was my Trade Tripper column in the recent weekend issue of BusinessWorld:
Last week was just about Charlie Hebdo, the French magazine known for its satirical cartoons. Though an equal opportunity offender (lampooning viciously everybody, whether it be Christians, Jews, immigrants, etc.), unfortunately one group of people didn’t find some of the cartoons funny (I don’t think anybody does) and so did what any normal, well-adjusted men of faith would do (of course, I’m being sarcastic): massacre a substantial number of the editorial staff (plus two policemen who were at the scene).
The “progressive” Left’s reaction has so far been predictable: (a) lump all religion together negatively as a bunch of intolerant extremists with hair-trigger personalities; (b) obfuscate the matter by putting out to the public gazillions of social media updates, thoughts or articles under the guise of “bridge-building” or the seeking of “compromise” (inevitably leading to inaction); or (c) blame poverty, historical hurts, or politics as the cause of the massacre (rather than pin the responsibility on adults with the free will to choose to just not kill anyone).
The first reaction is so expected it’s almost a satire: “progressives” dislike religions, as they abhor the idea of moral standards. To them, everything has to be relative. Which is why it’s bizarre that their faith (pun intended) in “freedom of expression” runs into the absolute.
As to the relationship between the rights to free expression and religion, I’ve already discussed it in a previous BusinessWorld article (“Offending hate speakers,” October 2013) and won’t repeat the points here.
However, the importance of religion in people’s lives and as a human right should be reiterated: Stanford’s Michael W. McConnel describes it this way: “Religion is a special phenomenon, in part, because it plays such a wide variety of roles in human life.” There is no other human phenomenon that combines all of these aspects (e.g., institution, worldview, locus of community, an aspect of identity, provides answers to questions of ultimate reality, and offers a connection to the transcendent); “if there were such a concept, it would probably be viewed as a religion.”
Because religion indeed plays such a huge role in the human condition and identity, it constitutes a fundamental human right alongside which other rights are arrayed. Hence, though we adhere to the idea of free speech, nevertheless, reasonableness tells us that the exercise of such right (in fact, any right) has to be done in a manner that is respectful of other and of other’s rights.
The right to religion is also subjected to this dimension; hence, why the Islamic extremists who murdered the Charlie Hebdo staff are justly and correctly condemned. The same goes for Christian anti-abortion activists who murder doctors or nurses.
Progressives have it wrong: you don’t actually respect the religion, you respect people. And many people simply like their religion. That is reality. Just as nobody should maliciously, without reason, offend the feelings of a person for liking One Direction (utterly tempting and justifiable it may be), then all the more should you respect that person’s sensitivities when it comes to his identity and his belief about his Maker.
There’s one aspect, however, that must be emphasized: as we noted above, the progressives’ inability to definitively call Islamic terrorists as responsible.
Because to hold them to account requires a standard (which an act is said to violate that gives rise to the accountability). But as mentioned previously, progressives hate standards. And worse (for them), one quite identifiable source for a standard, which will inevitably invite comparison, is Christianity. But the idea that Christianity (particularly the Catholic Church, which opposes contraception, same-sex marriage, abortion, euthanasia, etc.) might actually possess possible solutions or even guidance is such an anathema to those on the Left that they will absolutely refuse to consider it at whatever cost. They’d rather have the world burn from global inaction against the terrorists just because something will not fit their narrative.
And the logic twisting goes to ridiculous lengths: Islamic extremists murder people and liberal media and academe go into hyper-drive in demanding “nuance” and “understanding”: that Muslims suffer more from terrorists or are forced to do acts not required of other faiths or have suffered historic wrongs stretching not only decades but millennia. But such are quite fallacious. Besides, the problem is not the Muslims. Or anyone’s religion. The problem is the Islamic extremists who kill, torture, or otherwise hurt people.
On the other hand, when a Christian simply writes or speaks about the faith’s doctrines on same-sex marriage, the entire liberal progressive establishment goes nuts: all of a sudden, absolutism is fine, particularly when it comes to free speech. And forget about nuance. One local newspaper columnist labeled “intolerant” the Philippine Catholic Bishops for simply pointing out a misquote on Pope Francis.
There is nothing reductionist about this: people really need to start approaching things with reason rather than ideology. Perhaps with that at least something constructive can be done.