Thursday, February 26, 2015

We must offend religion more: Islam, Christianity and our tolerance for ancient myths, harmful ideas

From Salon:

Our enduring deference to religion, despite its toxicity and phony explanations for the cosmos, lets it survive

Sunday, Feb 22, 2015

“Yes, it is freedom of speech, but,” said Inna Shevchenko, the 24-year-old leader of the topless, fiercely atheist activist group Femen in France.  On Feb. 14 she was addressing the conference on art, blasphemy and freedom of expression held at the Krudttønden, a café and cultural center in Copenhagen.  She continued.  “Why do we still say ‘but’ when we…”

A sustained barrage of automatic gunfire interrupted her.  She, the Swedish cartoonist with her onstage, Lars Vilks (famous for his 2007 drawings of the Prophet Muhammad that sparked deadly riots in the Islamic world), and much of the audience hurled themselves to the floor before escaping through the building’s rear exit.  The hooded terrorist assailant, a 22-year-old Danish citizen of Arab descent, ended up killing a Danish filmmaker, Finn Noergaard, and wounding five others.  Police later felled the assassin after he had opened fire on a synagogue, murdering one.

The attacker’s primary target was probably Vilks, but he would have rejoiced at the chance to get Shevchenko, too.  After all, Femen has pronounced religion – in particular, Islam — a bane on women’s rights and has carried out a number of widely publicized, bare-breasted protests against it, burning the Salafist flag in front of the Great Mosque in Paris and chanting, “Fuck Your Morals!” and “Women’s Spring is Coming!” to a furious crowd outside Tunisia’s Ministry of Justice, disrupting a Catholic march against same-sex marriage (also in Paris) and disturbing the pope’s weekly address at the Vatican, and ambushing the Russian Orthodox patriarch as he stepped out of his plane in Kiev, greeting the potentate with cries (in Russian) of “Out, out, Devil!”  (By no means is this list complete.)  Shevchenko herself was forced into exile in 2012 after chainsawing, in support of Pussy Riot activists imprisoned in Russia, a giant wooden cross on Kiev’s central Independence Square.

The morning after the Copenhagen assault I spoke with Shevchenko by Skype.  Still in the Danish capital, she had spent much of the night at the police station, and had slept poorly after returning to her hotel.  Yet she was calm and lucid, determined to continue with Femen’s fight against religion.  This fight had turned extremely personal for her even before Copenhagen: She lost 12 friends in the Charlie Hebdo massacre last month in Paris, where she lives as a political refugee.  (Femen had figured prominently on the satirical magazine’s pages and had even guest-edited an issue.)  Had the Krudttønden organizers held the conference in the café’s front room (with its large windows), and not in the walled-off rear auditorium, she told me, she might not be alive today.

“What were you going to say just before the shooting began?”

“I was going to say that we can’t begin self-censoring, or we end up with just the illusion of free speech.  If we have free speech only up to where we might hurt someone’s feelings, then it isn’t free.  ‘You have freedom of speech, just don’t offend,’ people tell me.  Those who say this are only trying to shut down our freedoms.  If we cede to this, we play their game.  Now that offends me.”

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