There’s a big storm brewing over the film by Dutch politician Geert Wilders which apparently describes Islam as “the enemy of freedom”. The site where he was proposing to host the film has been closed down by the American administrators (Network Solutions Inc) after complaints of “hate speech” were received. This raises some very fundamental questions about tolerance, free speech and “hate”.
Mr Wilders has recently written “The film is not so much about Muslims as about the Koran and Islam. The Islamic ideology has as its utmost goal the destruction of what is most dear to us, our freedom,”.
It has to be said that this seems to me to be true for the extreme versions of most religions, whether it be Islam, Christianity, Judaism, … Hmmmm OK – the extreme versions of the Abrahamic religions; I’m really not sure the same could be said of Buddhism, Hinduism, Pastafarianism, … (but that may just be my ignorance of the details of some of them)
It seems to me that the Buddhist philosophy of “be tolerant of everything except intolerance” is ever more crucial in multi-cultural, multi-(or non-)faith societies. If Mr Wilders’ film claims that Islam does not comply with this fundamental tenet and argues that Islam must, therefore, be regarded as a real and present threat to tolerant societies then surely that is not “hate speech” it is a defence of one of the fundamental principles of most countries today. Clearly, if his argument then proceeds to say that rather than attempting to persuade Muslims to see the error of their ways we should physically annihilate them then this is unacceptable. But if he is saying “People! Wake Up! Some part of the Islamic community is determined to destroy the fabric of our society. We must take strong measures (immigration restrictions, surveillance, etc) to ensure that this doesn’t happen.” then this absolutely is something that he should be allowed to say.
A key point which many fundamentalists of various religions fail to understand is that just because someone criticises their religion it doesn’t follow that they are intolerant of it.
Personally, I am strongly atheist – I am comfortable rationalising my existence without recourse to belief in supernatural beings or powers – but I am also very libertarian – if someone wishes to believe that the universe was sneezed out of the nose of the Great Green Arkleseizure and live in fear of the coming of the Great White Handkerchief (*) then that is fine by me (although I might take the piss out of that someone if I met them in the pub), so long as those people are equally tolerant of my atheism. I really can’t see any other principle that is likely to form the basis of a stable society in the long term.
So, I hope very much that we will soon be able to see for ourselves what Mr Wilders has to say. If it falls within the boundaries of critical tolerance then I hope that principled people throughout the free world will stand up for the principle of his right to say it. If it falls outside those boundaries then the same people must be prepared to condemn him as no better than those whom he criticises.
Watch this space…
(*) As described by the late, great Douglas Adams