Interesting points about the conflation of religion and politics. And I completely agree with the ‘comming together and solidarity of the ‘Je suis charlie’ rection over and above considerations of ‘freedom of speech vs offence/ harm point that was made. A human response.

      And that the West bares responsibility, but to what extent?

      I read an article (will try to dig it out) that puts another spin on it. It pretty much goes aong the ‘John Gray’ line of thought that debuncts (in their view) the myth of benign benevolence of Enlightened progress that underpins the West – the notion of human perfectiblity. Rather than this attack/ Radical Islam being alien to modernity, it is a product of modernity and calling it archaic or unthinking religious fundamentalism or mediaeval is to misunderstand what’s going on. Instead it is argued that ISIS/ Al Qaida et are grounded in western notions of ‘utopianism’ in the same way Fascism, 20th centuy nationalism, Stalinist totalitarianism was. – the point being that these things are just as much the product of the Enlightenment as freedom of speech or democracy are – the product of secular rationalism. In this sense ISIS/ Rad Islam is more like the Khemer Rouge (and other modern blank slate, revolutionary movements) than a pre modern religious cult or in fact the open and tolerant Islamic Calliphates of Spain/ North Africa/ Persia/ Syria (think of Islamic art, science and philosophy – compare it to the Inquisition/ or our own John Knox or the Covenanters) This bares no relation to the all destructive fascism of ISIS – which is also a product of 18th century Whabiism (ironically ISIS is now seeking the destruction on Saudi, the place that gave birth to them.) And here the West, especially France, Britain (for past imperialism) USA (today) do bare responsibilty. The war on Iraq was ironically born of the same thinking….the idea that you could topple Sadam Hussein, wipe the slate clean and rebuild in the image of America. US neo conservatism and foreign policy is the same in objectives and structure as ISIS.

      So ironically the answer must lie in the west also? If the malign outcomes of the Enlightenment can flourish then so can the benign ones. Free speech, individual rights etc.

      Not sure how much I agree with this, but I appreciate (even though I’m not religious myself) the conclusion that what happened to Charlie Hebbdo, although in the name of religion an Islam bares more similarity to the Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdnand by the Black Hand, or the neomarxist Red Brigades or the seventies.

      • And I suppose it is the irony of ironies that what happened to Charlie Hebdo and the attacks in Paris owe less to Islam than it does the legacy of Voltaire.

  21. “The Hate had started. As usual, the face of Emmanuel Goldstein, the Enemy of the People, had flashed on to the screen. There were hisses here and there among the audience […] The programmes of the Two Minutes Hate varied from day to day, but there was none in which Goldstein was not the principal figure. He was the primal traitor, the earliest defiler of the Party’s purity. All subsequent crimes against the Party, all treacheries, acts of sabotage, heresies, deviations, sprang directly out of his teaching. Somewhere or other he was still alive and hatching his conspiracies: perhaps somewhere beyond the sea, under the protection of his foreign paymasters, perhaps even – so it was occasionally rumoured – in some hiding-place in Oceania itself.”

    Orwell’s name understandably comes up a lot these days. Post-referendum, I started re-reading “Nineteen Eighty-Four” (I’m sure I’m not alone) and noting the many State-propaganda resonances (for Goldstein, of course, read Eckstein).

    Besides the core strategem of “media-manufacturing” a repulsive pantomime villain at which one is invited to hysterically hiss, the main other black propaganda subterfuge was of course to take key words and demonise them. “Nationalism”, for instance, in our case. “All nationalism is poison”, I recall one-time Labour MSP (and now one-time head of BBC Alba) Alasdair Morrison declaiming in a Gaelic tv debate during a Holyrood Election campaign.

    Unionists, in contrast, proudly pronounce themselves “patriotic”, that apparently being an entirely wholesome term. Thus Jim Murphy’s usage. As an independence supporter for more than fifty years now, I do confess to finding myself occasionally bemused during our Great Referendum Dreamtime when hearing the (to me self-contradictory) assertion: “I am not a nationalist but I am pro-independence”.

    Anyways, as it happens, I have also been a Christian for over fifty years. And I admit it surprises and disappoints me when fellow Yessers who fought so valiantly to rescue the relentlessly and cynically maligned word “nationalism” from the unionist-stirred mire, cannot now seem to transpose that somewhat sophisticated and formative etymological experience to the word “religion”.

    • Independence = Nationalism? I’d be interested to hear your proof on that, Fearghas, speaking as someone who has many times described myself as not a nationalist but pro-independence.

      It’s not that difficult a concept to understand: Nation states are the model demanded by the modern global system, our present nation state is irredeemably corrupt and we have a viable, coherent alternative state by which we can facilitate a decent opportunity to create a (far) more balanced, accountable and democratic society than we presently endure. What’s nationalist about that? Where’s the contradiction with desiring the opportunities independence for the political unit called Scotland?

      As regards religion – the more relevant topic here given events that prompted this discussion thread – it seems religion of some sort has existed as long as anything we could call human society. Indeed, I think religion has been one of the mechanisms by which human society has developed, right back to the cave dwellers who (we are told) worshipped the sun. And since that moment the clan chiefs, pharaohs, kings, queens and potentates have worked hand in glove with the high priests to justify murder, land grabs, subjugation and slavery. Question the personage of the priest, challenge the authority of the king and you are challenging not them but God, the benificent creator of the entire bounty that is the universe but who – oddly – gets very small-minded and petty about such things as your sexual orientation, wearing hats, women’s menstruation, beards, eating fish and lots of other stuff. And if you displease him, well, behold! Your doubt made the harvest / war effort / flood defences fail.

      In other words, religion (ab)uses natural human wonder at our pace in the universe by purporting to answer the unknowable. And those who render aboslute obeisance to Him – and it’s always a Him – can act in sure and certain knowlede their actions will be rewarded in the unseeable, unknowable afterlife, however vile, murderous, violent or rapacious it may seem under normal circumstances.

      Maybe there is a god or gods, but there’s sod all proof and it’s pretty unlikely. Meanwhile there are veritable mountains of evidence that religion is just another part of politics, but backed up with the unassailable authority of the Sun / Yahweh / Allah / Vishnu / Ra / Aslan, so we can justify even worse punishments in his name.

      Religion is just politics by another name.

      Yes, the Enlightenment was shot with the implicit and sometimes explicit conceit that humanity could be perfected. Modern philosophies, though developed from there, does not hold that. The Enlightenment, however, ushered in quantum leaps in scientific knowledge – geology, evolution, relativity, psychology and the rest – that has allowed us to see ourselves in a more realistic context: We exist in a tiny, temporary state in a vast bewildering cosmos.

      More to the point the Enlightenment let us to question puffed up tyrants who claim absolute authority from thin air. And in the way cosmologists can look at the stars and see the history of our universe, you can look Saudi Arabia – public executions, women as evil temptresses, death for apostasy, absolute obedience to the High Heid Yin – and see ourselves as we were. Superstitious, fearful and in dread of Power. That’s the Catholic Church six or seven hundred years ago. That’s oor ain Kirk – or as near as damn – from about 300 years ago. Not a pretty sight, is it Fearghas?

      So you may have guessed – I’m an atheist. You can be Christian and No voter, atheist and No, Muslim and No, Hindu and No, Orthodox Jew and No… or you can be all or any of these things and be a Yes.

      But you don’t have to be nationalist.

      • Thanks for engaging with my contribution. With respect, you seem rather more one-sided than me. I value very much of what the Enlightenment accomplished, for example. My central preoccupation in my post concerned how different understandings of terminology can make mutual dialogue problematic. The two terms I focussed on were “nationalism” and “religion”. The desire for Scottish independence was always for me the simplest definition of Scottish nationalism. You disagree with thoughtful reasons. I understand a person’s religion as whatever acts as the ultimate integration point of his or her existence. Again, you clearly have a strongly held different view. I thank you for giving me the opportunity to clarify mine.

  22. Fearghas same here. I believe in God. I just feel religion is an argument between opposing groups, about how the belief should be practiced. Its an unnecessary division.

  23. Apologies to Greg Moodie for sounding off on the thread without acknowleding mine host!

    Greg, I am a retired art teacher, and take this opportunity to say that I am greatly appreciative of your work. The sardonic, satirical storylines are enormously enjoyable and so extraordinarily timely. But more than that I repeatedly find myself simply revelling in the richness, wit, and delirious virtuosity of your “congested-circus” visual-cacophony imagery in itself. Re-perusing the details and laughing again. I do hope your subjects enjoy these inspired parodies. They have never looked more like themselves, yet they all end up looking somehow glamorously momentous! And may they so be.

    As an off-the-wall semi-connection with your present drawing above, I pulled this random quote from a pdf book on the ipad upon which I now write:

    “VOLTAIRE collected the gigantic poly-historical factual material of his time from the results of the investigations of nature, the reports of travellers and missionaries, and the work of special historical science. From the view-point of the new Idea of culture he re-shaped this material in order to adapt it to a pre-conceived course of development of world-history, supposed to be in strict conformity to the causality of nature.[…] VOLTAIRE strove after accuracy in the description of details in the forms of the family-life, handicraft, and art of the nations. He based his work on extensive preliminary studies.” (Herman Dooyeweerd, “New Critique of Theoretical Thought”)

    And since French is in vogue tonight, here is an utterance by Grégoire de Nysse, with which you are no doubt familiar: “La peinture muette parle sur le mur.”

  24. Alastair,
    I can’t reply further above so append these thoughts here.

    To answer your specific question, I am not truly a pacifist. I was in my youth. But my feelings changed when I became a parent and realised that, while I could imagine surrendering my own life, I couldn’t do that with my children. I realised that I would defend them at all costs and that they were more precious to me than my ideals.

    It is interesting that you write of “damaged” children. I had one such child in my mind when I wrote my second reply. He is a lovely boy with a precious, vital spark of joy about him. But he comes from a chaotic home where there is much aggression and almost certainly occasional violence. He is very difficult to teach because he is so disruptive in class. He can also be violent himself and, at age eight, has already been excluded for attacking a member of staff. Some years ago, before we introduced the teaching of human rights into our school, I taught his older brother. He was also very troubled, often aggressive and occasionally violent towards other pupils and staff. I liked the older brother every bit as much as I like the younger. I tried to offer love and understanding, compassion and fairness. I tried to provide consistent, firm boundaries. It worked to some extent. But I was very frustrated by the attitude of certain colleagues whose sympathy for the child was such that they were ready, not just to forgive him his negative actions, but also to overlook them. Sanctions were threatened but never carried through. The staff members concerned would say something along the lines of, oh he can’t help it, his home life is so troubled, he needs to be allowed to experience this treat. I shared their sympathy but didn’t think it helped the child to allow pity to prevent him from growing. We allowed him to behave atrociously and still experience the treats. We taught him nothing of the real world or of taking responsibility for his own actions.

    A troubled background presents a very difficult start in life and may cause actual damage to the development of a child’s brain and feedback systems. However the brain is also a powerfully self-healing organ and with consistent care and understanding, even the most damaged of children can be helped to improve their anger management and the self-regulation of their emotions.

    I write about this because my experience of teaching the younger brother has come after the introduction of our “rights respecting school” ethos and that ethos has made a big difference. Like many of my colleagues, I was very sceptical about this process, thinking it to be yet more bureaucratic nonsense. I was also unsure of my own feelings in relation to human rights and not at all convinced of the universality of rights. I wanted to see them linked to responsibilities and even felt at one stage that I was having an ideology forced upon me.

    Now, however, as you can tell from my previous posts, I am a complete convert. I love that we are a rights respecting school and I love it because of the wee boy I have just described. He is difficult for sure but he is a clever wee soul. He understands the concept of rights perfectly. He understands that he has rights, the right to an education, the right to be listened to, the right to be safe from violence. He understands that those right are absolute and that he will always have them, no matter how he behaves. And he understands that other children have those rights too. He doesn’t like it when he is removed from class for his disruptive behaviour but he knows and understands that it is not because we don’t like him, it is not because he is inherently bad, it is not because we are mean and picking on him, it is just because he is choosing to behave in a way which denies other children the right to an education or the right to feel safe. He knows it and he understands it, it is beautifully consistent and utterly fair. It is the very embodiment of the imperative to treat other people in the way you wish to be treated yourself. If you wish those rights for yourself, then you have no justification for denying them to anyone else. It has given me a language with which to help this child to work on his self-regulation which is non-judgemental. It has changed the way in which we work and so very much for the better.

    And it has helped me to understand that human rights are absolute and are the right of all, at all times, in all situations. When this wee boy is difficult, disruptive, angry or aggressive he hasn’t lost his right to care, to an education, to kindness and compassion, he is just making it more difficult for himself to receive those things.

    Compassion is vital. I try to find compassion in my heart for everyone. Like you I read of the background of the two men from Paris and understood immediately the sort of life path they had journeyed along. But feeling pity for them does not in anyway absolve them of full responsibility for their actions. Feeling pity for the wee boy in my class doesn’t help him to grow; allowing him to recognise his own actions for what they are and to accept responsibility for making better choices does.

    It is too late for the young men from Paris. But it is not too late for others. I am more than willing to find compassion, to seek understanding, to learn from a place of humility, to encourage growth. But I am not happy to allow genuine, honest and heartfelt pity to absolve horrific behaviour and horrific thoughts. I don’t think that is your intention at all but I do think it is how others might interpret Lerner’s words. The political ideology of radical Islamism is not a human being in need of love and compassion. It is a vile set of beliefs which offers absolutely no respect to the rights of others, only the rights of those who follow it. Radical Islamism allows anger and bitterness to consume people and destroy them. It has no place in our world. If we want to help, we must call Radical Islamism out for what it is and make no apology for Islamists who deny the rights of others. We must also stop talking of Islam in relation to such acts because Islam is a personal religion of individual willing and loving submission to God. Radical Islamism is a political ideology which has nothing to do with willing, loving submission but everything to do with vile and cruel oppression. They are as different as chalk and cheese. While they may share the name of God, the scriptures of the Qur’an and the first five letters of their name, these two concepts have nothing else in common.

    Alastair, thank you for taking the time to respond to my comments. I have enjoyed reflecting on this issue with you. In truth I don’t think we are very far apart in our ideas at all. We just have different experiences of life which allow us to see things through slightly different filters.

    • Thank you too, Elspeth. As you say, we see things through slightly different filters, but that’s all part of life’s journey. Thank you especially for such a beautiful sharing of why the human rights approach has become so important to you. I can now see much more clearly where you’re coming from. You might be familiar with James Gilligan’s book, “Violence: Reflections on a Social Epidemic”? If not, I think you’ll find it fascinating. It’s all about what the absence of love in early childhood does to men, how it creates psychopaths. He was director of mental health in the Massachusetts Prison Service for many years and, interestingly, his more famous wife is Carol Gilligan, who wrote a seminal study of how patriarchy affects girls growing up, called “In a Different Voice.”

      I don’t know your full name, but if you ever bump into me at some event, if you make yourself known we can have a blether. Meanwhile, I think I’m going to have to try and check out from this discussion now (and I sense the same in your last para). Got to catch up on other things, and in any case, we’re probably just about the only ones left following. Go well, Alastair.

  25. Very interesting discussion over 63 comments. Proof if ever I needed it that sometimes it is better to stop speaking and start listening.

  26. Brilliant, Greg. Not a criticism of your work but, according to scholars of Voltaire’s writings, he never said or wrote that “I’ll defend you to the death” quote. It was actually written in a biography of Voltaire and came to be attributed to him: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evelyn_Beatrice_Hall

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: