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Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Outrage and Civilisation

The West has no monopoly on civilised behaviour, as the new shocking report into the Hillsborough tragedy reveals - where police officers colluded to demean the reputations of the dead (including children) with multiple false allegations; and worse.  However, at least the British PM has made a statement to clear the air, and there have been apologies from newspapers and the police - and criminal charges may still be laid.  On the other hand, the events in Libya on 9/11 the other night are revelatory of a problem that, frankly, liberals in the West usually shy away from - that of barbaric, endemic "street" outrage, usually triggered by "blasphemy".

Again, the West has fundamentalist lunacy at its core - one thinks of Mitt Romney's running mate; or those who burned Beatles albums years ago.  One thinks of the KKK and John Birch Society.  One shudders at intolerance.  Still, there is something deeply wrong with a culture that can encourage, or at least turn a blind eye to, murder of so-called blasphemers.  Blasphemy is a very porous thing.  It is easy to accuse someone of, hard to disprove.  Add to this the fact it seems a trigger for mass rioting and killing, and one faces a social mess.  Nations who continue to allow their citizens to literally run riot, enraged by - sometimes admittedly upsetting behaviour - need to be roundly condemned.  In this context, the idea that Iran is a "rational actor" seems questionable, when religion in the Middle East and Asia is too often a pretext for bloodshed and madness.

The West murdered and pillaged under the banner of Christendom for centuries - it is not spotless.  However, the Enlightenment, and then the post-structural linguistic turn, as well as modernism in the arts, mean that Western society is more ruled by science, reason, and a sense of multiple and provisional "truths"; art is welcome as one part of this story, not as a threat - and, most vitally, freedom of speech is at the heart of our democracies, fragile, suspect and riddled with elitism as they may be.  The death of the US ambassador in Libya is a sad moment.

We must temper our outrage.  We must count to ten, before retaliating.  To this degree, the use of drone attacks by the American army (and the President Obama) are part of the bloody cycle.  It is not that atheists are totally correct, but they hold a grain of truth - religion needs to be constrained by reason - reason that is, arguably, God-given.
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