Monday, November 05, 2012

Salman Rushdie - For Free Speech

Salman Rushdie

I've kept long enough on the back burner this Patt Morrison interview, "Salman Rushdie, freedom writer," which I read in the LA Times about one month ago (October 3, 2012) but only now have found opportunity to excerpt:
In the new book you write that the protagonist -- you -- chooses ethics and the universality of freedom over fundamentalist religion and moral relativism. Is this the defining conflict of the epoch?

I think so. I really wanted to sum it up not just in a narrow political way but in terms of what it is about literature and the things that I love that I wanted to defend against the things that were attacking them.
I find fascinating the fact -- and it is a fact -- that a supposedly universal religion should mire itself in moral relativism, but Islam is doing that by its refusal to subject itself to the universalizing force of reason.
You called the "Innocence of Muslims" video the worst thing on YouTube. It certainly isn't art, but it is "speech." Should we draw a line on the protections we extend to speech?

I don't think so. The correct response to a piece of nonsense on YouTube is to say it's a piece of nonsense on YouTube. To use that to try to blow up the world just seems, to put it mildly, disproportionate. It's become clear that the video has become a pretext for the unleashing of a more generalized anti-American rage. And the video has been used by political and religious leaders across the Muslim world just to point an angry mob in the direction of America.
Bully for Rushdie. He comes out clearly and forcefully for free speech.
Even as the video protests unfolded, "The Book of Mormon," which makes light of religion, opened in Hollywood. Nobody burned down the Pantages over it.

It's a brilliantly clever show, and I know a lot of Mormons have seen it and thought it was funny. This is how to be grown-up. We're sometimes told that, on [history's] calendar, Islam is only in the middle ages, so it will mature as the centuries pass. But Mormonism seems to have got there a lot faster.
Excellent point -- precisely to the point! Islam is less mature than Mormonism. Of course, Mormonism is an American religion. Anyway, Rushdie concludes with full-throated appreciation of America's First Amendment:
I feel the American principle, the 1st Amendment, is the best: Better to have the bad ideas out in the sunlight where they can be attacked than under the carpet where they will be in some way glamorized by being forbidden. Vampires shrivel in the sunlight.
My view precisely, almost exactly as I used to defend free speech in Germany when speaking with German friends over Germany's legal restrictions on freedom of expression.

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At 9:09 AM, Anonymous Crude said...

Rushdie only supports freedom of speech insofar as he thinks that freedom advances his social and political aims. If you ask him, what if a real freedom of speech would undermine liberal values, make the world more religious and conservative, he wouldn't be able to process it. To him, you can tell if you have those freedoms properly by whether the very thing he wants to see happen, happens more often.

Even you are similar. You say, "Better to have the bad ideas out in the sunlight where they can be attacked". But what happens if Freedom of Speech doesn't make the bad ideas wither and die? What if the "bad ideas" - I wonder what they are - thrive in a Free Speech environment, and the "good ideas" die? Will it be time to call the project a failed experiment?

Anyone can support a supposedly precious freedom when they think it will lead to a world they personally prefer.

At 1:09 PM, Blogger TheBigHenry said...

"What if the "bad ideas" - I wonder what they are - thrive in a Free Speech environment, and the "good ideas" die?"

You may ask, "What if my grandma had balls?" To which I would respond, "She'd be your grandpa."

Not every idea that makes sense has to be tortuously vetted before one commits to it. Otherwise, we would still be sitting in a circle jerk debating whether or not "Thou shalt not kill" was a good idea.

At 1:16 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

"Better to have the bad ideas out in the sunlight where they can be attacked."

Crude, that was actually Rushdie's statement, but I agree with it.

What if free speech leads to a majority in favor of restricting speech?

The world will be a worse place, I reckon.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:17 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

TBH, fancy seeing you here. Good to hear from you.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:18 PM, Blogger TheBigHenry said...

Thanx, HJH. Nice to be here.

At 5:33 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

TBH, if that photo's of you as a kid, you were really good-looking.

As for me, I had really big ears . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:39 AM, Blogger TheBigHenry said...

That photo is the ID pic from my
Green Card. It was taken when I emigrated to America in 1949. I was seven years old.

At 1:55 AM, Blogger TheBigHenry said...

Emigrated from Europe; immigrated to America.

At 5:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Will it be time to call the project a failed experiment?" My apologies Jeff, but Crude, you are the hind end of a horse! 230+ years of the First Amendment pretty much takes it out of the "project" or "experiment" stages. Curious as to what Crude would put in place to ensure freedom of speech and continuous flow of ideas, bad or good? Or is he against free speech because it does not conform to HIS view of how things should be?

While I disagree with Crude's sentiments, I fully defend his right to express them. Would Crude offer us the same courtesy?

TBH - I liked your sensible response to your own posed question. Too often too many try to make something different out of the obvious.


At 5:42 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Well . . . in Crude's defense, his question may have been a philosophical one, and I don't have a ready answer, but I'm not sure that I need one first off. I'd prefer, rather, to hear a detailed scenario of the sort that Crude proposes, i.e., a plausible depiction of some situation in which free speech leads to a bad world.

By the way, my wife and kids sometimes read this blog, so let's continue using euphemisms -- even if this discussion grows heated -- so that I can face my family . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:00 AM, Blogger TheBigHenry said...

Thanx, Jay. I also would support anyone's right to their own expressed views.

Nevertheless, I think it pretentious to question philosophically something as fundamental as free speech, or any Judeo-Christian concept of ethics, as if Talmudic and other scholars had not debated such issues into submission over the millennia.

At 6:19 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Especially on a blog as unpretentious as one with a name like Gypsy Scholar!

Speaking of Talmudists, here's a great one defending free speech . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:51 AM, Blogger TheBigHenry said...

Not sure Kinky qualifies as a Talmudist, but he sure is funny. That crack about Jesus in a Mexican prison had me ROTFLMAO ...

At 7:18 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I like his line about how Santa Claus killed Jesus Christ. I recall listening to that song back in the seventies and being puzzled, but as I grew older and wiser, I realized what Kinky meant -- it's both true and funny!

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I actually went to Crude's blog and read enough to convince me he was not being philosophical with his question. Thus my response, but not to worry about any further "heat". I do agree with TBH, the Jesus in a Mexican prison is hilarious.


At 6:54 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Crude could perhaps stand some refinement himself . . . but I've had far more vociferous critics.

I'd position Crude on the reasonable side, relative to them.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting the interview. It's always good to hear from Salman Rushdie. Why not just write a well-considered little opinionative piece separate from the interview, rather than annoyingly interrupt it with inane counterproductive cheering?

At 6:47 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

You're welcome.

Jeffery Hodges

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