Thursday 10 March 2011

Poppy burning

I can't say I agree with David Cameron on this. A member of Muslims Against Crusades burned two plastic poppies during last November's Armistice Day ceremony. Yesterday he was fined £50. In my view he should not have been. The act was outrageous to some; indeed it was intended to be. But outrage at such acts is the price we pay for freedom of expression, which is still one of the key characteristics that distinguishes this society from many others. In this particular instance we actually lag behind the United States where flag burning, despite Americans' veneration for their flag, is a constitutional right. You can't say that about many things where genuine freedom is concerned.

While we are right to pay homage to those who have fallen fighting for our freedoms, we also have to acknowledge that some of those who fell, particularly in recent years, have given their lives in much less morally certain ventures, and while their bravery should be saluted, the cause in which they fell should not. Opinion is genuinely and deeply divided on the merits of some of our recent wars. Outrage may be genuine, but, if outrageous acts are stifled through the use of the law, it only serves to block moral debate and make equally outrageous ventures more likely in future. We are currently considering whether and how to use force against Gaddafi's regime. A week ago Cameron was all too eager to commit our forces again in a gesture which would have made them risk death, being burned, maimed or humiliated and most likely given Gaddafi a perfect foil for uniting his people on his side. Reminders of the moral ambiguity of such ventures, as well as the possible human cost, serve to prevent them happening unnecessarily. I hate what Emdadur Choudary did, but he should never have been taken to court, let alone fined.


coldcomfort said...

All your points are well made but you are ignoring the fact that tolerance is, or should be a two way affair and you would not have to go as far as burning a page from the Koran to incur the wrath of Muslims. Just displaying a picture that was claimed to be the Prophet would be enough. People of all faiths and races are welcome in Britain but they should be as sensitive of the values of those of us who go back many generations as they expect us to be of theirs.

Rob Parsons said...

I agree, they should. But I can live with the fact that they're not. Otherwise we all end up just handbagging each other all the time. We should also be finding more effective and more subtle ways of engaging with people, involving them in a conversation about the difficulties and inequalities in the lives we lead, rather than just demonising them as Islamic fundamentalists who are all beyond rational debate. The anger of many Muslims is fuelled by real life-defining inequalities from which we in the west still benefit. If we want them to be tolerant of us we have to do something about that.

coldcomfort said...

Sorry but you are missing my point. Your initial post said that the low lifes that burnt a poppy should be understood because they were Muslim and you went on to say that we should be more understanding & engaging. I agree with that but the point I'm making is that tolerance can be taken too far & one has to dig ones toes in and say enough is enough. Making your kind of excuse for the poppy burners behaviour is an insult to the millions of people of all ethnicities & religions who do NOT indulge in such behaviour.

Rob Parsons said...

Actually, you're misreading my post. Nowhere do I say that the act should be understood because they're Muslim. I think that they should behave with tolerance like we do. I say at the end that I hate what he did. I did not at any point make an excuse for his behaviour and I resent your implication that I did.

What I said was that it's important to respect his freedom of expression. I hate what he did, I defend his right to do it. The way to deal with that behaviour is not to try to blot it out, but to engage properly with the people who do such things rather than pouring scorn on them and not engaging in any kind of dialogue.