Freedom of speech for beginners

Johann Hari of the Independent – I have said it before and I will repeat it – is one of the sadly very few journalists out there in the mainstream who combines the will and intellectual honesty to go to the roots of a problem with the literary skill to express his ideas concisely and in a language everybody can understand. He writes on a wide range of subjects, but tackles them all from the same steadfastly rational and independent but committed point of view, showing the connections between various problems and situations and connecting the dots that link the various pieces of news which the prime time news anchor is working so hard to disconnect in our minds. An excellent illustration is this recent piece in which he compares islamist condemnations of Danish cartoonists with the catholic church’s protection of peadophile rapist priests – in the process uncovering the very similar lines of anti-liberal thought shared by the islamists and those christians who demand ‘respect’ for the Vatican: ‘Let’s state some principles that – if religion wasn’t involved – would be so obvious it would seem ludicrous to have to say them out loud. Drawing a cartoon is not an act of aggression. Trying to kill somebody with an axe is. There is no moral equivalence between peacefully expressing your disagreement with an idea – any idea – and trying to kill somebody for it. Yet we have to say this because we have allowed religious people to claim their ideas belong to a different, exalted category, and it is abusive or violent merely to verbally question them. Nobody says I should “respect” conservatism or communism and keep my opposition to them to myself – but that’s exactly what is routinely said about Islam or Christianity or Buddhism. What’s the difference?
This enforced “respect” is a creeping vine. It soon extends beyond religious ideas to religious institutions – even when they commit the worst crimes imaginable. It is now an indisputable fact that the Catholic Church systematically covered up the rape of children across the globe, and knowingly, consciously put paedophiles in charge of more kids. Joseph Ratzinger – who claims to be “infallible” – was at the heart of this policy for decades.’


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