Ow, My Vanity
March 30, 2009
Ophelia Benson recently aired some thoughts on the sly redefinition of “defamation” – a term now being used by those whose vanity is such they presume to take umbrage at things that are unflattering but true. I’ve touched on this subject before and noted how the language of religious supremacism is routinely couched in the rhetoric of personal injury. As when the preposterous Islamophile Yvonne Ridley declared: “My faith is my nationality and when you attack it you are being racist.”
Presumably, Ms Ridley would have us believe that it is simply wrong to dislike Islam, or any part thereof. There are, apparently, no good reasons for doing so. But this opportunist victimhood is hardly flattering or deserving of sympathy. The spread of pretentious grievance does harm to liberal culture. Those who can claim to belong to some Designated Victim Group can use political leverage to silence their critics by depicting them as oppressors who, in the interests of “fairness,” must be silenced by the state. As when the pious souls at Cambridge Mosque conjured “hate speech” and “incitement to religious and ethnic hatred” from an innocuous student cartoon, with the result that those responsible found themselves interrogated by Cambridgeshire police. But what is unfair – really unfair - is the demand for unearned deference and unilateral exemption from the testing of ideas. Those who regard hurt feelings, or claims thereof, as denoting virtue by default may see a weaker party facing unfair attack and rush to their defence. In practice, they may simply be excusing the party with the weaker argument. Political deference to such demands leads to dishonesty and unrealism on a sociological scale. In the interests of “fairness,” so conceived, judgment must be blunted. As I said in one of my very first posts,
Religious “freedom” is now presumed to entail sparing believers any hint that others do not share their beliefs, and indeed may find them ludicrous. There is, apparently, no corresponding obligation for believers to embrace ideas that are not clearly risible, monstrous or disgusting.
R Joseph Hoffmann adds some thoughts of his own and ponders the conceit that religion – and one in particular – now has “human rights” too.:
According to Pakistan’s ambassador, Zamir Akram, “Defamation of religions is the cause that leads to incitement to hatred, discrimination and violence toward their followers.” That is stuff and nonsense of course. It is like saying that impugning General Motors workmanship is the cause of a car wreck. If religions, by a stretch, are products of culture, then the fact that they are sometimes “defamed” (read: criticised) might just have something to do with quality control and less to do with the insidious intentions of their detractors. To resituate the causes of religious violence and hatred from its source to the “defamers” is a standard tactic redolent of the Victim’s Handbook available at your local Discourse and Broomsticks Bookstore.
Related: Jeff Goldstein ponders advice to mind one’s language in certain company.