I admit that my take on this topic is being delivered rather late to the actual event. However, having come across an article tweeted by Richard Dawkins on the subject, it seemed an opportune time to revisit a topic that I once felt fairly conclusively about. Having said that, this was also a time when many seemingly thorny issues could be boiled down to black-and-white conclusions that were just common sense.
As I would come to learn, however, even the wisest publicly adored intellectuals (the publicly adored aspect is key, really) can be wrong. They may be misinformed or (as often seems the case), drawing a conclusion without considering all other external variables. Then there is the factor of speaking conclusively on a topic that is outside of ones academic scope (many are guilty of this).
Either way, my time in the nu-Atheist movement seen me absorbing and regurgitating arguments from authority without analysis (because what analysis can I give? I don’t have a Ph.D.). And my time post-mainstream atheist (along with my introduction to the concept of philosophy) had me begin to recognize the problems with how I sourced my information.
This transition in myself is a bit hard to describe. After all, what I call embracing philosophy is less concerned with the academic discipline than it was changing my internal frame of mind. While I have pursued the discipline at length (through podcasts and such), I have no real interest in embracing the field much more. Mainly because what I call philosophy is less concerned with the people and more concerned with how their work changed how they view the world around them.
Potentially because I don’t understand what the term philosophy entails. The domineering search engine of our time says the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, especially when considered as an academic discipline, but i’m inclined to go beyond that. In a sense, it could be said that philosophy IS the accumulation of all past, present and future human knowledge. Many in any field within or adjacent to the sciences will potentially take issue with this assertion. A rebuke that I hardly take seriously given that the rift between science and the philosophy of science is a fairly recent phenomenon in the grand scheme of things.
I suspect that this paragraph of empty ramblings will be slightly triggering to those antithetical to the disciplines of philosophy. Dare I say, proof of the navel-gazing nature of the discipline.
I refer you folk to the field that is Astrophysics.
Astrophysics is a branch of space science that applies the laws of physics and chemistry to seek to understand the universe and our place in it. The field explores topics such as the birth, life and death of stars, planets, galaxies, nebulae and other objects in the universe.htmlhttps://www.space.com/26218-astrophysics.html
If there is one thing I know about the anti-philo crowd, it’s that they love themselves some star gazing.
Either way, it’s been a long time since I last brushed with this topic. Having come across an article titled We Ignored Salman Rushdie’s Warning in a publication called Common Sense, this seems a good time for a re-visit. The author of the article is Bari Weiss (because, OF COURSE it is).
We live in a culture in which many of the most celebrated people occupying the highest perches believe that words are violence. In this, they have much in common with Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who issued the first fatwa against Salman Rushdie in 1989, and with Hadi Matar, the 24-year-old who, yesterday, appears to have fulfilled his command when he stabbed the author in the neck on a stage in Western New York.
The first group believes they are motivated by inclusion and tolerance—that it’s possible to create something even better than liberalism, a utopian society where no one is ever offended. The second we all recognize as religious fanatics. But it is the indulgence and cowardice of the words are violence crowd that has empowered the second and allowed us to reach this moment, when a fanatic rushes the stage of a literary conference with a knife and plunges it into one of the bravest writers alive.https://www.commonsense.news/p/we-ignored-salman-rushdies-warning?triedSigningIn=true
Right off the bat, it’s hard to ignore the strawman. I have yet to see 1 single person who equates words ALONE as violence. While I won’t go as far as saying that no one would say that, the vast majority are more concerned with the consequences of words.
And no, not in a victim-blaming sense. No one ought to be stabbed for their depictions of what arguably amounts to be a character of fiction.
However, I suspect that this isn’t the kind of speech that people like Bari are defending.
* * *
Salman Rushdie has lived half of his life with a bounty on his head—some $3.3 million promised by the Islamic Republic of Iran to anyone who murdered him. And yet, it was in 2015, years after he had come out of hiding, that he told the French newspaper L’Express: “We are living in the darkest time I have ever known.”
* * *
By 2015, America was a very different place.
When Rushdie made those comments to L’Express it was in the fallout of PEN, the country’s premiere literary group, deciding to honor the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo with an award. Months before, a dozen staff members of Charlie Hebdo were murdered by two terrorists in their offices. It was impossible to think of a publication that deserved to be recognized and elevated more.
And yet the response from more than 200 of the world’s most celebrated authors was to protest the award. Famous writers—Joyce Carol Oates, Lorrie Moore, Michael Cunningham, Rachel Kushner, Michael Ondaatje, Teju Cole, Peter Carey, Junot Díaz—suggested that maybe the people who had just seen their friends murdered for publishing a satirical magazine were a little bit at fault, too. That if something offends a minority group, that perhaps it shouldn’t be printed. And those cartoonists were certainly offensive, even the dead ones. These writers accused PEN of “valorizing selectively offensive material: material that intensifies the anti-Islamic, anti-Maghreb, anti-Arab sentiments already prevalent in the Western world.”
Looking back to the boycott, the goal was less anti-anti-Islam sentiments than it was questioning the nature of the content (as it comes across in the context of french culture).
In their letter the writers protest against the award from PEN America, the prominent literary organization of which most of the signatories are members, accusing the French satirical magazine of mocking a “section of the French population that is already marginalized, embattled, and victimized”.
Twenty-six writers, including Pulitzer and National Book Award winners, joined six others – Peter Carey, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner and Taiye Selasi – who had previously withdrawn from the PEN gala celebrating the award. The letter condemns the murder of 12 Hebdo staffers by Chérif and Saïd Kouachi, two extremists enraged by the magazine’s cartoons of the prophet Muhammad.
But the writers also criticize the decision to give an award to Charlie Hebdo.
“There is a critical difference between staunchly supporting expression that violates the acceptable, and enthusiastically rewarding such expression,” the letter reads.https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/apr/29/writers-join-protest-charlie-hebdo-pen-award
I remember the overall atmosphere of the time period. At the time, most people (dare I say, me included) were far more concerned with the dangers of radical Islam than they were of much else. Certainly, far more emphasis was put on the dangers of Islamisation than on homegrown fascism. Though Christopher Hedges did sound the alarm on the dangers of Christian nationalism early, I don’t recall this sentiment escaping the confines of the progressive new sphere until the Trump era.
This brings us to today. To Bari Weiss once again viewing history through a straw-man lens.
The protest was not about curbing Islamic criticism. It was more concerned with not glamorizing what, in french cultural terms, equated to punching down. Whilst some may see this as the erosion of western values, I see it as the values of freedom of speech and expression working just as they should.
From how I understand it, no one said that the PEN organization should not award Charlie Hebdo. They just decided not to attend as their expression of dissatisfaction with the choice.
Here’s how Rushdie responded: “This issue has nothing to do with an oppressed and disadvantaged minority. It has everything to do with the battle against fanatical Islam, which is highly organized, well funded, and which seeks to terrify us all, Muslims as well as non-Muslims, into a cowed silence.”
He was right. They were wrong. And their civic cowardice, as Sontag may have described it, is in no small part, responsible for the climate we find ourselves in today. (As I wrote this, I got a news alert from The New York Times saying the attacker’s “motive was unclear.” Motive was unclear?)https://www.commonsense.news/p/we-ignored-salman-rushdies-warning?triedSigningIn=true
I can’t wait to see where this goes . . .
The words are violence crowd is right about the power of language. Words can be vile, disgusting, offensive, and dehumanizing. They can make the speaker worthy of scorn, protest, and blistering criticism. But the difference between civilization and barbarism is that civilization responds to words with words. Not knives or guns or fire. That is the bright line. There can be no excuse for blurring that line—whether out of religious fanaticism or ideological orthodoxy of any other kind.
Today our culture is dominated by those who blur that line—those who lend credence to the idea that words, art, song lyrics, children’s books, and op-eds are the same as violence. We are so used to this worldview and what it requires—apologize, grovel, erase, grovel some more—that we no longer notice. It is why we can count, on one hand—Dave Chappelle; J.K. Rowling—those who show spine.https://www.commonsense.news/p/we-ignored-salman-rushdies-warning?triedSigningIn=true
To this, I have to say . . . what in the FUCK are you talking about?!
We live in a world where actions have consequences. Though punching down from the safety of the mainstream media was once considered acceptable (as most marginalized groups without fanatical fringes never had the platform to defend themselves), this is less the case today. Because for better or for worse, almost everyone now has a platform. Not to mention that the ease of information access of modern technology leaves little excuse for the dispersal of outdated or demonstrably false information.
This brings us to the real agenda of this, the free speech hysteria crowd. They use the term copiously, but they are not interested in free speech. What they want is the good ole days, the era of speech without consequence. A time when spouting wrongful or bigoted (often both) nonsense came with little reprocussions.
Just as it comes as no coincidence that Weiss chose J.K. Rowling and Dave Chappelle as her people with spine, it is also no coincidence that this is all happening as generational and racial power dynamics are starting to shift in the US and elsewhere. After all, when accustomed to privilege, equality can look very much like oppression.
Of course it is 2022 that the Islamists finally get a knife into Salman Rushdie. Of course it is now, when words are literally violence and J.K. Rowling literally puts trans lives in danger and even talking about anything that might offend anyone means you are literally arguing I shouldn’t exist. Of course it’s now, when we’re surrounded by silliness and weakness and self-obsession, that a man gets on stage and plunges a knife into Rushdie, plunges it into his liver, plunges it into his arm, plunges it into his eye. That is violence.https://www.commonsense.news/p/we-ignored-salman-rushdies-warning?triedSigningIn=true
Well, I don’t have much else to say.
If you want to know what Free speech is code for, it’s right here plain as day. The freedom to punch down without consequence. If that is the stance that Salman Rushdie chooses to take, then that is unfortunate. Though hardly the only case of prominence not equate to wisdom.
Either way, may he have a speedy recovery.