"Truth is not a Defence..."
February 28, 2007
As I write this, the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo is being sued by the Grand Mosque of Paris and the Union of French Islamic Organisations for reprinting unflattering cartoons of Muhammad. Closer to home, a Cambridge student who did the same in a low-budget college paper has been in hiding “for safety reasons.” Naturally, I find myself thinking about King Charles II and those troublesome colonies.
In the 17th Century, Charles II ruled what is now North and South Carolina. When exiled, Charles briefly became ‘King of Virginia’, but that’s another story. Noted comments from the period include this little nugget, by the Virginian Colonial Governor, William Berkeley: "I thank God there are no free schools nor printing, and I hope we shall not have these [for a] hundred years; for learning has brought disobedience and heresy into the world; and printing has divulged them, and libels against the best government. God keep us from both."
Other colonies had strict laws against ‘defaming’ the Christian faith and the political power associated with it: “During the period, thousands of people are brought before Virginia and other state assemblies and punished for daring to criticize them, even in the mildest terms. Truth is not a defence in such cases. In fact, truthful criticism is seen as even worse since it further undermines authority.”
“Truth is not a defence.” Hm.
But, of course, no-one would say that now. And no-one would use words like 'authority' and 'power.' Not about Islam. Not out loud. Now we hear about much fluffier things, like 'feelings', 'prejudice' and 'sensitivity.' It's the passive-aggressive approach.