The fuss about the cartoons continues unabated, and a pox on both their houses, say I. It seems quite likely that the original Danish paper was being just a teeny bit xenophobic, perhaps even (gasp!) deliberately trying to stir up trouble. “Scratch a freedom-loving Dane,” said a colleague who has spent considerable time there “and you find a racist xenophobe”. Not that that constitutes evidence. And as for the Muslim reaction, well, if they wanted to be further reviled as crazed intolerant lunatics, they could hardly have done better. Clearly deeper forces are at work, using and inflaming passions on both sides. How much simpler, and possibly more effective, a Muslim boycott of all Danish products. Like, er, Danish Bacon. How much simpler, and more effective, a simple statement of support -- we laugh at all your gods -- in the freedom-loving European press, rather than a reprint of the cartoons in question (which don’t even sound all that funny).


To Scandinavians, religion is not sacred, but freedom is. And that is what West Europeans should realise. Just as they find any curbs on their freedoms, be it speech, movement or dress, offensive, they must realise that other societies value their religion and customs and find ridicule or disrespect of any sort unacceptable.

My text for today is taken from a lengthy editorial -- Violence not the answer to anger -- that I read this morning in the Daily News, “Sri Lanka’s national newspaper since 1918”. I’m not about to write a rejoinder to everything Anita Pratap writes, for it would add nothing to the debate. But the pull quote, which I’ve copied above, did bring me up short.

Is freedom sacred in the same way that religion is? For a moment, one can take an extreme situationist view and say, yes, it is. It is something people believe in, fight for, etc etc. In that respect one could argue, as Pratap does, that freedom is the same as religion.

Then I recalled that ethical thought experiment (and alas this hotel’s warped attitude to wireless pricing inhibits me from doing the deep and meaningful research that occasionally informs my postings) of the veil of ignorance (an apt term in this case). If one had to decide between religion and freedom as sacred, without knowing whether one would then exist in the religious or the free space, which would one choose?

Freedom, surely? Or is that only obvious to the people of Scandinavia and a few enlightened beings elsewhere?

There’s a lot of mealy-mouthed nonsense parroted about religious freedom. Just because your antedated, immoral, outrageously inhumane practices are carried out as part of a religion, that does not give them immunity from criticism, especially in a rational society. Kosher and halal slaughter, for example, are tolerated because they are “religious” by many a society that has decided that irreligious butchers must not cause undue pain or suffering.

I’m not after banning kosher or halal slaughter. Nor do I condone unbridled cruelty by non-Jewish, non-Muslim butchers. I’d just like the same rules to apply to all.

Nor am I singling out slaughter. The same argument could be made for all the exceptions and allowances permitted those who cry “religious freedom”, an oxymoron up there in the pantheon with “military intelligence”. The path seems to be between the French, which seems to curtail the freedom of all religious groups to express themselves in public, and the multiculturalists (hard to single out any one country) who permit any and everything in the name of religious freedom.

All I’m looking for is a little consistency. But then, I’ve been looking for that for most of my adult life.

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