09 January 2015

My right to make you look ridiculous

Regular readers of this blog (both of you!) will know that it is definitely not my habit to ridicule or satirise others. I’m just not that witty. But the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris causes me to consider our dearly-held freedom of expression (and of the press), a freedom that permits publications that may cause offence to, say, a religious or ethnic minority group.
Mainstream western media channels are of course universally condemning the attack in Paris, and people are protesting in order to defy the terrorists’ intentions.
We’re kind of lucky, in a weird way, to have at least one New Zealander who is prepared to stick his head above the parapets and fire off a differing point of view. Derek Fox, former broadcaster and local-body politician, has made good use of his liberty and public profile to express this opinion: “The editor of the French magazine has paid the price for his assumption of cultural superiority and arrogance, he was the bully believing he could insult other people’s culture and with impunity and he believed he would be protected in his racism and bigotry by the French state. Well he was wrong, unfortunately in paying the price for his arrogance he took another 11 people with him.” (From NZ Herald).
That makes it sound like the editor of Charlie Hebdo deserved what he got, and was to blame for the deaths of the others.
Does one deserve to be killed for insulting someone else’s religion? Certainly not, although this would not be the first time that it’s happened. Some extremists use ‘blasphemy’ as their excuse for this kind of brutality.
Perhaps Mr Fox is just exasperated with racist attacks on Maori, and hence he has no sympathy for those who ridicule Islam either. Racism and bigotry are certainly not what we should be sticking up for. Killing people for it is quite another matter, of course.
So, Mr Fox has freedom of expression, and has published his opinion online, and the Herald has given it a further airing. Regardless of his colour or creed, a liberal-democratic country like NZ or like France defends Mr Fox’s right to express those views. Religious and ethnic minority groups benefit from this in particular, as it means that the majority are not allowed to suppress their cultural practices, religious doctrines, languages, etc. Indeed, minority groups can and often do savagely criticize the dominant culture. Victims of oppression are free to express their grievances, as they should be, and that may include ridiculing or satirizing ‘western’ or ‘capitalist’ values.
What the Mr Foxes of the world need to learn, though, is that their liberty cuts both ways. If you want to be protected from oppression and to express your culture and your resistance freely and openly, then you just have to take the odd occasion of satire and ridicule on the chin, because others enjoy the same freedom.
If you feel offended by someone’s cartoon or statement, then you are also at liberty to say so. And may the best argument win.
Now, it is only playing fair if society’s elite or members of the majority culture refrain from ridiculing minorities. The powerful or privileged should be confident and secure enough to brush any off any that comes their way, what’s more. John Key, for example, gets a lot of, often quite savage, criticism and satire. He’s sensible enough not to comment on it if he can avoid it. Muldoon was different, as witnessed by his attitude to the cartoonist Tom Scott.
Perhaps Mr Fox is still upset over the notorious cartoon by Al Nisbett that caused such an outcry in 2013, for being perceived as racist. But, after the murders in Paris, those who drove that outcry might want to think carefully next time about what they may be encouraging.
Yes, let’s continue to condemn racism and religious prejudice. But invoking force (of law or otherwise) to close down that which we believe to be racism and bigotry is ultimately hypocritical and is bound to fail in the long run.


Post a Comment

<< Home