Thursday, August 13, 2009

* Mr. Blair, Mr. Bolton and The First Amendment: Freedom of Religion vs. Freedom of Speech

Pusillanimous Yale Press ?

It is symbolically poignant that the Yale Daily News chose the date 9/11/09 to publish former British Prime Minister Tony Blair's opinion that Yale Press did "the right thing" in censoring the controversial cartoons of Muhammad which caused such a firestorm around the world, resulting in bloodshed and death.

Mr. Blair, now teaching a course on religion at Yale up the hill where I studied, provides the antithesis to the thesis of John Bolton ('76 LAW and former Ambassador to U.N.) who called Yale Press's decision not to publish the controversial cartoons about Muhammad "intellectual cowardice."

Allow me as an alumnus of the Divinity School to be presumptuous enough to offer a synthesis.

It is ironic that the Judeo-Christian world has been so intolerant of the censorship imposed by the Muslim world on the image of Muhammad. The Old Testament is full of censorship. The face of God could not be looked upon, nor his name (Yahweh) written or spoken--hence the millennia-old text-message-type abbreviation, YHWH.

Ham is cursed (Genesis 9:20-27) for "viewing" his father Noah's nakedness, and the 3000+ year history of racism begins.

And unless my memory fails me, one of the central pillars of the Protestant Reformation was the taboo against images: hence the ransacking of Roman Catholic churches and the breaking of statues and desecration of stained glass and painted images, something Mr. Blair's country knows about firsthand. (Ever use the word "iconoclasm"?)

So Mr. Bolton and his friends shouldn't get too huffy and puffy in their smug rejection of Muslim taboos which prompted Yale Press's censorship. Nor should Mr. Blair fail to see the fascinating and horrifying stalemate created between different aspects of First Amendment rights here: Freedom of Speech vs. Freedom of Religion.

When a taboo is elevated to the level of zeal bloodshed has often been the consequence. If I recall correctly, the Christian Crusades slaughtered a few folk in propagating its own taboos.

Paul D. Keane
M.Div. '80
Yale Divinity School