John Stuart Mill once argued that any attempt to silence a dissenting opinion rests on the claim that the final truth of a matter can be known, and the person seeking to silence that dissenting voice knows what that truth is. Should any politician try to silence a dissenting opinion on the subject of Islamic doctrine, then that politician is claiming not only the authority to decide what is true for other people, they are claiming the authority to decide upon a matter of religious doctrine. Unlike politics, religion deals in ultimate truths. That politician's attempt to silence another person's opinion rests upon the claim that their certainty regarding Islamic doctrine is the same as absolute certainty. They think they know the truth, and they cannot be wrong; there is therefore no need for anyone to challenge what they are saying - they think they're right, and that's all there is to it. As Mill said, “All silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility.” (Mill, On Liberty, location 449, Walter Scott, London)
Playing devil's advocate, it could be argued that it is the job of politicians, as our elected representatives, to act using their best judgement, and that politicians attempting to prevent a dissenting opinion from being expressed are not claiming certainty, they are claiming only that level of assurance necessary to conduct our affairs. If politicians did not assume that their own beliefs were true, and act accordingly, then they would be unable to make a judgement about anything, and they wouldn't be able to do their jobs.
Mill wrote, in response to that objection, “There is the greatest difference between presuming an opinion to be true, because, with every opportunity for contesting it, it has not been refuted, and assuming its truth for the purpose of not permitting its refutation.” (Mill, ibid., location 482)
Western politicians are not theologians, and the politicians who talk the most about Islam being a religion of peace are not even Muslims. So our politicians are no more likely to know any more about Islamic doctrine, and the history of that religion, than anyone else. They're certainly not infallible.
By now, every intellectually sane citizen living in the West is aware that our politicians don't actually know what they're talking about half the time. And the rest of the time, they're lying. There is no reason whatsoever for anyone to think that a politician's opinion about religious matters is true.
And there is no legitimate reason for our politicians to try to silence the voices of people like Elisabeth Sabaditch-Wolff. By doing so, they are doing the citizens who elected them a grave disservice.
Prior to September 11th, 2001, Islam meant nothing to most people in the West. If people wanted to worship a moon deity and believe that an illiterate desert dweller flew to Jerusalem on a horse, good luck to them. But after 19 devout Islamists murdered thousands of innocent people in America just over ten years ago now, people throughout the first world picked up the Koran, and started to read it.
And Westerners need not rely solely on the core Islamic texts. For many years, Westerners have studied Islamic doctrines and the history of Islam. Respected academics such as William Montgomery Watt and Hugh Kennedy have written many books on Islam and its history. Being academically honest, those books no doubt contain what some might consider inconvenient truths. But the truth is the truth, inconvenient or not.
It is possible then, for citizens of Western countries to embark on a serious study of Islam and its history. The textbooks are there, and the history is well recorded. One can even visit sites of key events in the history of Islam, such as the great siege of Malta in 1565. At that time Islam was no religion of peace, that's for sure. Invasion was the order of the day. However, the Islamic forces assembled on behalf of Suleyman the Magnificent failed to take Malta, in what was one of the most significant military engagements of all time. The historian Ernle Bradford wrote that the Christian faith of the islanders played a key role in giving them the strength to resist, and to repel the Islamic invaders.
Elected politicians have no business trying to prevent the citizens who elected them from educating themselves about Islam, a religion which is playing a significant part in the world today. They have no business telling them what to think about it, and they certainly have no business trying to silence people like Elisabeth Sabaditch-Wolff who talk about it,. They should in fact be encouraging people to speak up about Islam, so that the truth about the world we live in can be known and understood.
If we are to live an authentic life, and being intellectually honest is a fundamental part of such a life, then we need to properly understand the external reality we find ourselves living in. In order to achieve that, we need to speak the truth. And we need to hear the truth spoken. Our governments may not think that individual citizens speaking the truth as they see it is in the best interests of either politicians or citizenry, but they couldn't be more wrong. We would all do well to remember the words of John Stuart Mill, and to think about why he wrote them down in what has become one of the classic works on freedom of speech:
“If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.” (Mill, ibid., location 440)
Tags: Danish cartoons, Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff, Elisabeth's Voice., Freedom of speech, Islam and freedom of speech, John Stuart Mill, Kurt Westergaard To share or post to your site, click on "Post Link". Please mention / link to the Patriot's Corner. Thanks!