Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Better not offend me, I'm religious

Religion is used as an excuse for all kinds of crazy behaviour but today we really saw one of the highs. In Libya a group of gunmen attacked a US embassy and killed four people after a firefight with security personnel and other defenders. Their reason for the attack was that a film was made in the US that portrays the 'prophet' Muhammad in a really negative light. This wasn't a US government film, nor even a big industry film, but rather a incredibly tacky, badly shot amateur affair that is only available in pieces on Youtube - it hasn't even been properly released yet. It certainly portrays Muhammad in an incredibly poor light, mostly by telling the truth about what is in the Koran using crappy actors and awful dialogue.

The first official response to this deplorable action contained the following:

The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.

Unsurprisingly US officials are pretty angry that about the whole affair. I must ask though, why is it exactly that they are even talking about the video as if it was a part of the problem? Free speech is a critical part of having an open, democratic society and it is not magically removed in the case that somebody happens to be religious. The movie that provoked this response was poorly made but that is the *only* thing wrong with it. Being religious is not an excuse for violent behaviour, let alone murder, even if somebody else says something your religion disagrees with.

You do not have the right to not be offended. You may not like what I say, but as long as I am not endangering or threatening you I have the right to say those things. I don't much like people saying that Muhammad was in any way divinely inspired (mostly because that would imply that things can be divine) but I don't get to go murder Saudi Arabian government workers because I heard an imam saying things that offended me. The difference between me and a religious person is that nobody will accept my being offended as an excuse for mayhem while religious people will find widespread support for rampages based on being mocked.

Something I find utterly astounding is how these violent events ignore the constant stream of mockery directed at religions and focus on just a few small events as justification for outbursts. Jesus and Mo is up all the time portraying Muhammad as a complete buffoon and yet it has not yet been a flashpoint for religious violence. The new Youtube movie hasn't said anything that isn't regularly said all over the place and yet somehow it provoked this insane response. I can't figure out what it is about cartoons in Danish newspapers and nearly unknown amateur films that get fundamentalist, radical Muslims really riled up but there sure seems to be something.

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