the Disillusioned kid: Pleasure and pain
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Thursday, February 02, 2006

Pleasure and pain

There used to be an advert which claimed that pleasure and pain were inextricably linked. Good things would inevitably be accompanied by bad things. It made for mildly entertaining viewing and clearly stuck with me. Surveying what's been going on in the news over the last few days has brought the whole thing flooding back.

First the pleasure: The government's plans to introduce a new offence of "religious hatred" were given an appropriately severe kicking in Parliament (which seems - finally - to have found something resembling a spine), a kicking seemingly encouraged by a plan so cunning you could stick a tail on it and call it a weasel. George Galloway proved once again what an eejit he is by voting with the government, even going so far as to criticise "the 'dereliction of duty' by Government Chief Whip Hilary Amstrong, for pursuing a personal vendetta against him, and Prime Minister Tony Blair 'who couldn't even be bothered turning up to vote' on the religious hatred bill." Mr Pot, meet Mrs Kettle...

Now the pain: The controversy surrounding the publication of cartoons depicting Mohammed has been bubbling along for what seems like ages, but seems to have blown up over the last few days and it's left quite a mess on the carpet. Being the sheep that I am, I'm forced to nod in agreement with Tim who avers, "What we have here is an important precedent in the ongoing Free Speech Vs. Yelling 'Fire!' debate." This is about free speech in the face of organised religion, but at the same time it's about islamophobia and anti-Muslim racism. Not that all of the pictures can seriously be considered racist, but some of them clearly are. Ditto those responsible for the images and their dissemination.

(For what it's worth, I agree with Justin that the artistic merits of the cartoons in question is at best slight. Like Rushdie's Satanic Verses, or Jerry Springer the Opera one wonders if anybody would give a damn were it not for the controversy)

Even in the case of the most overtly racist images (which imply in no uncertain terms that Islam and terrorism are essentially synonymous) I don't think that censorship is the best response here anymore than I think it's a good way of dealing with fascist onanists like the BNP (who's fuhrer Nick Griffin has also been in the news today). Censorship is a very big stick often held up as a solution to relatively small problems, a very big stick which makes little effort to discriminate between its victims and which can very easily end up being waved in the general direction of those who originally thought it seemed like such a good idea.

If any of you are looking for a simplistic black and white response to this controversy I'm afraid you'll be sorely disappointed. (I'm sure you'll be able to find plenty of them elsewhere, mind.) Our mission (should we chose to accept it) is to defend freedom of speech while doing everything we can to scupper the plans of those who would abuse it to peddle their racist dross. Same as ever really.

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