Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Threat to Intellectual Freedom

This weekend the books pages of the Guardian and Observer are distinguished by examination of 'global thinking', the ways in which it operates in the current tensions between Islam and 'the West', and the ways in which this intersects with literature.

On one hand, Pankaj Mishara accuses literary so-called intellectuals of engaging with the unsubtle notion of 'Islamofascism' and justifying the notion of 'collateral damage' and 'the harassment of Muslims and other swarthy foreigners'. Rightly he praises David Grossman and Arundhati Roy as exceptions to this anti-intellectual trend, for eschewing such black-and-white thinking and challenging their own governments, even at risk to their own personal safety.

The flip-side of this coin is presented today in a meticulously-argued and terrifying article by Andrew Anthony on the legacy of the Rushdie fatwah and the British reaction to it. A similar intellectual conflation, in which to speak out against terrorism is to speak against Islam, has led to a horrifying destruction of our intellectual freedom. 'Chief among [our voluntary adoption of multicultural manners],' he says, 'is the duty not to offend', and quotes Kenan Malik: 'The fatwa has in effect become internalised'. Meanwhile, as he points out, there are legal changes which have actively restricted our right not just to speak out, but to think and read...
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