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ROOM FOR DEBATE - When Satire Cuts Both Ways

ROOM FOR DEBATE – New York Times, January 10, 2015

Should We Be Deliberately Provocative Because We Can? Or can we best learn from purposeful and substantial dialogue? Do provocative actions spur debate and meaningful learning?

When Satire Cuts Both Ways

“All is allowed for satire, except dying,” said a memorial at the French Embassy in Berlin. Markus Schreiber/Associated Press

People worldwide are outraged by the murders at the French satiric magazine Charlie Hebdo by Islamic extremists angered by cartoons it published ridiculing Muhammad. But even some cartoonists have questioned whether satire can be pointlessly offensive.

Even if the most offensive speech deserves protection, is it worth considering its effects? Can writers and artists sometimes be too provocative and outrageous? Should they hold themselves back?

N’Zinga Shäni, executive director at OneWorld Progressive Institute, Inc., invites you to read the discussion in the New York Times linked below.   We can all learn a good deal from the individual perspectives of these skilled and informed debaters.  They are: 

 In an Unequal World, Mocking All Serves the Powerful

Saladin Ahmed "In an unequal world, satire that mocks everyone serves the powerful. It is worth asking what pre-existing injuries we add our insults to."

Saladin Ahmed is a science fiction and fantasy writer and poet.

Guns should not be used to silence speech. Governments should not censor art. These things are, or should be, beyond dispute. But are there times when writers, particularly satirists, should check our own tongues? When sensitivities are high, should artists self-censor?

To Fear Offense or Reprisals Is to Surrender Our Values

Amos N. Guiora  "The essence of liberal society is critical thinking, robust dialogue and open exchange of ideas, no matter how repugnant."

Amos N. Guiora is a professor at S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah and the co-director of its Center for Global Justice.  

To be or not to be? When a despondent Prince Hamlet asked this question he was contemplating death and suicide. The question is relevant to the challenges Western civilization faces. Do we give in to extremism or do we stand up to the murderous jihadists who killed 12 innocent people in Paris?

Terror Has Already Led to Self-Restaint

Paul Cliteur"Self-censorship violates principles of a free society but few people want to take the role of the martyr."

Paul Cliteur is a professor of jurisprudence at Leiden Law School in in The Netherlands. He is the author of "The Secular Outlook." 

Should artists, like cartoonists, stand-up comedians and columnists, but also public intellectuals sometimes restrain themselves in criticizing religion, in particular radical Islam? One thing is certain: they do. And they will continue doing so more persistently after the slaughter of the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo.

Freedom of Speech, Not Freedom From Consequences

Yousef Munayyer "Writers and artists should be able to express themselves provocatively, but what they will provoke is impossible to know."

Yousef Munayyer is a Palestinian-American writer and analyst.

Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from its consequences. The ideal of freedom of speech is one well worth defending but it can only be guaranteed in a perfect world and sadly, as we have seen throughout 2014 and in the early days of 2015, our world is far from perfect.

The heinous attacks and murders in Paris are the responsibility of the killers alone. Freedom of speech, however, is upheld by certain rules and laws in our society and governments and there is always going to be a minority who refuse to play by the rules. This reality means that merely having a public profile and expressing views on contentious issues can put one at risk.


As a point of interest we offer the following information.  The Sacred Texts for the Leading Religious Groups in the Western World are listed below.  Who among us would want the sacred texts --of the group to which we belong-- to be burned by others? Yet, right here in the USA, we had a Christian pastor who wanted to burn copies of the Quran!  To what purpose? It took a call from the president of the USA to prevent him from doing so. 

Buddhist Sacred Texts: The Sutras

The Buddhist canon consists of the Sutras: the words and teachings of the Buddha.

Christian Sacred Texts: The Bible

Christianity combines the Jewish Old Testament with the New Testament to form the Christian Bible,

Hindu Sacred Texts: The Vedas

Jewish Sacred Texts: The Tanach, Mishnah, Talmud and Midrash

The Tanakh is the Hebrew Bible, the quintessential sacred text. The first five books of this comprise the Torah (or Pentateuch), the core sacred writings of the ancient Jews.

Muslims/Islamic Sacred Texts: The Quran and Hadith (Hadeeth)

As the third of the Abrahamic religions, Muslims respect the Old and New Testaments, and consider ... read more »

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