Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses, recently gave an interview to BBC News. In it he made a profound point about the use of charges of “blasphemy”, “heresy”, “insult”, and “offense” as an excuse to attack those who think differently, especially about issues of religion.
“If you look at the way in which free expression is being attacked by religious extremism, it’s happening in all these countries, and the things of which these people are being accused is always the same: it’s always blasphemy, heresy, apostasy, insult, offense – this kind of medieval vocabulary being used at the turn of the second millennium [is happening now].”
– Salman Rushdie
I also enjoyed Rushdie’s response to the interviewer when he was asked, “What’s the solution”?
Rushdie responded, “Be braver”.
Those of us who enjoy freedom of expression, freedom of thought, and engage in the academic discipline of critical inquiry cannot and should not be intimidated into silencing our examination, research, and yes, our critique of religion simply because many vocal (and a few violent) religious fundamentalists don’t like it, regardless of the religion under examination and regardless of the nationality of the protestor.
Whether it takes place in the streets of Cairo, the airwaves of talk radio, or on the stage of the Republican National Convention, scholars should never back down from critiquing the virtues and vices of any ideology, be it politics, economics, or religion.