03 February 2006

Jack Straw

Just seen Jack Straw's comments, which are very close to my own. I would quibble with one word - he is quoted as saying:

"We have to be very careful about showing the proper respect in this situation."

Strictly speaking, we don't have to. I would say we ought to, unless we have some sufficient reason not to (such as, for instance, the literary purpose of The Satanic Verses).

The difficult question is whether the danger of "causing trouble" should be taken into account, as Straw seems to suggest. It's a question of whether to be polite, or whether to demonstrate that we are not intimidated. To the extent that fear of causing trouble is caused by threats, those threats are wrongful and should be defied. On the other hand, it is generally true that being rude or offensive can cause trouble, and that's certainly not generally a reason in favour of being rude or offensive.

I suppose I care more about my neighbours in Luton than a bunch of thugs in Gaza. I believe my neighbours would prefer not to have the cartoons all over the papers, but they haven't (to my knowledge) been violent or threatening. I don't want to insult them in order to defy the thugs.

There was a drunk tramp on the Northern Line train from London Bridge to St Pancras last night, and he mumbled obscenities at various of his fellow passengers. It would have given me great satisfaction to have thrown him off the train. But it would have been a bit of a stretch to say he was causing "harrassment, alarm or distress" - in fact he was causing annoyance.

As I said, if there is some point to the cartoons beyond being offensive, I don't know what it is. I suppose they're funny - that might have been enough reason to publish them once, but not to make a big thing of it. You could say that it is necessary for people to see them in order to understand what a small thing all this fuss has grown out of, but I haven't heard anyone explicitly claim that, and I'm not convinced.

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