The most famous thought associated with Voltaire is something he didn’t actually say. In these days of ‘safe spaces’ and attempts to overturn democratic decisions by rubbishing those who disagree with you (and in some instances resorting to violence) we could wish not only that he had said it, but also that he was still alive to explain it.
It was his biographer, Evelyn Beatrice Hall, who sought to sum up Voltaire’s philosophy. She came up with this: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”
It is startling to think that Voltaire fought for freedom of religion, freedom of expression and separation of Church and State at a time when, particularly the Church was all-powerful and could ruin your life. It was over 200 years ago.
So different to the 21st century’s snowflake generation, who do not want to be disagreed with, nor challenged; who demand safe spaces and prior warning of what might be ‘upsetting’ passages in classic literature; and who deny platforms to those with whom they disagree, even if these are intellectuals with a proven track record of provocative and salutary thought. We have, if such a thing is possible, progressed backwards.
The right role model
In his new book, Timothy Garton Ash asks: “Should our role model be the thin-skinned activist who is constantly crying, ‘I am offended’?
“Or should it be a Mandela or a Ghandi who says, in effect: ‘I hold it beneath my dignity to take offence’?”
Garton Ash knows whereof he speaks. He was among the liberal intellectual elite who, according to Nick Cohen (link below), ganged up on Ayaan Hirsi Ali when she fled Holland in the wake of death threats.
Her friend Theo van Gogh had been assassinated after making a film that enraged Muslims. His killer shot van Gogh eight times, attempted to decapitate him and then, using a knife, pinned a letter to his body threatening Hirsi Ali’s life.
The west’s liberals were still in the grip of the very illiberal idea that tolerance of other’s philosophical choices was more important than studying the damage those philosophies entail. The true liberal should be able to hold and defend both positions. But even in 2016, and despite the mayhem committed in the name of Islam, many are still gripped.
Hirsi Ali’s views, as a Muslim, on Islam’s misogyny – and in particular on female genital mutilation – upset these illiberals. All criticism of Islam was already suppressed as ‘racism’. And now here was this Muslim woman pouring fuel on the fire.
Garton Ash seems to have come through the other side of that paradox, as demonstrated by his book. Whether the very people who ought to read it actually will read it is very doubtful. Apart from anything else, it may very well upset them, since the ideas expressed within are bound to be culturally shocking to them.
More’s the pity.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali critiques Islam in the face of the breathlessly smug Avi Lewis
Avi Lewis: “They (fundamental Christians) shoot abortion doctors in the United States”
Hirsan Ali: “When abortion doctors in the United States were shot, the federal government reacted to it by going after the perpetrators, putting them on trial and jailing them. In Iran, when two men went after a woman and a man holding hands and shot them, they were acquitted by the Supreme Court. That is the core difference. Never confuse Sharia Law and those Muslims who really mean it, with extremist Christians in the United States.”
You can spit on freedom
Even better, when Lewis dumps on America for its ‘lack of democracy’ (!) she tells him: “You grew up in freedom. And you can spit on freedom. Because you don’t know what it is to not have freedom. I lived in countries where there were no founding fathers. That had no democracy. I (could only) read about democracy. I don’t have the same luxury that you have (to spit on freedom).”