Friday, March 16, 2007

Kuntzel, Gracchi and the Western Defence of Freedom of Expression

At the time of the protests over the Pope's quoting of a Byzantine Emperor on the subject of Islam and the rational examination of faith Anne Applebaum urged unity in response to the threat to freedom of speech:

"But Western reactions to Muslim "days of anger" have followed a familiar pattern, too. Last winter, some Western newspapers defended their Danish colleagues, even going so far as to reprint the cartoons -- but others, including the Vatican, attacked the Danes for giving offense. Some leading Catholics have now defended the pope -- but others, no doubt including some Danes, have complained that his statement should have been better vetted, or never given at all. This isn't surprising: By definition, the West is not monolithic. Left-leaning journalists don't identify with right-leaning colleagues (or right-leaning Catholic colleagues), and vice versa. Not all Christians, let alone all Catholics -- even all German Catholics -- identify with the pope either, and certainly they don't want to defend his every scholarly quotation.

Unfortunately, these subtle distinctions are lost on the fanatics who torch embassies and churches. And they may also be preventing all of us from finding a useful response to the waves of anti-Western anger and violence that periodically engulf parts of the Muslim world. Clearly, a handful of apologies and some random public debate -- should the pope have said X, should the Danish prime minister have done Y -- are ineffective and irrelevant: None of the radical clerics accepts Western apologies, and none of their radical followers reads the Western press.
Instead, Western politicians, writers, thinkers and speakers should stop apologizing -- and start uniting.

By this, I don't mean that we all need to rush to defend or to analyze this particular sermon; I leave that to experts on Byzantine theology. But we can all unite in our support for freedom of speech -- surely the pope is allowed to quote from medieval texts -- and of the press."

Now a lecture by Kuntzel on the Nazi origins of Arab anti-semitism has been cancelled in response, according to the Leeds German department and Kuntzel himself, to a perceived threat of violence. Gracchi has addressed the debate in the scholarly manner which befits a careful and insightful mind by addressing the ideas in Kuntzel's work. His analysis is persuasive and it would appear that there are serious problems with Kuntzel's thinking. However, is that the point?

After all, Gracchi is equally emphatic that there is nothing racist or Islamophobic in Kuntzel's work and certainly nothing deserving of censorship. He just thinks Kuntzel is wrong. It would seem that he's making a similar mistake to those who rushed into a discussion of the merits of the Pope's words while his enemies were killing nuns. I don't think the crisis here is nearly as severe as no one has been hurt and it looks like the university may just have been overcautious. Nevertheless, it is still a case where critiques of Kuntzels work might be less important than rallying around his freedom of expression.

Essentially I think Gracchi is probably but right but that the subtlety of thinking that is his trademark may have caused him to get his priorities wrong in this instance.

1 comment:

Gracchi said...

Matt I've replied on my blog- I think some of your criticism is merited and have said so.