Salman Rushdie and Fareed Zakaria on the First Amendment

On CNN the other night Fareed Zakaria asked Salman Rushdie whether he thought CNN should have aired the anti-Islam video and shown the cartoon ridiculing Mohammed by the magazine Charlie Hebdoe.  Rushdie said yes, because CNN’s job is to report the news, not to censor it out of fear.

He said the First Amendment was the most important part of our western civilisation, and that the west should not be held hostage by fear of inflaming fundamentalist passion.  There have been plenty of cartoons, videos and films denigrating the Pope but Catholics don’t go on a killing spree about it.  Is that because they’re not really passionate about their religion?

Of course not.  Rushdie added that when one sees a stupid Youtube video, the healthy and normal response is to say it’s a stupid video and move on with your life.  And that deliberately inflaming people’s passion with it is about politics and power, which has nothing to do with religion.

It’s an old business, using religion as a guise to mobilize those prone to violence.  It’s a frightening business these days, when entitlement is so out of control.  I have found myself giving into the fear that fundamentalists prey on – if you do something don’t we like we kill you.  Even Christiane Amanpour seemed pretty convinced that it was irresponsible to create and print the derogatory cartoon.

I wasn’t sure whether I agreed with her or not, or whether I thought it should have been aired.  But when Rushdie spoke, I realized that if you give in to the fundamentalist threat it’s a slippery slope.  Pretty soon you’re not reporting anything they do.  In case you inflame them more.  Here’s the truth, they’re inflammable.   And that kind of neurotic abuse of power doesn’t diminish when you kow-tow to it.  I admired Rushdie for his courage and solid good sense.

This situation reminds me of when I was a child.  A Catholic priest asked me what I would do if I was given a choice to denounce my faith or lose my life.  I was very clear about it, because I was already disenchanted with Catholicism.  I’d lie, of course.  But now, if I was given the option to support fundamentalism – by not criticizing violent criminal acts – or lose my life, it wouldn’t be such an easy choice.

Fundamentalists, regardless of their religion and whether they’re from the Middle East or the West, are bullies with no respect for life, a lot of repressed anger looking for an outlet, and an exaggerated entitlement.  They seek to destroy freedom of speech.  Salman Rushdie was right.  The First Amendment is one of the most important rights we have in the west.  Give it up and you violate your soul.

Political correctness in South Africa: let’s face it, racism is racism

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I read that the University of Cape Town has a black-only alumni group.  Whites aren’t allowed in.  OMIGOD!   Uproar!  Racism! Racism! A spokesperson for the group said it isn’t racism, and the rationale is that whites did it to blacks (which is true) so they’re just equalizing things.  I can understand that, and I’d want to do it too.

If you’ve ever been in a relationship with a bully, it’s no use treating them with respect; they’ll see it as a weakness and trample all over you.  It’s pretty smart to avoid contact with them, also no matter how much they say they’ve changed.

I don’t think the morality and political correctness of it matters much, it’s just so much hot air.  I think the important thing is what racism does to the person practicing it.  Prejudice has never led to anything positive for its perpetrators, no matter what the reason for it.  If I build myself up at the expense of somebody else I’m focusing on them instead of on me, so I’m a house divided, which weakens me.

Does doing to somebody else what their predecessors did to your predecessors address the hideous and unconscionable inequality of the past and make life better for you?  I don’t know; it’s a complicated subject, because the whites being excluded aren’t the ones who created apartheid, but they are the ones who inherited the privileges from it.

I’d say people should be allowed to have whatever groups they want.  Freedom of speech and  association are pretty important.  It only gets dangerous for society when any groups or individuals within them start wielding power over the lives of others and infringing on their rights.

As for the University alumni group, why shouldn’t they exclude whites?  They’re allowed to.  You’re allowed to invite who you want to your party.  If the whites who have been excluded don’t like it, they’ve got mouths, telephones, they know how to talk and ask questions, engage.  They can sort it out.  It’s their lives, their choice.

Still, no matter what the spokesperson for the alumni group called their actions, it’s still excluding people on the basis of the color of their skin, which makes it racism.  You can’t bend the truth.  Which incontrovertible fact doesn’t stop us from trying!

In general, this blog is about the pursuit of dreams.  Mine are to establish myself as a vocalist, script & blog writer & novelist, & to earn by doing something meaningful.  If you’d like to help enable my dreams, click the donate button.   Click here to read more about my dreams and what I need.

Plagiarism – I hate a thief, but I despise a liar

I haven’t been singing since I figured out how to record, and heard myself.  What happened?  System crash, meltdown.  I decided not to resist, to just let it be.  Didn’t want to sing, didn’t want to be clever and brave and figure out what was wrong so I could move on.   I just wanted to let go.   So I did, wondering if I’d ever want to sing again, wondering if my dream was just an illusion.

This morning I found myself humming a tune.  Ha.  It works.  Plus I’ve done what I have to do to upload audio to my blog, so it should work tomorrow.  Tomorrow I’ll read my first audio blog.   I’ll going to listen to myself singing again today, without the pressure to be anything.  Sometimes you have to go awol.   You have to risk letting go of what you love.

But I digress from the topic of this blog.  I read an article the other day, and got to a paragraph that sound remarkably familiar.  Why?  Because I’d bloody written it.  Now here’s the thing: when somebody quotes you and acknowledges you, what a great stroke.  Plus you know that when other people read that quote they’re impressed, probably more than if they read you directly.

Some weird kind of cultural imperative about don’t brag about yourself, because that’s narcissism.  Let somebody else do it because that’s selflessness.  Well, that’s not all there is to it, let’s not get too cynical here.  It’s really a great compliment when somebody acknowledges you in that way.

But when somebody does a very smooth and clever little copy and paste from your article or wherever you wrote into their article, with not a quotation mark or acknowledgment in sight, then bloody hell, that feels like a knife in the back.  I think there’s even a law against it, not so?  One that isn’t protected by international boundaries?  Copyright is taken rather seriously and for a rather good reason, I’d say.

Did I rant and rave and set my attorney dogs on the author?  Perhaps if I’d had attorney dogs I might have, but some voice in me said don’t be a bitch, so I chose instead to send a little note: “I recognized something you included in your article as something I had written  – perhaps you forgot to include quotation marks?”.  Her reply?  “I didn’t forget, and my copy did have the quotation marks, I promise you, but the editing facility must have erased them somehow.”  Can you believe it, I thought okay that sounds reasonable, and sent her a friendly reply.

Why wasn’t I settled down?  Mental head slap.  What’s wrong with me? I realized – well, the editing facility couldn’t have also erased her acknowledgment that I wrote the damn words.  So I wrote another note, “please acknowledge that I’m the author and use my full name”.  Her reply “Sure.  Remind me which article it was?”

That’s when all communication between us ceased.  This writer calls herself a minister.   Hmmm.  I call her a thief.  And not a very clever one.   She knows I read her articles, because I comment on them, and I’m well known in that writers’ community.  So now the devil in me is having a chuckle.  Because thanks to freedom of speech, I can post this article for everybody to read.

Thieves of this sort?  I hate them.  It’s not as if she stole from me because she’s in desperate need.  That I could understand and have empathy for.  But this is somebody who preaches of her deep spirituality and love of humanity.  First she steals, then lies to cover her tracks.  Eugh.  I wonder if she realizes that her lie, far from proving her innocence, actually confirmed her guilt!

In general, this blog is about the pursuit of dreams.  Mine are to establish myself as a vocalist, script & blog writer & novelist, & to earn by doing something meaningful.  I need help with some things.  Click here to read more about my dreams and what I need.

Using Freedom of Speech to foster homophobia and prejudice

I’ve been thinking a lot about freedom of speech lately.  It seems to be on everybody’s tongues in America, and is definitely something Americans hold dear to their hearts.  It seems a good thing.  Anybody can say what they want, and everybody’s free to react.  That means individuals have to take responsibility for their own feelings and reactions.  They can’t stop somebody from speaking even the most foul things.  Because everybody has the right to their own thoughts and beliefs.

That’s all very well when you’ve got honest people who do take responsibility for themselves, and who aren’t prejudiced, and who are tolerant.  But what about people who are highly prejudiced, educated, very articulate, charismatic? Who are massively prejudiced and whose speech fosters intolerance and even violence?  People whose speeches influence thousands if not hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions?  If the point of freedom of speech is to protect society, how does it do that in this instance?

I’ve been wondering what was originally meant by the founding fathers of America, who insisted on making it one of America’s most primary rights.   What context were they meaning it in?   Was their intention to promote debate and discussion?  I suspect it was.  So in that context, I’m all for it, who wouldn’t be?

But what about when you have a homophobe who believes that homosexuals have given themselves to Satan, and quotes large tracts of the Bible to support his arguments?   Who’s very articulate, empathetic and charming and who moves into a community and knows how to work his way into people’s hearts so that they don’t question him.  Then unleashes his prejudice.  His free speech isn’t about promoting discussion, he’s not inviting people to proffer their viewpoint so we can all benefit.  He’s out to influence people so that they’ll join his “homosexuals are evil” movement.

Well, there are plenty of people who can see the truth.  They’re okay, they’re safe.  But what about the really vulnerable ones, who are not sure, not secure in life, who desperately need somebody to guide them?  Because a person like this gets to them.   He meets their needs in ways nobody else ever has before, and pretty soon his followers aren’t questioning anything he says.  They’ve found a home.

Take Hitler for example, or any fundamentalist group.  That’s how they get their following.  And once they do, then they start acting, and by then their power is so great that they can commit mass murder and their followers won’t question them.  Now who’s the evil one?

And what about the homosexuals?  Are they protected when people like this want to garner support for rewriting laws, protecting gay rights, that have been so dearly fought for?  Freedom of speech has been great for the homophobe, but it’s not protecting human rights, it’s being used to trash them.

And I guess that’s where a person crosses the line.   Much as I hate it when free speech is manipulated to promote prejudice, I have to agree that the American founding fathers had the right idea.  Freedom of speech can’t be legislated against.  But when the principle of the law gets abused, when people step way over the boundary of what’s okay and what isn’t, the courts can step in and decide whether the speech was in the interests of free and fair debate or whether it was intentionally fostering violence and intolerance in society or even just amongst a group.

In general, this blog is about the pursuit of dreams.  Mine are to establish myself as a vocalist, script & blog writer & novelist.  I need help with some things.  Click here to read more about my dreams and what I need.

Freedom of Speech

I’m a TV series addict.  Will & Grace (which will forever remain my number one), Law and Order, Leverage, Numb3rs, Medium, The Good Wife, The Mentalist, even Men In Trees – although that last isn’t grabbing me as much any more, it’s getting a bit cheesy.  The rest, though, have great scripts, characters with real depth, good cinematography.  They tell believable stories, and all of them carry some sort of philosophical weight.

The other day a Law and Order episode dealt with freedom of speech.  The issue was that an   impressionable, vulnerable, messed-up young man had killed a couple of African Americans.  He had belonged to a militant KKK-type pro-white-dominance group who actively sought out troubled and vulnerable young men for its membership.  The leader of this group preached eloquently and charismatically and had a huge impact on his followers. DA Jack McCoy wanted that leader to be held equally responsible for the crime because he had obviously influenced the young man who’d pulled the trigger with his public speaking.

Of course everybody was opposed to McCoy for attacking freedom of speech.   McCoy argued that freedom of speech was intended to mean freedom to express one’s opinion persuasively in discussion.  He said a man preaching violence to a group of messed up, angry kids needing a father-figure and an outlet for their rage, was not in any way encouraging discussion and open-mindedness but was in fact manipulating their minds and inciting them to violence.  McCoy won that round.  It’s a fine line between being allowed to speak one’s twisted horrible mind and being allowed to use a person’s vulnerability to manipulate them to pull a trigger on the subject of one’s hate.  Glad I’m not a judge.

I always think of America as being the country that ferociously protects freedom of speech, and in principle I love the idea and subscribe to it wholeheartedly.  Recently, though, I’ve realized that it can be quite a scary thing.  Everybody in the US has a voice, and something to say.  At the moment it seems like all the ultra conservative fringe elements of society are exceptionally articulate – or should I say vociferous?  Articulate implies some kind of intelligent thought process behind the words.

I have found myself being scared by it.  Scared at the racists, the anti-Obama-ites, the anti-Mexicans, the pro Bush voices, pro Sarah Palin.   It’s much easier for me if they’re not allowed to voice their opinions.  Do I want them not to speak out?   If I do, it means nothing less than that I want freedom of speech for people who say things that I think make sense!  Good thing I’m not a founding father of any society, not likely to make president of any country any time soon.

Having thought it through, however, I’m relieved to say that I can stand by my original idea that freedom of speech is a good thing for everyone.  Because it lays the responsibility on the shoulders of people who make up any society to play an active role in maintaining the health of that society.   When the law prohibits the lunatic fringe from articulating in public, they go underground, and the rest of us get lazy.

Probably the whole world knows this.  I just figured it out.

Better late than never.

America’s Voices of Discontent

I’ve submitted 7 articles to SearchWarp, and have been enjoying the enthusiastic response I’ve had.  I’ve had  3,777  page views as of this moment, and the comments I’ve received have been generous and full of praise.   Americans don’t hold back on their enthusiasm; they let it out, and they’re articulate about it.  I so love them for that.  There are some really great writers there, too.

Some, however, are very staunch Christians, and whilst I try to understand respect their beliefs, I can’t always relate to them.  And there are plenty of times I get judgmental and angry.  That’s about me, though.

A few days ago I read an article which called for all Christians in America to band together to vote the current administration out.  It said that the problem in America now is the government, and that what was needed was to “clean house”.  The article went on to say that America needed to be returned to its Christian origins.  It was written from the heart, and with great passion.  That much was clear.  The author truly believed what they were saying.

Well, thanks to the sane input from another writer, I learned that America’s origins weren’t Christian.  So that’s that. It was founded on principles of equality etc.

Yesterday I got a reply to a query I wrote re “cleaning house” – namely that the author meant vote out the current administration, because it lacks “Honesty, hope, faith, courage, integrity, humility, justice, and love” (Freudianly, “tolerance” is absent!).  Furthermore, the author believed that the current administration has brought America to its knees!  The O word (Obama) wasn’t mentioned, by the way.

Whooee, my buttons got pressed!   Oh yes, they did.  I cursed freedom of speech, I pointed fingers (all in the privacy of my home, I’ll have you know) I jumped up and down.  Intolerance personified, I.

Having let some of the steam out, I replied, hopefully with a degree of sanity and dignity.  Probably not as much as I wanted.  Probably did as much finger-pointing as the people I was criticizing.

This morning I saw how the article had frightened me – which accounts for my anger.  I get so uneasy when religion is mixed up with politics, in the sense of people using their “spirituality” and their “special connection with God” as justification for making inflammatory accusations which don’t have a factual base.   The term “clean house” is uncomfortable rhetoric for me.  Sweeping out the dirt.   Scary stuff.  When the “dirt” is the Barack Obama administration, perhaps you can understand my fear and rage.   But perhaps the author wasn’t coming from that place at all.

They believed that the principles  of Honesty, hope, faith, courage, integrity, humility, justice, and love are absent in the Obama administration, and seemed to draw the conclusion that they’re exclusively Christian.   Well, of course, they’re not.  They may be principles that Christians subscribe to, but so do all decent human beings, regardless of their religion or their beliefs.

To think that God only loves Christians is absurd.  What about the rest of us?

And lets’ face it, many Christians go to church, say their prayers, do good deeds and abuse their wives or husbands or their children, or are consumed by greed.  George Bush is a Christian, isn’t he?  The blood of how many innocent people is on his hands?   Christianity is a convenient mantle to hide a multitude of sins.

But it’s not really fair to target Christians in this way, because since the beginning of time, religion has been a convenient mantle to hide a multitude of sins.

What frightened and frustrated me  the most about the article wasn’t really the Christian thing, but  that the author truly believed  the current administration has brought America to its knees.  I was gobsmacked by that.  It takes a very long time to bring a great power to its knees.  Rome wasn’t built in a day nor was it destroyed in a day.  Whatever problems America has now are the result of past administrations – and how Americans have lived their lives.

Sigh.

Now that the euphoria of Obama’s election is well and truly over, all the fear of losing status quo, the terror of losing ground, the underlying racism, it’s all going to rise to the surface.   All the anger and resentments will spill over.

That would be fine if only we could recognize it for what it is, and deal with it in a personal capacity, within the realm of our own lives, be accountable for ourselves.  But generally we don’t.  All those pent-up emotions and frustrations get displaced and projected onto an administration, or the new President, the new leader.   Under the name of religion, and apparently with God’s blessing.

The voices of discontent that are emerging in America now, they’re not the voices of sanity and reason.  They’re the voices of people terrified of losing a safe place in the world.  I feel empathy for them, but I find myself asking the question: where have they been all these years when so many other Americans have had no safety at all in their world?  Did they care what the administration was doing to those people?

Life is the great equalizer, you can’t run from it forever.  What goes around comes around.  It’s inevitable.   If only we didn’t resist the change when it happens.

If only it wasn’t so scary.

If only we weren’t human and fallible!