Saturday, February 04, 2006

Vatican Chokes.

We almost used a stronger word. While Muslim mobs burn the Danish embassy in anger over cartoon representations of Mohammad, the Roman hierarchy comes across with gems like this: "Freedom of the press, including satire, must stop where religious belief begins."

That's Ersilio Cardinal Tonini, erstwhile archbishop opf Ravenna. Cardinal Silvestrini, head of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, offers a similar gem: "We, too, here in Europe, should rebel against the idea of mocking religious symbols," Silvestrini said. "Freedom to satirize which offends other people's feelings becomes prevarication."

What's wrong with this picture? Well, apart from the fact that either Silvestrini or his translator doesn't know what "prevarication" means, there's the fact that these remarks are sheer nonsense. Undemocratic, tyrannical, pre-Enlightenment nonsense. I invite Tonini to make his point to the ghosts of Diderot and Voltaire, or even Erasmus. (Not to mention Monty Python and the Simpsons).
And I invite Silvestrini to find any examples of satire properly so called that do not offend somebody's feelings. He certainly won't find them in Juvenal or St. Jerome.

There is more to this than the Vatican's well-documented history of affection for certain kinds of tyranny, both intellectual and political. Rome shows signs of joining the frightened governments of Western Europe (yes,
Mister Blair, this does mean you) in limiting free speech. The motivations may be different -- the governments are afraid of riots; Rome is probably trying to prepare a case against the next Andres Serrano. But the point is that both impulses are wrong. Even if well-intentioned, they are steps away from liberty and toward an accommodation with tyranny.

Of course there are limits to free speech. Mischief-makers can't shout "fire" in a crowded theatre. Embedded reporters can't broadcast troop positions (thank you, Geraldo). Burning a flag is pure symbolism; burning a building is arson and sometimes murder. There are limits -- but nasty cartoons, foolish displays of tasteless museum art, public exposure of persons and ideas whose folly needs to be exposed -- these are not things that a free society can with justice limit. Because then it is not free.

2 comments:

Muslim said...

As Muslims we are required to respect all religions, be it people who are Christians, Jewish, Hindu e.tc.

So i’m really surprised at the pictures published in the newspaper, and also of their false nature. Maybe people should read about Prophet Muhummmad peace be upon him, and realise that he was a mercy to all mankind.

Attacking the prophet peace be upon him by drawing such pictures is attacking Muslims directly.

We dont draw pictures of other prophets like Abraham, Moses, Jesus, infact we respect them, and would never think to do such drawings.

Father Anonymous Bosch said...

Yes, Muslims are required to respect other religions. That is Muslim tradition. As a Christian, by the way, I share this commitment to mutual respect. At a personal level, I find the idea of caricatures of Muhammad distasteful. You won't find them on this blog.

But the rules of public debate in Western democracies permit -- and to remain true to their nature must permit -- distasteful speech. Secular media are and must be free to produce dubious representations of religious figures, including Jesus (have you seen "The Book of Daniel"?). The alternative is religious tyrany, from which we have only in recent centuries freed ourselves - -and with which many Asian nations continue to struggle.

The free exchange of ideas is often uncomfortable, and often results in hurt feelings. But we have learned over the past 300 years that it is an indispensable tool in the search for truth.

The question is not whether Muslims respect Jesus. I have read the Quran, and know that they do. The question is whether they can in good conscience accept the level of free expression that defines Western society.