Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Bark: In defence of offence

Some of you might find what I'm about to write offensive. This post will not be granny-friendly. If you're easily offended, you might want to stop reading. In fact, you might want to fuck off to somewhere else on the internet to watch My Little Pony videos. Here's a link, now fuck off... Still here? Don't say you weren't warned.

No matter what your age, creed or religion, if you're even remotely right-minded and sane, you were probably horrified by the brutal, cowardly attack by fundamentalist murderers on the Charlie Hebdo offices and kosher supermarket in Paris last week. Note that I'm not calling them "terrorists" or "Islamic", because they don't deserve the false legitimacy the label brings. The three gunmen were criminals and were no more representative of the religion of Islam than I am - and I'm a big, white, Glaswegian atheist with a Physics degree.

No matter how much the idiots and racists on Fox News would like you to believe otherwise, the Kouachi brothers and their accomplices, Amedy Coulibaly and Hayat Boumeddiene, weren't striking a blow for Islam, or seeking to avenge a perceived slight against the Prophet, they were simply using that an excuse to commit cold-blooded murder against defenceless journalists and civilians. They were trying to exercise power and impose their barbaric, medieval values on a global society that's left them behind. I'd go so far to say that it wasn't even an attack against free speech or liberty. No, this was an attack on independent thought and civilisation. From the response that I've seen from the politicians, religious leaders, journalists and people of not just France, but the entire civilised world, I'm glad that their attack failed so miserably.

I'm no friend of organised religion - or more specifically, monotheism. The reason why is because I'm a scientist, and in science, it doesn't matter who you are, whether you're an undergraduate student, a professor, a teacher or even one of the "prophets" of science (as popular mainstream media like to portray them) such as Einstein, Galileo or Newton, no idea is sacrosanct or unchallengeable. In fact, if you're a scientist, your ideas are there to be shot at (metaphorically, not with AK-47s) and challenged. The problem with monotheism, and particularly fundamentalist interpretations of monotheistic religions, is that THESE IDEAS ARE THE ONLY RIGHT ONES, AND IF YOU CHALLENGE OR RIDICULE THEM, WE TRUE BELIEVERS WILL KILL YOU, BECAUSE INFIDELS ARE NOT TRULY HUMAN... Now, I don't give a flying fuck what particular brand of religious claptrap you choose to believe in. You can believe in what you like - but you don't get to try and tell me what to think and what I'm free to say and do - especially at the threat of a barrel of a gun. All fundamentalist religion requires is faith, preferably an unthinking, unquestioning one. It takes ancient texts hundreds, if not thousands, of years old and tells you BELIEVE IN THIS, THIS IS THE ONLY KNOWLEDGE YOU WILL EVER NEED. For a scientist, this very concept is anathema. To quote Richard Feynman, it's better to have questions you cannot answer than answers that cannot be questioned. If you take away the ability to think freely, speak freely and question freely, you don't have a civilisation. You have a group of bipedal sheep, able to be bullied around by a handful of maniacs with machine guns.

And this is why, no matter what the personal threat to any individual, we cannot and must not let these barbarians, who number only a few thousand - perhaps only a hundred thousand at most - intimidate us into self-censorship, for fear of causing them offence.

Offence is necessary. Intellectually, it is vital. Every preconception and blindly-held belief must be challenged and affronted. The unsayable must be said - the forbidden and the taboo must be viewed and confronted, because not to do so leads to intellectual stagnation and the death of ideas and civilisation. We cannot and must not let a few thousand backwards barbarians dictate the global agenda and limit the freedoms of billions of people worldwide, just because they have a few guns and make shiny videos on what's laughably called "social media". And they cannot, unless we let them - because while the fundamentalists might have the weapons of fear, intimidation, guns and bombs, we - civilised people - have better weapons: education, culture, logic, reason, tolerance and forgiveness.

Let us not be fooled into thinking that this is a "war" on Islam or a "war" on Terror - that's exactly what the fundamentalists want, because it allows them to carry on in the misguided belief that they haven't already lost. This is a debate between the values that we want to respect and abide by in future generations. Do you want those values to be ones that allow people to be murdered if they are perceived to be threatened? Or do you want them to be the values that enrich everyone's lives by allowing people to freely explore all the possibilities that unrestricted thought can discover? I know which world I want to live in.

And I've always thought that if your values, faith, belief and ideology is so easily threatened by say, a teenage girl speaking up for the educational rights of women, or a bunch of geeks drawing cartoons, maybe you need a better class of ideology. And if that offends you, remember that I didn't make you read it. I didn't hold a gun to your head and make you think. And maybe if you're offended by what I've written here, maybe you should consider the idea that a fat, Scottish geek typing at an Ikea desk on a computer has more power than a thousand so-called "terrorists" with assault rifles in terms of changing the way you should think about and look at the world.

Some people have called Charlie Hebdo's response to the attack on their offices "irresponsible" and "provocative". In case you've not seen that response, it's at the bottom of this post. I call bullshit on that. The best response to an atrocity such as this is to not apologise, to not pull your punches and show the world that we will not be cowed and that we will not submit to the base manipulation of fear and intimidation. By all means, be offended by it, but think about WHY you're offended. And do not believe for a second that your offence has more value than the life of the person who offended you, nor their right to have done it. I'm a teacher, I get offended by what people say to me on an almost daily basis, but I don't go around chopping the heads off the people who said something distasteful to me (though I imagine that would be a very effective behaviour management technique...). If God, Allah, Jehovah (or whatever God or god you choose to believe in) really exists (and we're not going to go into the "evidence" debate here - suffice to say that my opinion on this matter strongly agrees with Russell's Teapot), and is, in fact, omnipotent and omniscient, He doesn't really need His "honour" "defended" by a fleshy meatbag with an RPG launcher...

But if the fundamentalists really do want a "war", they should just name the time and place. Seriously, fundamentalists. Get yourselves all together into a nice desert somewhere, and we can duke it out. Except they'd never do that, because I forgot to mention one of our better weapons: nukes. We really could bomb them back into the Stone Age that they so clearly want to live in... Though you know what? We wouldn't do that, either - because we're better than them. Even crackpot, fundamentalist life has an intrinsic value, so these people don't deserve your hatred and fear. They deserve your pity, empathy and forgiveness. No matter how many innocents they try to kill or subdue, we need to continue to challenge their barbaric doctrine with education and reason, until they can finally see that their values are not wanted by us, are not tolerable by us, and that they were never worth fighting for to begin with. And finally, we certainly must not do their job for them by voluntarily ceding the freedoms that the Charlie Hebdo staff died for by taking them away with "security" legislation. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, any society willing to trade a little freedom for a little security will lose both and deserve neither - a lesson that's been forgotten all too often in the last fourteen years.

I'm going to leave you with a few of my favourite responses from the peers of the cartoonists killed in the Charlie Hebdo attack. They sum the whole thing up pretty well.

Nous sommes tous Charlie. Fuck fundamentalism and fundamentalists. And fuck their mothers, too. (But only if they're MILFs...)

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