Thursday, June 01, 2006

Let's bring back the Index ...

... and while we're at it, let the Nanny State take over our ability to think as well. Or so, it seems, this piece at the CBCI website argues. Ban and Censorship -- Role of the State.
The question now arises: If the Government (Public Authority) has a responsibility to safeguard the physical health of its citizens, why is there such a hue and cry when it needs to safeguard the mental and emotional health of its citizens? In fact, many so-called rights’ activists oppose governmental “interference” in the areas of films, art, theatre and, more recently, of what is transmitted on the internet. To be opposed “in principle” (as is claimed by some journalists) to all “interference” by the government in the area of films, publications or theatre, appears, prima facie, to be without any rational basis. It is very reasonable, indeed, to accept that the government has (not only the right, but also) the duty to protect public morality.
"Mental and emotional health?" The government is supposed to protect my emotional health? Is this a serious argument, really? If I feel depressed, or am heartbroken, or elated, or wired, or, angry, the government should be responsible for regulating/controling/improving the situation?

And to what extent is the government responsible for citizens' mental health? Yes, of course, when it comes to mental illness -- proper care of those who are mentally ill, proper regulation of medication, treatment, etc. Sure. But otherwise?

Now --- how on earth is the friggin' Da Vinci Code affecting public "mental and emotional health?"
To take the argument a step further, it can be argued that the ban on child marriages, on sati, and on polygamy, is an infringement of the rights of those who believe that this is prescribed by their religion. It can be argued that these bans “hurt their religious sentiments” Yet, common sense dictates that certain “religious” practices are in clear violation of the natural law, and, therefore, can be legitimately suppressed. It will be very difficult to find valiant defenders of head-hunting in the modern world, although this was quite a common practice in some places, in the not so remote past.
Um. Do what? Head-hunting is the same thing as free speech? The issue at hand is the freedom of speech -- and a film is an expression of an artist's freedom of speech.

The piece is similarly confused throughout.
It must be remembered, and acknowledged, that those who protest the public screening of offensive films have as much right to protest as those who espouse the cause of “freedom of expression.”
I cannot think of anyone who has argued that those who are protesting the DVC themselves be censored or banned. Besides, I cannot imagine any free-speech advocate suggesting this. I can imagine someone from the other side, the author's side, proposing just that, however!

And here's the kicker:
In recent times we have witnessed violent reactions to the publication of works of history which contained points of view which were at variance with those held by some citizens. In Pune, an institute of historical research (the Bhandarkar Institute?) was vandalized and invaluable documents were destroyed by a mob which went on a rampage because it published a book authored by an American historian, which asserted that Shivaji was not really what he is popularly believed to be. Shivaji has been iconized and no criticism of him is to be tolerated. Similarly, “The Satanic Verses” by Salman Rushdie precipitated such violent reactions that the British Government had to accord him special security protection. Some Muslim religious leaders proclaimed a “fatwa” and ordered Rushdie to be assassinated. More recently, Mohammad Fida Hussain came under intense attack for his depiction of the goddess Laxmi in the nude. In his defence, Hussain offered an inane rationalization that there was a distinction between nudity and nakedness. A Danish cartoonist in a very small town in Denmark caricatured the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) as the protagonist of violence. This caused a world-wide protest which threatened to escalate into physical violence.
(Actually the cartoon protests did escalate to physical violence. I beleive a few Danish embassies took the brunt of it). Ok. So because people get upset by what these various artists/writers/historians have said, the government should ban the offensive material. Wow. Salman Rushdie -- hey, you know what, it was perfectly legitimate for the Ayatollah to ask for you to be killed. The government screwed up and didn't ban the stuff in time. And is not a crowd demonstrating and violently attacking the Bhandarkar Institute simply proving the assertion by that American scholar that no criticism of Shivaji is to be tolerated?

Is the author seriously suggesting that the government's responsibility is in shutting up the offending artist/scholar, rather than preventing the disruption of the public order by violent protests? That offensive speech, in a sense, legitimates such responses? "Hey, they're offended, they can't help it?"

This is democracy? Or mob rule?

And this is to be an acceptable Catholic response to something of the calibre of the Da Vinci Code?

This attitude that the "government" should somehow take care of all the evils of the world is not just common to leftists in the US. It permeates every corner of India. The government is incredibly more intrusive here, and though there is a plethora of laws and bureaucracies that can take lifetimes to navigate, the rule of law itself is at a pitiable level (Just think of the current controversy over the Office of Profits bill).

Don't get me wrong. I think the DVC is trouble, and the Church should respond. But not by calling for boycotts. That just does not fly, even in India, these days.

Nor am I an advocate for unfettered free speech. No society really takes freedom of speech to be an absolute right (that's the straw man the author puts up -- all who support free speech support it absolutely). There's laws against libel and slander and defamation. There's laws protecting minors. There are laws safeguarding national symbols (not in the US, thankfully. While I'm all for respecting one's nation, I am extremely uncomfortable with the idea of some kind of absolute loyalty to the nation. Our citizenship, as St. Paul reminds us, is ultimately in heaven. Yep, I oppose the Flag Burning Amendment to the [US] Constitution).

Yet, surely the sign of a mature democracy is that it can live with deeply unpopular ideas, ideas that might even be offensive to a minority, or a majority, of society? Such ideas should be discussed, debated, responded to, challenged, shot down.

But, "it offends me, so you shut up!" is not a mature response. It's puerile. (And "it offends me so I'm going to beat you up/burn your buildings/kill you" is not just puerile. It is uncivilized, and in the case of the last, evil.)

And, most certainly, not Christian.


St. Elizabeth of Cayce said...

First: No disrespect intended and maybe it's a function of people separated by a common language, but this part of the Bishops' essay struck me:

More recently, Mohammad Fida Hussain came under intense attack for his depiction of the goddess Laxmi in the nude. In his defence, Hussain offered an inane rationalization that there was a distinction between nudity and nakedness.

Sorry, but any good-ol-boy can tell you there's a difference betwen nude and naked (best pronounced "nekkid.")

On the article, one wonders if the Bishops are influenced by cultural/societal elements that, at least in the examples they cite, respond more with action than with words when offended.

Is the fear of rioting over religious offense, over heresy/blasphemy/defamation, a reason to invoke the "No yelling 'fire!' in a crowded movie house" restriction to freedom of speech? Yes, it does smack of treating people like children, but is that ever justified?

who finds it easy to ask questions when so far geographically removed from any volatile, angry people.

Gashwin said...

Yep, I do think there's a different cultural outlook involved here --- one that is just way more sensitive when it comes to matters of religion. But also one that has a kind of bully mentality to it -- we don't like this, so we're gonna make sure no one sees it. That's part of it.

Just to nite: the CBCI website carried this piece. It was written by an individual (layman, as far as I can tell) from Goa. They even published his home address and phone number. Weird.

Gashwin said...

"note" not "nite" :-D