PARIS TERROR – OPINION: Should freedom of expression always be total?

PARIS TERROR – OPINION: Should freedom of expression always be total?

derek taylor
Derek Taylor, Editor of The Jewish Year Book

By Derek Taylor, Editor of The Jewish Year Book

Nobody can excuse the cold blooded murder of 10 journalists and two policemen just because the French magazine, Charlie Hebdo, lampooned Islam.

As Jews, though, it might be useful to consider whether we feel there is any point at which there shouldn’t be total freedom of expression.

Let me take you to a few cathedrals; Basel in Switzerland, Metz in France, Brandenburg, Colmar, Heilsbronn and Regensberg in Germany. Just half a dozen magnificent buildings erected to the glory of the Almighty. On the walls of all of them there is a stone cartoon sculpture; each depicts, in gross detail, rabbis having intercourse with a female pig. 

It is called the Judensau and modern protests to church authorities have been unavailing – Mrs. Merkel please note. Perhaps Mr. Cameron could raise the point with  her when next they meet. 

Why are these obscene sculptures still in existence? Because the church has decided that they are now historical works of art and they should be retained because they have been there for hundreds of years. Now, answer me this. Would you blame me if I went into Regensberg Cathedral with a hammer and smashed that sculpture? Wouldn’t dream of hurting anybody in the process, but how dare the church vilify my rabbis in this day and age. They should be ashamed of themselves. 

Or take a monster called Julius Streicher who printed a virulently anti-Semitic magazine called Der Stürmer in pre-war Nazi Germany. The caricatures of Jews every week were horrible. In 1945 Streicher was accused at the Nuremburg trials of inciting hatred against the Jews. He was hanged.  

Where do you draw the line? In a civilized society you show respect for the beliefs of your friends. There is a Menorah every Chanukah on Hampstead Heath. I wish my Indian pals a Happy Diwali and I’m delighted my Moslem friends can gather in Trafalgar Square to celebrate Eid Al-Fitr, to mark the end of Ramadhan.   

What is to be gained by insulting other people’s beliefs? Attack corruption by all means; go hell for leather for child abusers; you must be totally free to denigrate any political party. But pouring scorn on people’s honestly held religious beliefs? Does anybody think they are really going to drive a religion out of existence by criticising it? Well, that hasn’t worked with us, and our critics have been at it for well over 2,000 years. 

The offence of blasphemy was actually abolished in this country in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. It was too late for James Naylor, who was found guilty of it, and sentenced to be flogged, branded and have his tongue pierced with a red hot poker by Cromwell’s parliament in 1656. 

Where I do take serious offence is when I read that some Catholic Churches have abandoned Midnight Mass because the services were being disrupted by drunken yobbos. Who knows better than us that you don’t give in when you’re faced with that kind of problem. Aren’t there any able bodied Catholic youngsters willing to form a security guard? A few sizeable Catholic rugby players would be a good start. This is surely another instance when religious bodies should consult our Community Security Trust. Perhaps our members of the Council of Christians and Jews could make an introduction.   

So religious freedom needs to be defended as well. It took until 1962 and Pope John XXIII to agree that we weren’t guilty of deicide.  Let’s hope that the Shiites and the Sunnis can agree to a peace treaty a lot quicker. In the meantime, a lot more sensitivity would be welcome. 


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