Ten years ago, in a late-night bar, I got into a heated argument with a Libyan Muslim — let’s call him Tariq — about Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses.
Did Rushdie deserve to be murdered for writing a novel? I asked.
Certainly, said Tariq, slamming his beer glass on the table.
What did he do to deserve this death sentence?
He disrespected the Prophet.
Really? And did you read the book to decide for yourself if Rushdie genuinely disrespected the Prophet?
No. But I read photocopies.
Photocopies of what — the whole book?
I see photocopies of pages and he disrespected the Prophet.
Who selected those pages?
People. Some people selected pages and photocopied them to distribute.
How many pages?
Two. Three. I don’t know.
Do you know that Rushdie makes no mention at all of the Prophet in that book?
Yes he does.
How do you know?
I am told so and I believe it. He must die.
Because you’re a fervent Muslim.
But you’ve had about eight pints of Heineken. You’re drunk.
Now, I am in Ireland. It is different.
And you have a girlfriend.
Yes indeed. Lovely girl. And she’s not the only one.
You’re having sex with all these women.
I am in Ireland now. In Europe. It is different.
Salman Rushdie wrote the Satanic Verses in Britain. In Europe. And he said nothing about Muhammad. It’s a book about a guy who looks a lot like the prophet. It’s the Life of Brian, Tariq, for fucksake!
Life of Brian mocks a Prophet too. That director also deserves to be killed.
It was Monty Python.
I don’t know him, but he should die too.
Where are you going with this mindset? We used to meet regularly for a pint, but after that I gave up on Tariq and his bizarre ability to believe two contradictory things at the same time. Even though he said nothing about the Prophet, poor old Salman Rushdie spent years in hiding and to this day must watch out for a murderous attack, simply because he wrote a work of fiction.
Years later, when Jyllands Posten, the Danish newspaper, published caricatures of Muhammad, there was worldwide uproar among fundamentalist Muslims, although not immediately. It took some time before those who wished to stir up outrage were able to spread the images to mountainous villages in Pakistan where, conveniently, there was a ready supply of effigies to burn. That’s the great thing about remote mountainous Pakistani villages. They always have plenty of flags and effigies just in case someone is unexpectedly overtaken with a severe case of religious outrage.
Lars Vilks, a Swedish cartoonist, was the subject of a murder plot because he drew a sketch of the Prophet with the body of a dog. An Islamic group offered a reward of €70,0000 for his murder, with a €35,000 bonus if his killers slaughtered him like a lamb, by cutting his throat. I was a bit worried at the time, due to my Papahund series, but thankfully, nothing came of that.
Here we are in 2012, with yet another murderous rampage taking place because some Muslims choose to be offended by a depiction of the Prophet, this time in a ludicrous short film called Innocence of Muslims. I’m careful to say some Muslims because the majority are embarrassed by the childish and juvenile reaction to this piece of rubbish. I watched it earlier and it reminded me of a play put on by a particularly talentless year of first-year engineering undergraduates. Literal-minded, turgid, badly acted, badly produced and childish.
But of course, these are descriptions you might equally apply to the fools who have been storming embassies in protest at the little clip. Literal-minded, turgid, and childish, as for instance in this Australian protest. It’s hard to escape the irony of a child calling for murder in a democracy where his parents’ beliefs are protected by law, and where they’re free to publish anything they wish, no matter how hateful.
The people demanding that Obama do something about the film appear to be missing a significant point. Having thrown off tyrants and despots all across North Africa, they seem to be insisting that Obama behave in a tyrannical and despotic manner, which hints that perhaps they’re happy enough with oppression, as long as it comes in a flavour that suits them.
Not too long ago, an Irish justice minister introduced a provision under new legislation, dealing with the issue of Blasphemous libel. This was rightly condemned as ludicrous, and nobody expects to see any prosecutions under such a law, but it still remains on our statute books until such time as space can be found to remove it permanently.
Offence is a very subjective matter. What you consider perfectly acceptable is something I might find deeply offensive. On the other hand, what I like might offend you to the core. If I switch my sensitivity trigger to the Extreme setting, where almost everything offends me, does that earn me the automatic right to silence everything you say? Should religious belief have a status superior to everything else, and if so, why?
Here are people, just like Christians, Jews and Scientologists, who believe in things that cannot be demonstrated. Things for which they have no evidence at all. Why would we accord them rights over and above people who believe other unproven things? If I decided that everyone who criticised The Smiths should die, what would happen? That’s right — you’d laugh at me, and quite properly so.
If scientists decided to murder everyone who questioned General Relativity, where would we be? That’s right — we’d be back in the Dark Ages, which is precisely where this insane Muslim obsession with killing your enemies is leading us. Or to be more precise, it’s where these mullahs are dragging us, since they’ve never left the Dark Ages.
Offence is never given. We do what we do and we wait to see what people make of it.
Offence is taken. Being offended is a deliberate, positive action, and the more willing you are to be offended, the more offence you’ll find in the world.
That’s why we can’t start to define things as being intrinsically offensive in and of themselves. If we start doing that, we’ll hand a veto to every nut, crackpot and extremist on the planet who’s out there waiting to be offended. We can’t let the lunatics decide what’s acceptable, unless we all want to live in an asylum. Unless we want all our standards to be decided by homicidal lunatics.
And anyway, so what if I disrespect your Prophet? Would we tolerate Scientologists issuing threats against everyone who laughed at L Ron Hubbard? Would we be happy if the Moonies murdered people who ridiculed the ludicrous Reverend Moon?
Why would people not ridicule a man who had sex with a nine-year-old and still claimed to be the moral leader of an entire movement?
Come on. Let’s have some sanity here.