Saturday, 24 January 2015

Baffled as Usual

As has happened many times before - all right, I admit, it's more or less my perpetual condition - when the world fell prey to another outbreak of moral certainty recently, I found myself feeling peculiar and alone. This time it was the "Je Suis Charlie" wildfire, which left me thinking, "I'm not brave enough to be Charlie - how can I possibly lay claim to that mantle?"

What made the phenomenon even more confusing was that, almost immediately after it, there was yet another of those small explosions of public outrage that I think are what pass for debate these days. This time the issue was The Sun "newspaper"'s decision - if it was a decision - to remove their popular ladies-with-no-tops-on feature.

It turns out that there are people who have dedicated their lives to abolishing this feature. There's some kind of institute that's been established entirely to achieve this aim. And, as well as one of that organisation's representatives, a British member of parliament appeared on the television, asking angrily why women should have to see these dreadful, offensive pictures.

Which was a really stupid question because, of course, no woman does have to see these pictures, if she doesn't want to, just as no Muslim has to look at Charlie Hebdo, unless that's what he wishes to do. In addition, as far as I know, no woman has ever been forced to have her picture taken with her top off, in this context. Certainly, no-one has ever required me to either look at one of the Sun's notorious pictures or to appear in one - or even suggested I might like to, (not that I'm complaining).

The irony did not appear to occur to anyone else, yet surely there is an irony here. On the one hand, every bien pensant in the Western world is plastering themselves in "Je suis Charlie" placards, advocating the right to say and publish anything you like. On the other, many of those same people are determined to ban something, to block publication of images that offend their sensibilities, which are also not everyone's.

This is not a suggestion that I admire The Sun or its topless lady feature. It's just a way of saying that I'm with Voltaire (despite the fact that I found Candide unspeakably boring).

So, cliched though it is, here's what I'd have put on my, admittedly rather long, placard, if I'd gone to a Charlie Hebdo demo:

"Je ne suis pas d'accord avec ce que vous dites, Charlie, ni avec ce que vous montrez, Soleil de Londres, mais je me battrai jusqu'à la mort pour que vous ayez le droit de le dire et de le montrer."

I might also have added, "The only mature response to provocation is not to be provoked."

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