14 January 2012

"I'm offended by that." Well, so f#@king what?”

Is it in bad taste of me to point out that there has been surprisingly little backlash regarding the lashes Mansor Almaribe’s back was recently doled out by the Saudi government? Perhaps it is, but I can’t help think that in the face of such absurdities, perhaps an initial resort to humour is natural if only to help remind ourselves that we are so (hopefully) removed from this form of conduct as a nation.
Physical punishment sanctioned by the courts is in itself such a contentious (and contemptuous) notion, whether it be in the more grotesque manifestation of executions (capital punishment), or the more ‘mild’ examples of state sanctioned physical abuse (corporal punishment); but it is nevertheless all the more hard to swallow when it is used in conjunction with a charge of blasphemy. A charge which when you look at it rationally, is no more than the utterly harmless act of offending someone.
It brings to mind the image of a toddlers understanding of justice. You hurt my sensibilities, so now I am going to hurt you. There is no distinction between real hurt and perceived hurt.
There is a reason this picture is here, and it may become clearer at the end of this post (or if you are more studious with your link following)
The problems I have with blasphemy laws are not solely based on my atheism, though it does help. It is more centred on the fact that these laws lie upon the foundation of one taking offence against their own personal feelings, and seeking to ban this upon others. This might be seen as a rational thing to do, were it not for the fact that what offends me is not only unlikely to, but rarely ever guaranteed to offend others; even on a majority basis.
Anyone can find anything offensive, that doesn’t in itself mean that anything which can be labelled offensive must be curtailed without contestation. Indeed, I am offended by the fact that such things happen. It offends me that in today’s society a country that murders its citizens because they believe them to be witches can be afforded a rational response when they then decide to physically abuse people for offending others.
It offends me, but that in itself doesn’t warrant any action by others. If you can’t back up your offense with some semblance of a rational argument, then why should it be taken seriously? I personally believe that I could very quickly come up with a rational argument supporting my views listed above, and get a hearty proportion of the public agreeing with me. I would offer the same challenge to those whose personal offense is based more on personal taste and sensibilities, than it is any recognition of universal human rights or attributes.
The Australian government has suggested that the Saudi embassy in Australia should go to more effort to explain etiquette to those undertaking the hajj pilgrimage, so that any future instances of offending the ‘companions of the prophet Mohammed’ could be avoided.
It is an interesting thing to ponder, because offense in regard to religious beliefs can be so easily taken, and is in many cases unavoidable. Indeed it only seems to be avoided either by the sloppy thinking of the ‘offendable’, or the careful holding of the tongue by someone able to offend (note: that is usually anyone holding a viewpoint that fails to exactly match those of the ‘offendable’). For instance, Mr Almaribe is a Shiite Muslim. Saudi Arabia is a predominantly Sunni Muslim country, and by predominantly, I mean legally and enforcedly. It is a theocracy where people of certain religions can’t travel to certain areas of the kingdom, and if you apostatise from Islam, you can legally be put to death. Presumably the Sunni contingent of this incident would be suitable offended simply by Almaribe’s opposing faith, were it properly laid out before them. True they are both Muslim, but then again Catholics and protestants are both flavours of Christianity, and look how well they used to get along. This is what I mean when I say that offense can only be mitigated either by sloppy thinking on the offended’s behalf, as they fail to realise the heretic in their midst, or else by silence on the offenders’s behalf, as they hide the aforementioned heresy.
This sort of offense knows no real bounds, and is limited only by how much one is willing to take their own personal feelings about something, and hold it above others rights to do, say, or otherwise express themselves, and any opposing views they may have.
Our government may very well want the embassy to point out how to behave in their country, and what is offensive to their state religion; but one wonders how they could do that in a rigorous sense, and still hope to present a place worth travelling to for the average Australian.
No doubt I would be offensive in this regard, as by my very nature I would fail to adhere to the religious norms, or observe any religious customs. It would only be a matter of how offended people choose to be, not really how offensive I was being. As given enough motivation, a modicum of offense could be found merely in my lack of faith.
Type 'offense' into Google Images and most of the resultant images are of American football....

Perhaps I have let this rant fly on for too long, and maybe I have unjustly correlated offense with blasphemy (and forgotten what I started my post on…). But in all honesty, I can’t see how blasphemy is anything but offense at the religious level.  And in today’s world, so sensitive as it is to things like insults or offense; I can’t help but remember this quote from Stephen Fry who dealt with the subject a few years back:
“It's now very common to hear people say, "I'm rather offended by that", as if that gives them certain rights. It's no more than a whine. It has no meaning, it has no purpose, it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. "I'm offended by that." Well, so fucking what?” - Stephen Fry.
So fucking what indeed.

(p.s. Corporal punishment - Blackadder episode - General Melchett - Stephen Fry. Get it?)

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