Friday, 8 July 2011

Hari generally right, but...

Hari gives a decent defence of free speech, but I will take issue on a couple of points. Firstly, as his speech illustrated, the threat he discusses is not from religion in general, but Islam specifically. Secondly, I don't want to generalise about a long-drawn out affair, but the struggle for freedom of speech and conscience was not originally led by atheists, but by dissenting christians. Going back to the 16th and 17th and to a lesser extent the 18th, it was really only people with a strong faith who were prepared to defy the power of coercion even unto death. In colonial-era New England, for instance, it was the Quakers who willingly sacrificed themselves to the petty puritan tyrants who forced a change of view on the public.

Secularism is correct when it signifies the inability of the state to use its coercive power to enforce religious belief or observance, but for some latter-day atheists it seems they want to place themselves, in the name of Reason, on that vacant throne.

The problems Hari discusses were almost wholly found in predominantly muslim countries. India also gets a mention, which has a very large muslim population, who were the cause of the trouble. In this country we have had a small taste of such islamic nuts, waving their 'behead those who insult islam' placards, usually protected from hostile natives by the thin blue (or rather luminous green) line. We also have another, I would say more serious issue, which doesn't come from these bearded loons: the enforcement of 'hate-speech' laws and other sundry intimidations on free expression from the secular state.

I do not wish to ignore the threat from the extremists who are here amongst us, but the struggle for free speech and conscience in this country is not one of valient atheists facing down the theocratically-minded authorities. This is not Iran or Saudi Arabia. The real struggle is against a secular state enforcing the new official creed, which proclaims inclusion and diversity, and defines the boundaries of 'acceptability' with 'anti-discrimination' and 'hate-speech' laws. Indeed on a number of occasions, religious people, invariably christians, have been persecuted by the authorities. The mistake some of these christians, or rather their vocal defenders have made is to play along with the absurdity, trying to gain their own special 'protected minority' exemption, when they would be better off defending themselves on the grounds of individual liberty.

Still, watch the speech. It ain't bad. (Cross-posted at Orphans)


Guy Jean said...

Yet atheists are prominent in the fight to maintain (or restore) freedom of speech in the teeth of political correctness (C. Hitchens, Pat Condell spring to mind).

Trooper Thompson said...

I don't deny that. I guess my main point is that the threat to freedom of speech in this country comes, as ever, from the state using its coercive force against those who will not bow to the prevailing state orthodoxy.

Unfortunately the machinery of state-coercion was never dismantled and scrapped when it fell into disuse (i.e. when the major battles for secularisation were won). Instead we find the new occupiers have cleaned and oiled the working parts and are now using it in new ways.

That authoritan mentality is found in believers and atheists alike, and it is worth drawing attention to it, because atheists are sometimes oblivious to this theocratic impulse, because they are so sure that they are the rational ones.