"France Flag" by Kristine Riskær / CC BY 2.0

3 Dead In Apparent Terrorist Knife Attack At Church In Nice, France

Oct 29, 2020

By Bill Chappell

A man used a knife to attack people at the Notre Dame Basilica in Nice, France, Thursday, killing three people, authorities say. Several more were injured. Police have arrested a suspect, according to Mayor Christian Estrosi.

Two people were killed inside the church, and another died outside it, according to local media reports.

“Very clearly, it was France that was attacked,” French President Emmanuel Macron said outside the church in Nice, after hurrying to the site of the attack.

“If we are attacked another time, it’s because of our values,” our freedoms and the ability to believe freely without giving in to terrorism, Macron said.

“I say it with great clarity once again today: We will not give in to it,” he added, after denouncing what he called an act of Islamist terrorism.

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92 comments on “3 Dead In Apparent Terrorist Knife Attack At Church In Nice, France

  • Maybe I just have on blinders, but I am at a loss to recall a reported incident of an atheist going into a church, a mosque, or a synagogue to kill people in the name Secular Humanism.

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  • It is yet another atrocity France has to endure at the hands of radical disposition,  a condition which has become a worldwide occurrence in many countries.  I believe the underpinnings of these attacks get little consideration regarding the root causation that drives this vitriol and violence.  For me a lot of the answers can be found in the past.

    Religious belief was largely manufactured for an ancient populace that was applicable to a small geographic region and dissemination around the globe would have been a secondary thought at best, if at all.  Rome sought to force their will in wide conquest, as have others, but the result is usually the same, failure.  The remnants of these clashes eventually find an equilibrium but the cycle of perceived identity and favor reestablishes themselves and the cycle begins anew.

    Here we are in our modern world where you can traverse distances in hours that use to be considered extraordinary journeys in ancient times and people are twisting themselves into knots attempting integration into another culture.  They carry indoctrinated beliefs and culture from their birth country to other countries possessing alien religious and cultural norms and they struggle to comprehend their new countries requirements for social interaction and integration.

    In America, and I am certain around the globe, there exists a worldwide phenomenon where you have islands of cultural isolation in the population like Chinatown, Germantown, Italian Burroughs or Jewish enclaves etc. and this pattern perpetuates due to their adherence to a Cultural imprint that is fiercely retained and defended irrespective of their environs.  This pattern continues.

    Here in the United States we are considered a melting pot of peoples but true integration has been just as hard to achieve as anywhere else in the world due to this culture clash, often times it has not been achieved at all.  The Black Lives Matter movement is testament to the ongoing disparity of perceived unity in the social fabric vs the reality of their daily lives.  Systemic racism has been intrenched in the culture from the beginning and yet there are still people who will look you straight in the face and deny it.  These clashes of race and culture run through all of these regions where people have been drawn together through adversity and the like but consistent collective identity remains illusive.

    No easy answer to this tribalism in my opinion, but the condition cannot be ignored either.  Personally, I feel Religion is the largest stumbling block overall, it is the greatest challenge in securing aggregate populations who reside together peacefully. Personally I would prefer to see it diminished for the reasons I’ve noted above but it remains the stubborn self-inflicted condition that it is.

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  • I’m sorry, this is going to be a long one.

    Let me start by stating very clearly that of course there is not the slightest justification for the murder of the teacher, nor for the subsequent terror attack, and absolutely nothing I am about to write diminishes that fact in any way at all. The only people responsible for the murder and the terror attack are the murderer and the terrorist, and I hope they will be tried and sentenced accordingly.

    But I also think the teacher was wrong to do what he did, and that anyone who flaunts the caricatures of Mohammed (or who instantly resorts to insult and mockery when dealing with the religious of any stripe) is wrong to do what they do. Not wrong on the same scale as the murderer and the terrorist, and certainly not wrong to the point of deserving to be murdered – but when it comes to the ethics of behaviour, there’s more to consider than merely whether others have done worse.

    I think he was wrong for a number of reasons.

    The first is that it was, as a simple matter of proven reality, deeply unwise and irresponsible. Again, the people responsible for the deaths in the wake of the teacher’s actions are the murderer and the terrorist, but that doesn’t mean his actions weren’t also irresponsible. 12 people at Charlie Hebdo were murdered in the terrorist attack in the wake of their publication of these images. And again: they shouldn’t have been, I’m not seeking to justify it. But as a matter of simple reality, no one since then has been able to claim ignorance of how incendiary these images are, and what deep, violent offence they cause, and what appalling events they can trigger. We may not be able to relate to that offence. We may think it ridiculous. We may even think it hypocritical, given the deafening silence of so many Islamic countries to China’s persecution of the Uighur Muslims. We must and do condemn the violence. What we may not do is pretend that the offence isn’t real.

    I am not suggesting he was wrong to have held a classroom discussion on freedom of speech, or that that discussion shouldn’t have included the aspects relating to Islam. Those are both perfectly reasonable discussions to have. I am specifically referring to his showing of the caricatures of Mohammed. You may be thinking that to refrain from showing them in a discussion on Islam and freedom of speech would have been to limit his own freedom of speech; you might even be thinking it would be merely caving in to terrorism. If that is what you are thinking, I honestly can see why you are thinking it. It’s not an unreasonable argument. I just think, for reasons I shall come on to, that there are more important and, at the risk of sounding like a relic from the 18th century, more noble considerations.

    What I find deeply unhelpful about “freedom of speech” arguments is that the most vocal advocates of them too often behave as though it were a choice between freedom of speech and any kind of consideration whatsoever for the sensibilities of our fellow human beings. There is a strong – not total, but strong – correlation between those who shout loudest about freedom of speech and those who, well, shout loudest. Those who for whatever reason feel the need to be unkind, inconsiderate, intolerant, aggressive, rude and deliberately offensive. Too often such people act as though there were some inherent contradiction between freedom of speech and courtesy, kindness, empathy and tact. Or as if it were a choice between being obnoxious and not standing up for our views at all. As if there were no other way of cracking a hazelnut then to crush it beneath a bulldozer. And this simply isn’t the case. We have far more tools in our armoury. I do not deny that the values of Islam do not always sit comfortably with the values of Western societies. And I am not suggesting we ignore that or surrender our values in the face of it. I am suggesting, however, that we need to find better, more effective, more constructive ways of dealing with the challenges that result from that than simply repeatedly and deliberately goading our Muslim neighbours. And that the Western value of free speech has to co-exist with other Western values too.

    One of our Western values ­– in Europe, at least – is a belief in the importance of good community relations. I’m not just using that term in its increasingly common sense of “inter-ethnic/multi-faith” – I’m talking about a belief in creating good communities to live in, places where all kinds of people rub along and are good neighbours to one another, despite the enormous number of different things they don’t necessarily have in common. I’m not pretending this is always an easy thing to achieve, but I do believe it’s a deeply desirable and worthwhile thing to strive for. And that each and every one of us has a role to play in helping to bring it about.

    This notion that we can only defend a proposition by mocking and goading those who do not currently accept it is ignorant, ugly and childish.

    And when it comes to deliberately goading our Muslim neighbours, it is also both historically and psychologically illiterate.

    Historically, because the history of Islam tells us that it has not remained static over the centuries. At times it has taken more enlightened and tolerant forms, at others it has tended towards extremism and brutality. Throughout all that time the core texts, the Koran and the Hadith, have remained unchanged. What has changed is the historical, social and political context. Islamism flourishes when Muslims feel they are coming under attack.

    I recently read an extraordinary book (Shadow of the Silk Road) by the wonderful British travel writer Colin Thubron, in which he describes a 7-month journey he made through China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey in 2003-4 – at the time of the 2nd Iraq war, in other words. It was a journey that retraced earlier journeys he’d made a decade or so before. Although the book isn’t primarily about religion or politics, the change that had taken place in the nature of the Islam he encountered in the 10-15 years between his journeys came through quite strongly: in the wake of the war in Afghanistan and, especially, the war in Iraq, many previously moderate, peaceful, mild-mannered Muslims were now deeply hostile to, and suspicious of, the West. They didn’t believe in the “War on Terror”: to them it was a war on Islam. And accordingly, they had doubled down, retreated into more intense, more hostile forms of their religion. Thubron writes that, in the whole of his journey across Asia, in all his really quite intense conversations with people in all those different countries, the subject of the invasion of Iraq came up over and over again, and was universally condemned (the only exception being some Kurds he met in Turkey).

    And this also coheres with the reason why the deliberate goading approach is also psychologically illiterate. There is a reason why negotiators in complex stand-offs don’t shout insult and abuse through their megaphones. There is a reason why ambassadors around the world don’t insult and abuse their host countries. There is a reason why advertisers – the successful ones, anyway – don’t run campaigns insulting and abusing people who don’t buy their products. And there is a reason why there was a backlash to Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables” comment.

    None of which means that professional influencers have no means of influencing. It just means they know that goading people simply does not work. It just makes them double down. It cements antagonism. It weakens or destroys bridges. It rekindles antipathies. It creates resentment. It makes healthy relationships, healthy communities, healthy societies impossible.

    A recent study on persuasion (and I’m sorry, I have googled but can’t find the link just now) concluded that the best foundation for influencing people is to show that we are genuinely interested in their position and genuinely understand it, even if we don’t share it. Only that can create an atmosphere in which they are also willing to try to understand our position too. And the more sensitive the issue is to one or both of the parties concerned, the more sensitively the would-be influencer needs to proceed. (And here the Iraq war becomes relevant again: because the way we as Westerners behave towards Islam and Muslims will now be interpreted in the light of that perceived “war on Islam”. We are not perceived as neutral discussion partners here. And we have certainly cooked our goose when it comes to credibly demonstrating interest in and understanding of their point of view … Goading would never be an effective approach; but goading in this historical context is inevitably going to go down very badly indeed.)

    A final point before I go and lie down in a darkened room and let you do the same …

    France is less than 18 months away from its next presidential election. The far right, anti-immigration, anti-Muslim candidate Marine Le Pen (supported by Trump, and Farage, and Bannon) is currently neck-and-neck in the polls with the current president, Emmanuel Macron. Last time around it came down to a battle between Le Pen and Macron too. After some hideous terrorist attacks in the past, France had experienced 19 months of peace until a couple of weeks ago, when suddenly, out of the blue, some teacher starts waving the cartoons around in front of his class and, entirely predictably, it all kicks off again. I would just ask you to consider: cui bono?

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  • Marco, I carefully read your well reasoned essay.  I must respectfully disagree.

    I don’t think you can have it both ways — the murders were wrong, but the editors at Charlie Hebdo and the teacher were wrong too.  It sounds to me as though you are making the case that “Yes the defendant is guilty of rape, but the victim’s provocative attire was a mitigating factor.”  No it’s not.  Another example, “yes the defendant is guilty of murder but the fact that the victim made a homosexual pass at the defendant is a mitigating factor.”  No it’s not.  A rape victim has the right to dress as she/he chooses, a gay man/woman has the right to approach other people, an editor has the right to publish what he/she chooses, and a teachers has the right to conduct his/her class as is deemed appropriate by the teacher and the school authorities.  Likewise, I might find the outward expression of Islam highly offensive, but I had better learn to suck it up if I intend to live in the midst of Islamic culture.  I have no more right to take the law into my own hands than does the Ayatollah Khomeini to issue a death sentence against Salman Rushdie.  And just as I would defend the right of anyone to practice any religion they choose, I also defend the right to publish, teach, or otherwise point out the absurdity of that religion.  I don’t believe that an editor, an author, or a teacher need fear for life or limb for a breach of good manners.  Here in the US, and I suspect in France, the right of freedom of speech is to protect provocative speech.  If I don’t like what you have to say, I don’t have to listen, but I am under no obligation nor am I permitted to silence you.  I also don’t believe that a speaker, an editor, a teacher, or an author needs to make persuasion the first priority.  I am never going to persuade a devoted Christian, Muslim or the devotee of any other religion.  That doesn’t mean that I can’t point out the absurdity of what is being propounded by the religion and defend my right not to practice it or have shoved down my throat through intimidation or under the color of law,  That means that if I want to publish something that is offensive to a believer, I expect the believer to defend my right just as vigorously as I defend his/her right to engage in the absurd practice of religion. I condemn the fanatic murderers and I find no fault whatsoever in the editors, teacher or author.

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  • Michael

    I was at great pains NOT to frame my criticisms of the teacher as a mitigating factor in the subsequent killings. In fact, I don’t know how I could have stated my position on that any more clearly than I did.

    The case I am making would apply even if there had never been any cartoon-related killings, and if the offence and distress caused by the cartoons had been expressed in non-violent ways.

    Also, I most certainly can say that while the fault for the killings rests with the killers, the teacher was also at fault for something else. Just because one person is guilty of X, does not mean another person cannot be guilty of Y.

    And just because someone has the legal right to do something, it doesn’t necessarily follow that doing it is the right thing to do.

    We all have – or should have – an interest in good relations in our society, between people of all faiths and none. Why deliberately prod people where we know it will hurt them most? What possible good can come of it? I am quite certain that not one Muslim saw those cartoons of Mohammed and became less Muslim, or less sensitive to insults to Islam, as a result. They simply have no power to achieve that. They are just what they were always intended to be – an expression of contempt and hatred for Islam, and consequently deeply upsetting to Muslims. Good societies, and good relations in societies, require us to behave better than that towards one another, regardless of our legal rights.

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  • I have hosted in my home Muslims from the former Soviet Central Asian countries, and from the Islamic parts of Russsia.  When I, upon first meeting them, explained that I would do my best to respect their religious observation, almost without exception I was told that they took Islam with a grain of salt.  None of them requested time for prayer, and many openly flouted the dietary observations of Islam.  None of the women dressed in Islamic costumes. Likewise, we know from articles and videos published on this website that there are many closet atheists, and some brave souls who are openly secular in Islamic countries.  I submit that the publication of cartoons might actually embolden such people to throw off the shackles of religion by showing its absurdity.  Indeed, westerners’ fear of being offensive might have the opposite effect by showing that making fun of Islam or the prophet can not be tolerated for fear of physical harm thus condoning the oppressive nature of religion.  While there is a time and place for good manners, there is also a time and place to speak and write without fear of being offensive.

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  • Michael

    Closet atheists and openly secular people in Islamic countries have by definition already seen the absurdity of those beliefs.

    We should treat people with respect and decency and consideration, not because we are afraid of the consequences to ourselves of not doing so, but because they are people and that’s the decent thing to do, and those are our values.

    There is nothing in that that needs to put any subject off-limits. It does not have to be a choice between expressing ourselves obnoxiously and not daring to express ourselves at all. It’s a real challenge right now, and not just when it comes to dealing with Muslims, either: there are all sorts of deep divisions in our societies that need to be healed. We need to find better ways of discussing where there is disagreement. Going on the attack, mocking, goading – only entrenches the divisions.

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  • Marco, #4 etc…

    If the class was about “freedom of speech”, the “Charlie Hebdo” incident is pretty much the “textbook case” of when it goes wrong, and should absolutely be discussed (especially in France). Would a class about European history ignore Hitler, just because he did bad things? Or a course on car design ignore the fact that car crashes happen and people die?

    Also, some people just go about their day wanting to be offended. I don’t think that the beheader was a student in the class, so it was at best second hand information that got him all riled up, when it had nothing to do with him.

    As the saying goes, “those who ignore the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them”.

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  • Hi ShadowMind

    If the class was about “freedom of speech”, the “Charlie Hebdo” incident is pretty much the “textbook case” of when it goes wrong, and should absolutely be discussed (especially in France). Would a class about European history ignore Hitler, just because he did bad things? Or a course on car design ignore the fact that car crashes happen and people die?

    I totally agree. That’s why I wrote this:

    I am not suggesting he was wrong to have held a classroom discussion on freedom of speech, or that that discussion shouldn’t have included the aspects relating to Islam. Those are both perfectly reasonable discussions to have. I am specifically referring to his SHOWING of the caricatures of Mohammed. [Emphasis added]

    And this:

    There is nothing in that that needs to put any subject off-limits. 

    As for your comment about some people actively seeking out things to get offended about, no doubt that is true; but it doesn’t alter the fact that many others are genuinely offended and distressed.

    We are atheists: of course we do not ourselves feel the reverence for Mohammed that Muslims are taught to feel, and so of course we ourselves feel no distress or offence when we see those cartoons. But there is nothing about being an atheist that requires us to deactivate either our brains or our empathy. In the same way that we do not have to either like or respect Fred to be able to understand that slagging him off to his wife, or his mother, or his best friend, is likely to hurt them and damage our own relationship with them … we do not have to either like or respect Islam to understand that portraying it in mocking, taunting, grotesque forms is likely to hurt Muslims and damage our relationship with them. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not the least bit interested in building or sustaining relationships with Islamists: they are a scourge on humanity. But most Muslims are not Islamists: they’re just people, people who we disagree with on certain things, but people all the same, with all the vulnerabilities and hopes and fears that most of us can surely relate to.

    Let me step back for a moment. What is the motivation behind those cartoons? When people publish them, share them, show them, what are they doing it for?

    I can think of a few possible answers:

    1) They may think they are standing up to terrorism, thumbing a nose at it. They may see it as an act of defiance, in other words. Standing up for free speech would also come under this heading (“We’re publishing these images that we know many will find offensive, because we can, because freedom of speech”).

    2) They may think that the realisation that some non-Muslims find their beliefs ridiculous might cause some Muslims to abandon Islam, or to start down that path, at least.

    3) They may feel hatred and contempt towards Muslims and actively want to hurt them.

    4) They may actively want to rekindle conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims in pursuit of a far-right ideological agenda.

    Maybe you or others can suggest other motivations that wouldn’t fall under one or more of these headings, but these are the ones that spring to mind for me.

    On the surface of it, the motivation behind 1) might seem noble; but in practice it is self-defeating, because extremists of all stripes thrive on hostility. “Look how much they hate us”, “Look at the contempt they hold the Prophet in”, “Look at this latest act in their war on Islam” … is the most effective recruiting sergeant Islamists could hope for. And in any case, any nobility or heroism involved is only noble or heroic if, by publishing/sharing/showing the cartoons, people were only putting themselves at risk. We all have the right to endanger our own lives, I guess. We don’t have the right to endanger other people’s.
    (A plea to all readers here, because I know how this conversation tends to go at this point: please don’t be unsubtle. If I tell a notoriously violent, jealous husband that his wife is having an affair and he then kills her as a result, it is him and only him who deserves to serve the life sentence. All the same, I would regret my action for the rest of my life, and certainly wouldn’t feel absolved by excuses based in freedom of speech. This really isn’t a difficult concept to grasp.)

    2), I think, is unrealistic at best, disingenuous at worst. Along the lines of “this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you”. It’s simply not how humans work. Ask ANY professional influencer: abuse people, hurt them, offend them, call them names … and they double down; they decide you are an idiot, and a nasty idiot at that; someone they want as little as possible to do with, certainly not someone they want to resemble in any way at all. You cannot make friends or converts by abuse or insult. And these cartoons have no informational content beyond the contempt. They don’t make a reasoned argument, they simply insult, they kick back. The impulse may be understandable, but it is also anti-rational. I don’t say you won’t ever find an example of abuse shaking someone out of their religion; I do say you will find countless more where it has shaken them more thoroughly into it. I often see religion portrayed here as though it were simply a set of claims that science shows to be untrue. If that were all it was, it would be a far simpler beast to deal with. But the reality is that it has a meaning in believers’ lives that goes far deeper than that: it is hugely bound up with identity, community, security, comfort, purpose – everything that matters to them in life, the whole way they cope with life. You can’t freeze people into abandoning their source of warmth, you can’t offend them into abandoning their source of comfort.

    3) and 4) are in my view the only possible motivations behind these cartoons that are actually likely to have the desired effect. I reject both, with every fibre of my being.

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  • Marco, I understand what you are saying, and in a one-to-one situation, I’m sure most of us would conduct ourselves in an appropriate manner.  The point I was trying to make when this donnybrook began is that it would not be appropriate for me to go to someone else’s place of worship to either insult or injure anyone because I find their religion offensive just as it’s inappropriate for violence in the name of religion.  What people do in the privacy of their homes, places of worship, or even in public – as long as it is not supported by a government, is none of my business.  When it comes to peoples’ right to freely exercise their religion, no interference should be permitted.  If a believer wants to engage me in a discussion of my opinion, I’m willing to meet that challenge in a respectful manner. 

    Having said that I think blasphemy laws are violations of human rights.  Any attempt to enforce them are illegitimate and the blasphemer shares zero blame for repercussions.  There is no justification for individuals or governments (clerical or otherwise) to enforce such laws in their own counties, much less on the soil of a secular nation such as France.  I would expect a human rights organization to consider someone imprisoned for blasphemy to be a prisoner of conscience.  Retaliation for blasphemy is unacceptable under any circumstance and the motivation of the blasphemer is irrelevant.  The tyranny of religion must stop.  Today it seems like it’s the Muslims who are resorting to violence, but if history is any guide, the Christians would do the same if given the opportunity.  If we would advocate on behalf of a prisoner of conscience, how can we not support a satirical magazine, an award-winning author, or a teacher in a classroom?  If we are going to protect the right to freely practice religion, the faithful must protect the right of nonbelievers to freely express their opinion – even in an offensive manner.

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  • I prefer to advocate for a reasonable understanding, tolerance, and acceptance of each other’s behavior.  If you cannot, or will not tolerate offense, then you’re worse than ignoble.

    You have kept me at your beck and call for fifteen years.  I shall never again do what you demand of me.  By every rule of single combat, from this moment your life belongs to me.  Is that not correct?  Then I shall simply declare you dead.  In all your dealings with me, you’ll do me the courtesy to conduct yourself as a dead man.  I have submitted to your notions of honor long enough.

    Armand D’Hubert, The Duellists

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  • Marco


    Or 5) Moral dogma is not moral.

    I have fallen out (politely) with an atheist over this. His (not unreasonable) claim is that challenging someone who genuinely thinks they are being moral with the accusation that they are not, is fatuous. Their moral system is their moral system.

    My concern is that it is not the specific moral at issue but a moral system based on diktats, that needs highlighting as no longer fit for purpose in our plural age.

    My earnest belief to set alongside religious belief is that for a morality to work it must be generated individually, using all our wit and wisdom (genetic, cultural or God-given) and lived out. It must be part of a continual daily discussion of fairness and unfairness, noticing those pushing to the front and those neglected, in which we are each obliged to partake else moral concerns become skewed and the neglected become the forgotten.

    This doesn’t make things easier when facing any fundamentalist passionate about “dogma” holding that it is the very root of faith. But truth is when, we look at fundamentalism as a historical concept, it mostly shimmers away into something that looks very different, questing even. Very early on, after its vigorous expansionist phase Islam became notably plural. Fundamentalisms existed but their philosophers were still arguing over interpretations.

    My debating partner is dismissive that I want this whole idea of what is moral as the actual challenge. But this time the devil is not in the detail. The extreme response of revenge on behalf of a God for some perceived slight makes the morality question stark.

    Had I no kids, and were my affairs in order, if no others were involved, this would be a way to cash in the remainder of my life.

    Moral dogma is antithetical. It may be Hitchens’ poison or the poison in many a political or economic theory.

    Clearly signalled, I propose this is worth dying for. We must become the moral authors of our lives.



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  • Hi Michael

    I don’t think I disagree with much, if any of that.

    There is no blasphemy law in France. What the teacher did was entirely legal.  I’m not saying it shouldn’t have been legal.

    What I am saying is that it wasn’t wise, that it wasn’t conducive to good social relations (stronger, actually: that such acts are actively harmful to good relations between Muslims and non-Muslims in our societies), that in this case it will play into the hands of the far-right contender for the French presidency, that the consequences of his actions were entirely predictable (given that we’ve been here before), that it was therefore the wrong thing to do and that this kind of approach would always be wrong. Not illegal. Just unpleasant, ugly, unkind, unhelpful, unwise and counterproductive. Did he have the right to do it? Sure. Was it the right thing to do? In my view, definitely not. Discretion is the better part of valour and all that.

    I have said this several times already, but I do want to underscore it: I am categorically NOT saying we shouldn’t ever challenge anything about Islam, or shouldn’t ever say anything that might make a Muslim feel uncomfortable.

    But some ways of challenging people are better than others. The most successful, most influential people tend to score highly on EQ – emotional intelligence. They are sensitive to people’s feelings, and they know how to put their points across with sensitivity, tact and empathy. They have good people skills. They don’t go trampling over people’s feelings in the exercise of their “rights”, yet they still manage to get their points across.

    Whatever our legal rights, we all choose to show self-restraint at various times, or to think carefully about the best way to tackle a tricky subject or difficult person. Once we get past the toddler stage we don’t, on the whole, just blurt out whatever we’re thinking and to hell with the consequences. And we don’t deliberately taunt or goad other people either. I can’t imagine any of us thinking it was ok to do that in any other context.

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  • Phil #13

    Again – I am not saying we shouldn’t have these conversations, with Muslims or anyone else. I am saying that those wretched cartoons actively put obstacles in the way of those conversations. They trigger such an extreme emotional reaction, such resentment and hostility, that they shut down the other person’s ability to be receptive to our point of view; they destroy the other person’s trust in us as interlocutors in good, er, faith.

    Good negotiators, good influencers, seek to take the emotion out of difficult encounters. They certainly don’t deliberately set out to inflame it. They listen, and they try to find common ground and go from there. They don’t resort to verbal or visual flame-throwers.

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  • Marco #13

    Yet negotiation does not get to the heart of the issue, which itself is bigger than a single religion.

    Haters will hate. Those not talked into a belief will, truly, never be talked out of one.

    Only the young, those on the cusp of belief may usefully acquire that seed of doubt. But the details of the specific apparent transgression must be specifically not the point.

    Now it may be that like conceptual art we may have conceptual blasphemy. A full verbal description of the image could stand in for the image, including numerous possible interpretations of the image. It could be that images of beheadings could stand in their stead. But mostly what I want is that lecturers get down to the basics of the problem. NOT one of free speech (there is so much we accept we can’t say), but the response that is elicited on the basis of  that cultural robotiser, dogma.

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  • I’m not aware of any details about his lecture besides that he showed the cartoons.  Without any more information it seems unfair to accuse him of being inflammatory, lacking sensitivity, or empathy, ugly, unpleasant, or unwise.  It seems that this line of thought is based on little more than the murderer’s reaction.

    Furthermore, why is so much put on the teacher to begin with?  He is to be a negotiator, an influencer, a mediator between Muslims and atheists, and what else?

    This is an opportunity to point out the ugliness of a failure to accept each other’s faults, not to encourage people to behave so as to avoid bringing attention to their faults.



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  • Phil

    A full verbal description of the image could stand in for the image, including numerous possible interpretations of the image. 

    For example. That would allow the issues to be thoroughly discussed, without actually repeating an act that we now know, with 100% certainty, is enormously incendiary.

    That said, I’m coming at this from a different angle from you. I’m no fan of religion, certainly no fan of Islam, but my motivation is less anti-religion than pro-society. Any kind of dogma, religious or otherwise, has the potential to harm the way we live together. Every society is always going to include people with a huge range of backgrounds, beliefs, politics and values, and somehow we need to find a way of learning to live alongside one another rather more harmoniously than we do at present. That will inevitably require a reasonable degree of tolerance where tolerance is possible, but it will also entail learning to deal effectively and constructively with areas of conflict where tolerance is not possible.

    It won’t be easy, but it’s not terra incognita either. There is expertise available. There are trained negotiators, professional diplomats, mediators, psychologists, behaviourists. We could try to learn what they have to teach us. Spoiler alert: not one of them will advocate taunts and jibes or other inflammatory behaviours. Proper grown-up conflict resolution requires a proper grown-up approach, not behaviour more suited to the school playground.

    I’ll leave it there, I think. I’m tired and I’ve said pretty much all I have to say on the subject and will inevitably be mostly repeating myself if I go on; busy week ahead too. Thanks, everyone, for the discussion.

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  • The previous post just included a link that attempts to convince us that a few cartoons of Mohammad is equal to the horrors of the Jewish Holocaust.
    Religious belief really does bring out the stupid in people.

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  • Marco #18:  For what it’s worth, I think you raised some very good points that I’ll ponder for a long time to come.  As you said, we are looking at the same problem from different angles, and the consideration of each facet only enhances our (at least my) understanding of the whole situation.

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  • Wow! 5 people offended by a couple of images. Sometimes I’m ashamed to call myself an atheist. No recognition of the sentiment. No breaking down of what he is trying to say.

    Good luck Marco. I’m with you. Hope you got more out to of the link?

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  • Marco,

    I truly appreciate your reply, and this 

    “we need to find a way of learning to live alongside one another rather more harmoniously than we do at present.”

    is of course our common aim.

    I’ve long past thinking that the task is to vanquish religion. I’ve seen too many examples of the religious, Christian, Muslim who could be of no possible moral concern. I’ve seen too many political and economic zealots of real moral concern.

    We need a new way of doing these things.

    We need allies from the religious. We need more humility and more much more focus on those leaders, those low empathy parasites and manipulators who are the one’s that critically depend on moral dogma to better control those weaker minds they gather to them.

    Only, only by joining the narrative for the nature of a sharable morality, not opposing religion, but joining them in a more openhanded way, can we make progress. But dogma must be part of the challenge.

    If  we do not draw attention to the Bullies at the Gate those most subject to them will continue to suffer, sight mostly unseen.

    Until human life is treasured despite our dogma trained brains, we are not off the hook in our moral “meddling”.

    This (blaspheming) is indeed a form of terrorism to heighten awareness. If no-one ever got killed  or locked up for it, it would fade away. It is not, though, an issue of free speech in my head. Its much more.

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  • Marco,

    Sorry one more point. I don’t want to see the whole issue of blasphemy in Pakistan, say, negotiated away. I want, rather, a reset in ordinary folk who, outraged by blasphemy are less outraged by those Bullies at the Gate and their lethal “policing” on their behalf.

    Judgemental moral dogma only becomes clear cut in its execution when people assert certainty in the interpretation of transgressions. Humility is needed in the prospect of harmful and irrevocable punishment, decent doubt that a loving god would demand it in this specific case, that error or temporary madness, or different moral dogma inflicted upon the accused when young, or a myriad extenuating circumstances might reasonably pertain. We should all be struggling for the moral high-ground outraged or not.


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  • phil rimmer says: – Marco,

    I truly appreciate your reply, and this

    “we need to find a way of learning to live alongside one another rather more harmoniously than we do at present.”

    The problem with Islam, is that it tries to impose Sharia law on others!

    For example in Egypt, for a Christian man to marry a girl from a Muslim family they need to get permission from BOTH the mosque and the church, (which is usually withheld), and he has to convert to Islam!

    Women only get half the family inheritance which their brothers get, and Muslims take priority over non-muslins in matters of inheritance or legal disputes.

    No secular person in their right mind, is going to accept this as “morality”!

    . .  . . but any criticism, is likely to be met by an “offended card”!

    It is not only cartoons of Mohamed which are regarded as offensive. There is a general opposition to many forms of image.


    When the 1,500-year-old Hagia Sophia was a mosque, some of its Medieval mosaics and frescoes were plastered over, in deference to Islamic prohibitions against figuration in art. Critics fear those artworks will now once again be removed from view. How the building will change, and whether or not the government will continue charging admission, remains to be seen.

    Some may also recall that when Islamic State fundamentalist terrorists conquered parts of Iraq, they set about defacing and destroying ancient archaeology which they deemed “offensive to their religion”!

    This raises the question of how far the civilised world tolerates the intolerant!

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  • Alan #27

    I can’t concur with

    “The problem with Islam is…”

    I know too many Muslims that are not so “problematic”. I would that the growing US theocracy were moving in the same direction.

    I’ve always held that religion will evolve its way out of mischief before atheism does for it.

    The current Egyptian Bullies contrive as bleakly uniform an appearance as they can, but we know during that brief Spring a substantial mass of the country yearned to be out from under them.

    Bullies control appearances as well as behaviours, and the Old Testament Bullies hoping for a similar roll back in the US, and real oppressive powers, have come within a gnats whisker of breaking a once decent country.

    On this telling day, some light relief…


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  • phil rimmer says:

    Bullies control appearances as well as behaviours, and the Old Testament Bullies hoping for a similar roll back in the US,

    What I am quoting is the present theocratic law in Egypt, (and other countries) where they promote Sharia law.

    While you and I may well know some amicable Muslims in western countries, the promotion of Sharia law is an ever present underlying issue, just as other forms of repression are emerging from Christian Orthodoxy and Catholicism where theocracy is able to achieve power.


    A strike is under way in Poland by women opposed to a court ruling that introduced a near-total ban on abortion in the mainly Catholic country.

    Crowds have protested in several cities for the seventh-day running against the decision that outlawed terminations on the grounds of severe health defects.

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  • Just popping back briefly, peeps, to say I know there are posts here that I need to respond to. I just don’t have either the time or the head space just now to do it properly. I will come back to them, though. In the meantime I especially want to thank you, Michael, for your generous reply at #21; and you, Phil, for your (as ever) thoughtful responses, most of which I agree with – I will reply separately on the one major point I disagree with you on at some point in the next few days; and you, Gill, for the link to that article which I did find both relevant and important – and again, I’ll explain why in more detail when my head is in a better place.

  • Phil has defended the cartoons on the basis that the blasphemy issue is a major problem that needs to be addressed, and Alan on the basis that Islam isn’t a tolerant religion.

    These may both be valid points, but they are not arguments for doing something that can only make matters worse.

    The more urgent, serious, pressing, dangerous the issue – the more there is at stake – the more essential it is that we put our emotional, kneejerk reactions to one side and determine our course of action on the basis of reason and evidence.

    In any other context, we would all agree that simply wanting something to be true does not make it so. No matter how much people may want cartoons of Mohammed to make Islam a nicer religion, turn ordinary Muslims against the Islamists, or make them more tolerant of what they see as blasphemy, or even make them question why they believe in Islam at all, reality consistently shows us that this is not, in fact, the effect they actually have. And no wonder: for reality also consistently shows us that that is not how human psychology works.

    Just think for a moment: if a Muslim were to post a comment here now calling us all dirty kafirs, would you think, oh hang on, maybe he has a point? Maybe there’s more to this Islam lark than I’d thought? Muslims are clearly not as bad as I’d thought? Would you go out and find a Koran to check out whether he might be right?

    Or, to take it outside the realm of religion for a moment, to whatever political beliefs you hold passionately, will a troll from the other side showering you with insults make you reconsider? Or sport: can an abusive fan from another football team shake your support for your own?

    If we’re being honest, we all know the answer to those questions is a resounding No. So where does this idea come from that the answer suddenly switches to Yes when the question is “Can we offend Muslims into rethinking their beliefs?”

    In any other context, we would all agree that experts know best. We do not hesitate to pour scorn on covid-deniers pretending to understand more about virology than the virologists. Or creationists pretending to know more about physical processes than the geologists. Or climate change deniers thinking they know better than climate scientists. Or anti-vaxxers and naturopaths of various stripes convinced they know better than medical science. We know we can dismiss the lot of them, because there is a whole body of scientific study and evidence and genuine expertise that shows them to be wrong.

    But there is also a whole body of scientific study and evidence and genuine expertise in the realm of human behaviour too. A body of study and evidence that informs the approaches taken by literally every highly trained professional whose job it is to handle tricky people and the resulting tricky situations. Professionals whose advice is recognised as the more essential, the more urgent and pressing and difficult the challenge.

    Why, in this one case, do we suddenly insist that our gut feelings are a more effective guide than actual expertise?

    Ask any trained negotiator, mediator, psychologist, counsellor, therapist, diplomat, peace-keeper or professional persuader – ask any charity worker actually on the ground promoting girls’ education or trying to reduce child marriage or FGM in some of the Muslim countries we’re talking about – whether the secret of any success they achieve lies in deliberately offending, goading, insulting, name-calling, demonising the people they are trying to influence … and you know what answer you will get.

    We’ve just had 4 years of a POTUS with nothing but cartoons-of-Mohammed in his armoury (I’m speaking metaphorically), and we have seen – and can surely understand – how much that has inflamed anger and resistance in those he has targeted. There’s a reason most of the world (including many of us here) breathed a collective sigh of relief on hearing the calm, healing, inclusive tones of Joe Biden the other day.

    I really challenge you to ask yourselves honestly why an approach you wouldn’t dream of adopting in just about any other context (or at least, that you would almost certainly feel ashamed of afterwards if you did) should suddenly, miraculously, be the best approach to dealing with Muslims.

    And this is why Gill’s link should make us stop and think. The cartoons are not the Holocaust. They are not genocide. But they do share a common ancestor with both, and that common ancestor is dehumanisation: the refusal to see those we disagree with and those who are different as fully human, as capable of feeling the full range of human emotions, of having hopes and dreams and fears that matter as much to them as ours do to us and most of which probably aren’t even all that different from ours in any case; the refusal to see them as deserving of being treated with the same dignity and consideration and respect we demand for ourselves; the refusal to take their feelings and concerns seriously; the refusal to see anything at all beyond the label, be that Muslim or Jew or Christian or Atheist or Black or White or Gay or Straight or Abled or Disabled or … or … or … In all those cases, if we cannot see beyond the label to the PERSON, we are on a dangerous path.

    The link was also valid for another reason. Every person from a discriminated-against group – and the data shows that Muslims are one of the most discriminated-against groups in many of our societies right now – experiences that discrimination in the context of the shared memory of the Holocaust. The shared memory of where it can lead. We all know now where dehumanisation can lead. Back in 1920s Germany, when the pogroms in Europe felt like long-gone history, that wasn’t so clear. Jews didn’t fear a holocaust. Even after the Nazis came to power in 1933, many Jews simply didn’t believe they would actually turn their hateful rhetoric into hateful acts: it just didn’t seem possible in what they still saw as a civilised, enlightened country. They saw Nazism as a blip, something that was deeply unpleasant but that would ultimately be constrained and overturned by Germany’s fundamental decency and civilisation if they just hunkered down. Well, now we all know better. We’ve even had a more recent example of it, in Bosnia, as Gill’s link has reminded us. And so, post-Holocaust and post-Bosnian-genocide, being a member of a target group on the receiving end of hateful rhetoric and attitudes is an altogether darker and more frightening experience than it was 100 years ago.

    The other day Van Jones broke down into tears of relief when it became clear that Trump hadn’t been re-elected. In one of the most powerful couple of minutes of TV I’ve ever seen, he really brought home to us the  enormous mental and emotional toll that sustained hatred takes on those it’s directed at. I’m out of patience with those who claim that only a stupid or weak person can be genuinely wounded by words and cartoons, and that only physical forms of violence count. That is simply untrue, and an embarrassing display of lack of either empathy or even the most rudimentary understanding of psychology on the part of those who pretend otherwise. Watch or re-watch these 2 minutes and tell me people’s lives are not grotesquely diminished by verbal or visual hatred:


    We all have a moral responsibility to bear this reality in mind and adjust our behaviour accordingly. We can all wax lyrical about how evolution laid the path to empathy, and how atheism is actually more compatible with empathy than religion is – how about we actually start showing some?

    None of this is a defence of Islam. None of it is intended to downplay the harm Islam can cause, mostly (though not exclusively) to Muslims themselves. It’s a plea to us to actually practise the values we preach: reason, realism, humanity, empathy, morality, decency. All those things we point to when some religious person pops up to tell us we must be bad people because we don’t believe in their god.

    Islamists cannot be reasoned with. But they depend for the survival of their movement on being able to convert ordinary Muslims to their cause, and the easiest way to do that is to convince them that they are not wanted in the West, that the West hates and despises them and their religion. How can it be remotely rational to hand them examples on a plate? The very best way of inoculating our Muslim neighbours against the virus of Islamism is to just treat them with the same decency and consideration and humanity and courtesy with which I’d like to think we treat anyone else – and demonstrate through our behaviour that, whatever our differences and disagreements, they are part of us and a welcome part to boot.

    Does that mean we have to give up any idea of exerting influence in a more humane direction? No. Categorically no. It means we have to learn from the expertise of the professional influencers and finally grasp that influence can only be exerted where we have already established some common ground and demonstrated real interest in the concerns, aspirations and well-being of the “other side”. That takes time, and it takes patience, and it takes commitment, and it takes a fair degree of self-restraint as well. But if we really are as serious about dealing with these issues as we keep proclaiming, then that is an investment we’ll be prepared to make. And if we are not prepared to make it, then we should not be surprised if others think we are being neither rational nor humane, but are actually just venting bigotry and hatred.

  • Marco 32


    Amazing Marco. I need to say more but my body doesn’t respond well to an adrenaline rush. I had to put the phone down I was shaking so much. Still am.

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  • Marco, I’m with you on the issue of whether blasphemous or insulting language is an effective way to convince an opponent.  I don’t think such is included in a list of ways to win friends or influence people.  I don’t disagree at all with what you write but I think the question here is different.
    If I am insulted, or if something about which I care very deeply is held up to ridicule, that is no justification for me to take any action which endangers life, limb, or property.  The issue is not the wisdom of insulting language – the issue is the appropriate response.  Although it may not have been wise for Charlie Hedbo to publish the cartoons, the editors had the right to do so and they exercised it. If the editors violated someone’s rights, I’m sure there is a remedy at law that does not include bombing, shooting, stabbing, beating, or anything of the sort.  The same is true in the other cases of injury and death discussed in postings above.

    In my opinion enforcement of blasphemy laws by the state, by the church, or by self-righteous individuals, is a violation of human rights and must be condemned.

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  • Michael 100 says:

    that is no justification for me to take any action which endangers life, limb, or property.

    I am inclined to agree with you on that.


    If we were in some Islamic theocracy, we might as a matter of pragmatic self protection, need to avoid provoking those  who regard regard cartoons as a justification for murder, and atheism criminal offence justifying flogging or  a death penalty, but in civilised European states pandering to fundamentalist fanatics as some sort of political correctness should not be  entertained!


    Terrorists should be excluded, deported, or imprisoned, and those identified as delusional murderous fanatics, put in mental institutions, regardless of if they are wearing religious badges or not!

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  • Gay people went through persecution and pain in the west. What changed? Are today’s gays different to yesterday’s?



    I hope they accept I am an atheist when they come for me!

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  • I have spoken to, at length, with a geezer who’s young daughter was torn apart by the Manchester Arena bomber. He started the conversation with me. The more he talked about his life since , the more I began to realise that the multi-cultural pandering to islamists was as equally to blame for his daughters death as was the islamist nutter. I was wondering if Marco would have a “paradigm shift” if his young daughter was murdered in such a pointless act of seventh century inspired barbarity?

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  • M27


    Shame you had to hear it first hand in order to feel the pain. Perhaps a conversation with some Muslims next?


    (A cheap shot deserves another)

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  • M27Holts #37  I assume Marco will speak to your point, but for myself, I would say that with the same vigor that I condemn terror, Islamic or otherwise, I also support everyone’s right to practice any religion with which they identify.  As an atheist, as an anti-theist, I find such practice irrational, but I don’t think it’s pandering to defend Muslims’ right to the free exercise of their religion.  In my opinion freedom of religion and freedom from religion are two sides of the same coin.  Indeed, both rights are articulated in the same phrase of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, separated only by a coma.  I agree with Marco that those with whom we disagree should be respected and treated in a dignified manner.  If that’s multicultural pandering, I plead guilty.

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  • gill says:

    Perhaps a conversation with some Muslims next?

    Religious tribalism and stereotypes should be avoided.

    Not all Muslims are jihadists, and not all Christians are young-Earth fundamentalists!☺

    Muslim and Christian theocracies however  are a brand of their own, and will run amok if allowed to run amok!

    Religions have never been shy about conniving with authoritarian dictators when there was something in it for them!  Franco’s fascist Spain is a classic example, which should act as a warning to America!

    The fascists controlled the country.  The Catholic Church controlled the people and their minds!


    Civil marriages that had taken place in the Republic were declared null and void unless they had been validated by the Church, along with divorces. Divorce, contraception and abortions were forbidden, Children had to be given Christian names.[45]

    Franco was made a member of the Supreme Order of Christ by Pope Pius XII

    The Catholic Church’s ties with the Franco dictatorship gave it control over the country’s schools and crucifixes were once again placed in schoolrooms.



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  • M27

    That poor man. Who could possibly fail to understand his hatred and his desire to lash out? Who could possibly expect him to be able to step back and see the bigger picture? Who could fail to understand his (implied) conflation of Islamists (who deserve his hatred) and ordinary Muslims (who do not)? We should not and do not expect cool, calm, rational analysis from a person in extremis.

    You do occasionally see grieving parents claiming to forgive the killer of their murdered child, but I’m rarely entirely convinced by them: it would be a superhuman thing to achieve, and I’m always concerned that they are simply suppressing pain and rage that will just continue to fester from within and end up doing them even more harm than if they’d acknowledged it in the first place.

    But with the best will in the world, that’s not a reason to keep adding fuel to the fire.

    Quite the reverse. As your comment highlights, the deaths and maimings caused by terrorists tend to be the things that make the news, but the destruction they wreak goes even further than that. For every person who is killed or suffers life-changing injuries in a terrorist attack, there are a whole host of people caught up in the resulting devastation: partners, parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren, the wider family, friends, neighbours, colleagues, communities.

    The sheer scale of the harm done by terrorists – Islamist terrorists in this case – is a reason to approach the issue with more rationality, not less; with cooler heads, not hotter ones. It’s too important to screw up.

    There is no path from cartoons of Mohammed to less terrorism. Again, quite the reverse. We know that. We know that every time those cartoons are brought out, more people are killed and maimed, and more grieving relatives like the man you met are created. And more hatred is generated as a result. Not just for the Islamists who committed the murders and the maimings, but for Muslims as a whole, who did not. The result? More exclusion, more abuse, more persecution, more assaults ­­– on people who did not commit the crime. And every time that happens, every time we indiscriminately hate Muslims just because they are Muslims, it’s like a game of shove-ha’penny, and someone, somewhere, who had been teetering on the edge of Islamism and could perhaps have been brought back, is pushed over.

    This is why, far from helping to defeat the Islamists, those cartoons play into their hands. They play into the hands of the far right, too. Neither of them can thrive without an atmosphere of hatred.

    However difficult it may be, however unreasonable a thing to demand of those with personal experience of the devastation caused by terrorism, there will be no solution that does not involve breaking that cycle of hatred and thereby starving the Islamists of the hatred they depend on to spread their evil ideology.

    The desire to lash out is understandable, but it is wholly counterproductive. And the stakes are far too high for us to be able to justify that self-indulgence.

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  • Michael #34

    If I am insulted, or if something about which I care very deeply is held up to ridicule, that is no justification for me to take any action which endangers life, limb, or property.  The issue is not the wisdom of insulting language – the issue is the appropriate response.  Although it may not have been wise for Charlie Hedbo to publish the cartoons, the editors had the right to do so and they exercised it. If the editors violated someone’s rights, I’m sure there is a remedy at law that does not include bombing, shooting, stabbing, beating, or anything of the sort.  The same is true in the other cases of injury and death discussed in postings above.

    Have I written anything that seeks to justify the response to the cartoons? I have not.

    Have I suggested that the response is proportional? I have not.

    Have I suggested the terrorists would have no other way to protest the cartoons than to kill and maim? I have not.

    I have not said any of those things, because I do not think any of those things.

    But we “realists” deal with the world as it is, not as it ought be.

    Murdering and maiming in response to a cartoon should not happen.
    But it does.
    Repeatedly, it does.

    People “should” perhaps not get so up-tight about a cartoon.
    But they do.
    Repeatedly, they do.

    The reality is that – whatever we may think of it, and whatever our legal rights – those cartoons are incendiary, and they do invariably result in deaths and maimings, which in turn does generate more hatred directed at Muslims at large (i.e. the wrong target), which in turn does make it more likely that some susceptible Muslim – some young, fired-up, resentful, emotionally out-of control adolescent, in most cases – will flip over to Islamism, and therefore does make yet more terrorist attacks more likely as a result. There has been a considerable amount of research into the role played by the sense of being unfairly hated, unfairly excluded, unfairly discriminated against as a Muslim, in the Islamists’ acquisition of converts. This is knowledge that is out there and available to us and that, given how much is at stake, we have no excuse for ignoring.

    The cycle of hatred needs to be broken. We have no control over the Islamists but we do have control over ourselves, each of us, as individuals, and we do have the ability to starve them of the oxygen of hatred that they absolutely depend on in order to thrive.

    At no point have I attempted to argue for a blasphemy law, or that showing or publishing those cartoons should be illegal. I have tried to make a rational, pragmatic and moral case why we should all simply refrain from doing something that – however unreasonable and incomprehensible we may find it – consistently and predictably results in more deaths and more injuries. That’s a very high price to ask others – and in most cases it is others – to pay for the “this-trumps-everything-else” exercise of your right to freedom of speech.

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  • I applaud you for taking the difficult position in this conversation Marco.  I also wholeheartedly disagree with you.

    Changing one’s behavior in order to address conflict is a rational option in some circumstances.  For example, when dealing with a difficult coworker someone might opt to share less, or to even pretend to be more impressed with a narcissistic boss than they actually are.

    But it seems unreasonable to recommend a wholesale change in normal behavior from society so as to avoid conflict with the unwell.

    I must ask again in what context this teacher shared the cartoons?  I don’t know anything about the lecture other than that the cartoons were shared.  So, I’ll assume that he shared them as part of a lesson intended to educate rather than to harm.

    Are there to be no safe spaces to share controversial thoughts, feelings, images etc?  Keep in mind that the murderer in this case was not even exposed to the images.  The implications of that fact should be obvious: you might be punished even for what you do in private.


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  • Thanks for the first bit of that reply, Sean 🙂

    I shall simply reiterate that


    I am also not talking specifically about this particular instance, but about the cartoons in general.

    We are not confronted with a choice between addressing the issue by means of cartoons that we know will massively inflame the situation and result in many avoidable deaths; and not addressing it at all.

    The choice is only between addressing the issue dumbly and stubbornly in the full knowledge of the violence it will unleash; and addressing it intelligently, sensitively and psychologically literately so as to make better outcomes at least possible.

    Diplomacy and sensitivity and psychological literacy are not moral failings. In fact, the more pressing the issue, the more harmful the harms, the more absolutely essential it becomes to deploy all three. There are bigger issues at stake here than whether people are occasionally asked to exercise just a little self-restraint.

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  • I think I am following the implications of your reasoning Marco.

    I assume that people want to avoid being unwise. So, you can take what I said about safe places to mean: is there to be no place where it would not be unwise to share controversial thoughts, feelings, images etc?  If doing so may enrage others regardless of whether or not they were present, and if how we determine what is unwise is based on possible reactions to our behavior, then the answer seems to be –likely not, unfortunately.

    I’m afraid I don’t see your recommendation that society change what is normal behavior as a recommendation for some to practice a little self-restraint.  It’s much more than that.

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  • We disagree on what society calls normal behaviour, Sean. In my society, showing one another a little consideration is normal behaviour.

    Deliberately enraging our neighbours; deliberately setting out to goad them; deliberately inflaming tensions. This is not – I hope – normal behaviour. I doubt any of us would consider it either normal or desirable behaviour in any other context.

    The issue here is not discussing a difficult subject. It is not expressing difficult feelings. It is this, and only this: the repeated displaying of cartoons that we know have an incendiary effect and only make matters worse. Discuss them? By all means. Describe them? Yes. Show them, share them, republish them? No. Just no. (Frankly, why would you even want to, knowing the effect they have?)

    I am not saying don’t address controversial issues.
    I am saying FIND A BETTER WAY TO DO IT.

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  • In your society people are routinely crucified in the press, and satire is a regular feature of such cruel take downs.

    However, I am speaking more generally about our tendency to do things like share controversial thoughts, images etc with each other.  These are perfectly normal behaviors.

    Again, find a better way than what?  I still don’t know how the cartoons were shared in this teacher’s class.  If by better you just mean not at all when it comes to the cartoons, then I think my argument holds.

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  • “My conscience is clear. I doubt the number of times people have not been killed as a consequence of my actions is zero.”

    I have to say, this is not feeling much like the moral high ground to me.

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  • The expectation you placed on the teacher was for him to know that showing the cartoons would result in violence.  It’s relevant then to wonder just how likely it is that will be the case.

    Clearly you believe it is very likely.  You’re unlikely to show them then.

    The teacher obviously did not.  Perhaps he has shown it many other times.  I know I’ve seen them countless times, and they’ve been shared by countless people all over the world.

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  • If there is a realistic possibility that an action you propose to take will result in carnage, it is – at the risk of understatement – unwise and irresponsible to take it.

    Given that we all know that large numbers of people have been killed as a result of these cartoons, it would be hard to argue convincingly that there wasn’t a realistic possibility of its happening again.

    In any event, as I think I may have mentioned, I am not just talking about this one instance, but about the need to find better, more constructive, more intelligent, more sensitive and more psychologically literate ways of having these conversations with our Muslim neighbours.

    I am actually finding the resistance to the notion quite fascinating. It’s very macho.

    But fascinating or not, I’ve had enough for one day.

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  • If there is a realistic possibility that an action you propose to take will result in carnage, it is – at the risk of understatement – unwise and irresponsible to take it.

    But it is a realistic possibility, though unlikely, that drawing blasphemous pictures in my basement will result in carnage.

    I think you’ve discounted the other party’s responsibility in this too much. 


    I don’t appreciate being called macho btw.  If you can show me where I’m being macho fine, otherwise I just think of myself as trying to reason with you.

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  • https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/genius.com/amp/Christopher-hitchens-on-free-speech-annotated

    “ , if all of society were agreed on the truth and beauty and value of one proposition, all except one person it would be most important in fact it would become even more important that that one heretic be heard because we would still benefit from his perhaps outrageous or appalling view.”


    Follow the trail back and tell me what you are actually supporting? The images? Freedom of speech? How quickly would my posts be deleted (here) if they were homophobic or racist? Not fashionable enough?


    LGBT-Q-R-A (have I left anyone out?)


  • I’m not a fan of the cartoons myself.  My objection is to the implications stemming from calling the teacher unwise, and recommending that people avoid normal behavior.

    I’m supporting people.  To quote myself in an obviously machismo fashion:

    Furthermore, why is so much put on the teacher to begin with?  He is to be a negotiator, an influencer, a mediator between Muslims and atheists, and what else?

    This is an opportunity to point out the ugliness of a failure to accept each other’s faults, not to encourage people to behave so as to avoid bringing attention to their faults.

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  • Sean

    The problem is that those at the top need to be clear on saying they don’t endorse the cartoon but fight for freedom of speech. Like the Hitchens quote I posted, we have a choice and it might be helpful to say so. We did not have freedom of speech as the logo on FB profiles at the time. We had Hebdo linked to the French flag.

    The first link I posted gives you the mental state of most of the Muslim world. The feeling of the west has got it in for them. Not just because of those cartoons. That has a lot more baggage to go with it. As Marco has said.  Where is the science in our response?

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  • I just went back and read the NPR article which is the subject of this thread and was struck by the following quote:
    “We will continue, Professor,” Macron said earlier this month, referring to the slain teacher, Samuel Paty. “We will defend the freedom that you taught so well and we will promote secularism, we will not renounce caricatures, drawings, even if others retreat.” … After Paty’s killing, Macron and other French officials insisted the drawings of Muhammad should be seen, despite the view held by many Muslims that depicting the prophet in any way is a form of blasphemy.
    Here I agree with Macron.  If the Ayatollah can put a price on the life of Salman Rushdie, or if Charlie Hebdo is inhibited from publishing cartoons, or if a teacher is constrained from teaching a class on free speech, then the clergy can dictate what is permitted and what is prohibited under any circumstance.  This is more than about being macho or being offensive for the sake of giving offense.  There are those in my country who would equate the teaching of evolution with blasphemy (three cheers for John Scopes).  There are those who equate sexual and reproductive freedom with blasphemy (three cheers for the Stonewall Inn rioters and for Planned Parenthood).  There are those who equate racial equality with blasphemy (three cheers for the freedom riders).  There was a time when the idea that the earth was not the center of the cosmos was considered blasphemous (Three cheers for Giordano Bruno).  

    Whether any specific idea, cartoon, or novel, offends someone’s religion or causes retaliation in the name of religion is irrelevant to whether it should or should not be expressed openly and freely.  The right to practice religion should be respected and protected, but that does not include the right not to prohibit what is offensive.

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  • Micheal


    I think we are all saying the same thing. Hebdo is just the Emperors Clothes in the discussion. I wait for it to become fashionable for the chattering classes?

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  • Some thoughts (perhaps a little incoherent…):

    I wonder about the “path of information”; what is the connection between the teacher and the terrorist? Was it a student, a student’s parent, a student’s parent’s co-worker..? Some people actively search for things to be offended about.

    I’m at a loss when it comes to the mindset of an Islamist. “They hate us, so we’ll kill some of them, which makes them hate & persecute us more, so we kill some more of them”. It’s a bit of a vicious circle (or self-fulfilling prophesy…). What is their end-game? Do they even have a purpose (other than chaos…)?

    I think the main difference between a muslim and an islamist is whether (or how much) they care about what/how other people think. Islam has its rules, and the adherents follow those rules, and that’s fine. But some (islamists) expect everybody to follow their rules, which is a problem.

    Personal anecdote on that subject: my best friend in high school was (is) quite religious. He knew I was an atheist, but it wasn’t a problem; we never really discussed religion, and got on famously. His younger brother, on the other hand (a year or 2 below us at the same school), couldn’t say 3 words to me without bringing up god or church. Some people understand “each to their own”, and some don’t.

    Schools/universities are (were, should be…) the place for open discussion without fear. These days they are too much like a business; can’t have people being offended, that might discourage a particular group from attending, and that affects the bottom line.

    And of course there is the old quote (I should know who said it…):

    “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend your right to say it.”

    (There are more thoughts rattling around in my head, but I’m not very good at lining them up & writing them down… More pondering is definitely required.)

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  • ShadowMind


    ” I’m at a loss when it comes to the mindset of an Islamist. “They hate us, so we’ll kill some of them, which makes them hate & persecute us more, so we kill some more of them”. It’s a bit of a vicious circle (or self-fulfilling prophesy…). What is their end-game?”

    I don’t think there is an end game except for the terrorist that wants a religious war. The rest just want it all to be over I think



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  • “Phil has defended the cartoons on the basis that the blasphemy issue is a major problem that needs to be addressed,”  Marco.

    Indeed, in a nutshell, it is not even this derivative issue that is my primary concern. My concern is to challenge the wider issue of what morality can possibly be. My issue is to say that moral dogma is not morality. That those that disconnect their human sentiments to be able to do the least mindful bidding of a third party have lost a vital part of their humanity.

    The target here is not the committed Islamist, too far an automaton for likely change, but the far greater number, co-outraged believers, but not yet able to shut down their humanity altogether. This firm, supportive base for the truly committed needs more the decency of doubt, to be less firm in their willingness to oppress others who may share only some or none of their beliefs.

    Until these folk see their outrage at a blasphemy as less outrageous than the actual murder of another Pakistani citizen, say, merely trying to live their own life on their own terms, these deaths for asserting differing beliefs will continue.

    We may seek to turn a blind eye to these overseas oppressions, in the name of local peace and live and let live, but moral progress, waking folk up to the idea that no worthy god would make you with feelings, then ask you to suppress them, is exactly the cure for blasphemy they need.

    The point about making the issue about what morality is rather than the arguable need for unfettered speech, is that it puts absolutely all of us in the same frame. This is the problem for all of mankind to master, in taking another’s life, in subjecting a fellow human’s mode of living to our will, can we not believe in the bowels of Allah, as Oliver Cromwell might otherwise have said, that we may be wrong?

    The Bullies at the Gate operate on a licence they themselves have coerced. Until the scope of that licence is brought into scrutiny that licence risks being extended.


    Deliberate blasphemy is a terrorist act and terrorism gambles that in crystallising a problem it polarises people and foments change thereby. If the inhumanity of killing a blasphemer is not more apparent than even an intentional blasphemy then all hope is lost and a local plaster here whilst elsewhere whole peoples are oppressed amounts to a dereliction.

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  • Phil #62

    What you are saying is that you want to engage Muslims in a really far-ranging, far-reaching conversation about what morality is, and try to get them to see that their religion is actually an obstacle to it.

    Fine. It’s probably the boldest goal anyone has ever attempted in the whole of world history, and I’m not convinced it’s realistic. But let’s park that for now (we can come back to it another time) and assume for the purposes of this discussion that it is.

    The question then is whether that goal – or anything remotely like it – is best achieved (or can be achieved at all) by publishing, re-publishing, showing, exhibiting, rejoicing in etc etc etc … the caricatures of Mohammed.

    I could not be more convinced that it is not and cannot. Cultural change on anything like this scale is not going to be achieved by a short, sharp shock. It’s not going to be achieved through abuse or insult or goading or the venting of anger or hatred. It’s not a goal that could ever be achieved by the caricature route. If it’s achieved at all, it will be the culmination of a long, slow, patient, frustrating process that makes full use of the psychological knowledge and insights and experience of professionals in the field of negotiation, attitude change, mass persuasion, culture change. There are no short cuts. And there is no route to culture change that is based in treating the people whose attitudes you seek to change as the enemy. Culture change is not something we do to people. It is a route that we will have to make it possible for “the other side” to accompany us on, step by faltering step. We can only do that at their side, as humane, benevolent partners on the journey; not as haters and despisers lobbing insults across the fence.

    History and psychology both show that when we attack people, they hunker down and retreat even more into their traditions and beliefs and sense of identity and their comfort zones, which in this case means their religion. We will get nowhere at all so long as we keep insisting on insulting and offending and goading and mocking and trampling over their sensibilities. It is the most counterproductive thing anyone seeking to influence could ever do, and literally the only people to gain from it in this context are the Islamists and the far right.

    We have to make it possible and safe and unthreatening for ordinary Muslims to engage with us in the discussion. (They may face other obstacles and threats beyond our control, but they shouldn’t be created by us, at least.) We have to do everything in our power to keep the atmosphere calm, focused, unthreatening, humane, respectful (don’t anyone run away with the idea that disagreement cannot be expressed and explored in a respectful manner: productive disagreement positively depends upon it); in other words, it absolutely has to be rooted in humanitarian values.

    And on that last point: we can agree that the response we see to blasphemy in countries like Pakistan, for example, is in conflict with humanitarian values.

    But I hope we can also agree that deliberately seeding or exacerbating hatred, distrust and fear between different communities is also in conflict with humanitarian values. That acting in ways that lead to or exacerbate the sustained distress and alienation and fear and mental anguish so eloquently and heartbreakingly expressed by Van Jones in those 2 minutes I linked to earlier, is also in conflict with humanitarian values. That humanitarian values require us to see the human and not just the disagreement, to seek common ground wherever possible, and to build (not destroy) bridges, even (especially) where there is conflict, actual or potential. They do not require us to avoid difficult or sensitive issues ­– quite the reverse: the pursuit of humanitarian values will often require us to deal with them – but they do require us to approach them in ways that make resolution more possible, not cementation more likely. They also require us to be willing to question and, if necessary, amend our own behaviour and attitudes.

    This conversation you want to engage the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims in will take place against a historical and cultural backdrop of enmity and mistrust between “us” and “them”. It’s going to take many years. It’s going to require the greatest possible sensitivity, patience, calm, intelligence, emotional intelligence, empathy and psychological literacy, and it’s going to require us to live out our humanitarian values every step of the way, whatever the frustrations and setbacks. It is going to require grown-up, world-class negotiation, diplomatic and people skills. To stand any chance whatsoever, even on a far less ambitious scale than you are talking about, Phil, we need to drop the caricatures, and drop them now.

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  • Marco #63

    try to get them to see that their religion is actually an obstacle to it.


    The point is I don’t think it is or need be and for all the Muslims I know it isn’t. And I think you have misrepresented the fact that I think the essential problem is one we all share. Nor do I see it as a singular approach to the narrow problem of blasphemy. I see blasphemy discussions framed in a new (perhaps secular led) approach to what is the real sticking point with much of religious and political faiths, the issue of what we understand of morality as a concept. Frankly, I want to see far more discussion on morality and less say on religion here.

    Also I have proposed an alternate to representing images. But the point is it still needs people to notice their own anger and outrage. There is no noticing the moral dilemma else.

    I clearly need a longer run at this whole argument. I’ll come back and probably plonk it on the open thread

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  • Phil

    Which Muslim society are you having this intellectual discussion with? Do you think that a bit of dumbing down is needed to get to the person on the street? You want to calm the bull down but still wave the red rag? Your words are lost but the red rag rules. Your argument is for the halls of Cambridge not the slums of India.

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  • gill #65


    I think it is a huge mistake to consider this an intellectual issue when it is so fundamental to our moral lives.

    Moral dogma as a “must act automatically” is what we all must take notice of.

    Who should be involved?

    I’d argue here is a great place to start. I would see it as a course correction for “New Atheists” to better target what may be problematic in religion rather than religion itself.

    Next among my Muslim friends and specifically allies like Majid Nawaz and the Quilliam foundation.

    If the likes of hardliner Ayan Hirsi Ali can be softened into something far more oblique in her critique, then I see that the binary process of being less critical of religion in general but more critical of a shared moral failing as bringing a new process to bear.

    It is for compassionate Muslims, Christians to carry the idea back to their more dogmatic brethren.


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  • The overwhelming majority of Muslims would not consider violence in response to a cartoon.  That a handful of fanatics would is no justification for recommending people everywhere avoid perfectly normal behavior.

    The behavior is normal.  It is a part of everyday life. Although Marco denied this initially, it is rampant in her society.  You need look no further than the political section of any print media to see it.  Is it unwise to oppose one’s political opponents in this way?  Now, forget about opposing politics or religion for a second.  Might there be other reasons for this perfectly normal behavior?

    People everywhere are not mediators between Islam and anything else, and certainly not at all times or with all their behavior; this includes Muslims, who are also not mediators between Islam and anything else.

    Islam, like other religions is increasingly becoming more tolerant.  Recent studies have even shown significant growth in the nonreligious among predominately Islamic populations.  A notable exception being Yemen, where I doubt cartoons have much to do with it.

    The point being that claims that these cartoons are holding back progress are already false.



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  • gill

    Do you think that a bit of dumbing down is needed to get to the person on the street? 

    What’s wrong with dumbing it down? People have dumbed down plenty for my benefit. I appreciate that! A. C. Grayling (and others) has written books on morality that changed my views profoundly. I have used his work to help present that morality to a number of Muslims that I interact with on a regular basis.

    The presentation of moral issues in a clear and concise way is what he and his colleagues do for a living and it really is of immeasurable value to our society.

    A calm, neutral presentation of a moral argument can stop people in their tracks and yes, it needs to use language that is appropriate to communicate the concept. If we want to call that “dumbing down” then so be it but I call it finding the correct and appropriate language that can draw our interlocutors in and make them comfortable enough that they can let down their guard and allow new ideas to infiltrate their worldview framework. I have seen this method work with a number of completely illiterate individuals who were of perfectly decent IQ but lacked education and therefore had difficulty in engaging in sophisticated rhetoric and couldn’t construct complex rational arguments. It is my responsibility to present issues on a level that they really can engage with and then toss around those ideas with me to our mutual benefit. They may not accept them on the first encounter but the ideas will sit there and perhaps over time with repeated exposures they may replace the dogma that was programmed in the first place. 

    These interactions are only a small number as you are probably thinking but try to remember that morality “upgrades” happen on a societal level all the time. I will remind us all of the five great rights revolutions that I’ve witnessed in my own lifetime that were described by Pinker in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature. They are; gay rights, animal rights, women’s rights, children’s rights and  civil rights.

    If our society can manage it then others can too. Leadership is crucial.  Outsiders need to hold firm against unacceptable behavior. Fundamentalists must be crushed and enticements must dangle in front of the common folk, especially the young people.

    The resolution of cognitive dissonance is an interesting process to observe and it does happen on a micro and macro level.

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  • Sorry Phil but being one of those that try to explain to these brethren, I am reporting in that it is not working. A huge Hebdo wall stands in the way.

    We lost to Brexit. Something in your theory is wrong.

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  • At the risk of repeating myself, in the context of this thread, it seems to me the only question is who decides what is acceptable to print or otherwise express — the state or the leaders of religions large and small.  In the United States this is expressed in first amendment to our Constitution:  “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press …”  Over the course of our history there has been debate about just what those words mean, but whatever they mean it should be decided in the courts and in the halls of legislative assemblies.

    In a secular society neither the ayatollah nor the pope, neither a rabbi or imam, has any authority to dictate what is acceptable for the population at large.  To the extent that they attempt to impose their standards of morality, the clerics must be resisted and condemned.  I think that’s what Charlie Hebdo did in reaction to the a arrogant fatwa which put the life of Salman Rushdie in jeopardy.  The only authority to which Salman Rushdie, Charlie Hebdo, or a professor owns allegiance is the secular state in which they find themselves.

    If the Ayatollah can dictate what Salman Rushdie can write or what Charlie can print or what the professor can teach, than he can dictate what is an acceptable manner of attire, what is permissible to eat or drink, what living arrangements are acceptable, &c, &c.  This is why so many took to the streets under the banner of “I am Charlie.”  In most nations of the world, Christian religions no longer have the power to decide such questions.  It was, however, not all that long ago that they were stripped of that power.  If given the opportunity they would seize it again.  All one needs to do is go to a school board meeting where the teaching of evolution is on the table, or whether the Bible should be taught.

    In this context, effective persuasion methods are not the issue.  The only issue is the supremacy of the secular state over the dictates of an Ayatollah or pope.

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  • I see that as a much more limited discussion gill.  I agree, that if you are working to build relationships with Muslims you don’t open with blasphemy.  That’s obvious.  It’s much less obvious how this justifies recommending sweeping changes in normal behavior, including not producing such cartoons in the first place.

    Everyone isn’t involved in building relationships with Muslims, at all times, or with all their behavior.  That’s fine as far I’m concerned.

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  • gill

    Hebdo cartoons are no help at all but exist as a fact of life in a democratic secular society. Free speech legal rights are a privilege for every citizen that we need to guard strenuously. If I get to speak freely then you do too! Hopefully the great majority of citizens choose neutrality and tolerance in their speech but obviously we can’t count on that. People are taught what it means to be tolerant. We don’t have to agree or like the behavior and verbalizations of others but if it’s within the law of the land then we look away and carry on like good people.

    This is what I meant by what I said above – outsiders must hold firm… In US we have laws against incitement that serve as the end point of freedom of speech. I’m not sure if France has similar legal constraints but if they do then now is the time for Macron to lean on them. The secular Muslim intellectuals in Paris want the extremists to be crushed and evicted. Moderate Muslims know very well who is whipping up trouble amongst them and who is just trying to live a decent life. France is guilty of some bad policy with their resident Muslim community but on certain issues they’ve given an inch and a mile was taken.


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  • Gill:  The laws are being written in Tehran and being resisted in the streets of France.  Furthermore, western religions stand ready to impose their own standards on the world.  Have you noticed that the core of support for Donald Trump is religious leaders who want to legislate their views of reproductive freedom — and that’s just for openers.  It’s for that reason why the rights of Charlie Hebdo must be protected and efforts to silence the magazine through intimidation — bombings etc. must be condemned.  When they can no longer decide what can be printed or what can be read, then and only then can we engage the religions on questions of morality etc.  

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  • Sean

    The behavior is normal.  It is a part of everyday life. Although Marco denied this initially, it is rampant in her society.  You need look no further than the political section of any print media to see it.

    No, I didn’t deny this – we were talking about different things at that point. I was talking about behaviour between people, between citizens, between neighbours. I’d never claim that everything even there was entirely as it should be, but all the same, there is an expectation, it is the norm, that we show some consideration for our neighbours, that we show a little tolerance, that we remember our manners, and that we don’t deliberately stir up discord and strife in our communities.

    Our print media is indeed foul, and our politics isn’t always much better, but if it’s foul for them, it’s foul for us too.

    Elsewhere you mentioned satire, and you’re absolutely right that that is by its very nature biting. But it’s also, by its very nature, punching upwards, at those who wield more power than the satirist. When it punches downwards, at those who are already more likely to be excluded and discriminated against, it’s called bullying.

    Pretty much at the heart of what I’m arguing is that we should reduce this to the personal: that we should remember that we’re dealing with human beings, with all the usual human frailties and vulnerabilities and illogicalities and unreasonablenesses, and adjust our behaviour accordingly. Psychology reveals a great deal about human reactions, human needs, human behaviours and if we’re serious about influencing human behaviour, we will take its findings into account.

    Apologies for misunderstanding and therefore misrepresenting what you were trying to say. I know how frustrating that can be: I see there are still people trying to claim I’m either letting terrorists off the hook, or saying we shouldn’t discuss the challenging issues at all, or that I’m arguing for laws banning the kind of behaviour I’m arguing against. I’m not doing any of those things and, indeed, have gone to quite some considerable length (too much, probably) to make that clear. Back in the early days of The God Delusion, when Richard argued that parents shouldn’t indoctrinate their children into a religion, I remember outraged Christians pitching up here to claim we were planning to make it illegal to teach their children their religion, and lock them up if they did. That wasn’t what Richard was saying then, and it’s not what I’m saying now. To be absolutely honest, I’m a little taken aback that so many clever, intelligent people (and I’m not being sarcastic, I assure you) are seemingly unable to see the difference between an argument against a certain kind of behaviour and the desire to make it illegal.

    I have to say, though, I’ve always understood your posts on this subject to be saying that religion and morality are inherently at odds, because morality is something that needs to be actively worked out, not simply adopted wholesale from a set of religious tenets. Take the moral dogma out of religion and there’s not really all that much left. Yes, there’s the comfort and the reassurance, and they certainly are a huge factor in why the religious cling to their religions. But even the belief in an afterlife is rooted in adherence to religious (moral) dogma.

    Regardless: what we’re all talking about here (or at least, what I think we’re all talking about: I’m not entirely sure what supporters of the caricatures intend them to achieve or think they actually achieve) is culture change: and everything I’ve written on that subject still stands. Culture change is a process, not a stunt. If the aim is to help Muslims be less sensitive about blasphemy, waving the alleged blasphemy about comes at the end of the process, once we’re confident their sensitivity has been reduced, not at the beginning when by definition it has not. In the same way that an exercise regime to turn a couch potato into a marathon runner does not start with the marathon.

    It feels totally bizarre – and alienating, actually – to find myself having to argue the case for behaving with decency and consideration to our fellow citizens, our neighbours, our communities, and for seeking to find resolutions to problems in ways that do not demean people. To have to argue why goading and deliberately outraging people – people who already face discrimination and abuse on a regular basis – is not the way to go. Right now I don’t think I shall continue to contribute to this particular discussion, though I reserve the right to change my mind, of course.

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  • Marco


    ” To be absolutely honest, I’m a little taken aback that so many clever, intelligent people (and I’m not being sarcastic, I assure you) are seemingly unable to see the difference between an argument against a certain kind of behaviour and the desire to make it illegal.”


    The very thing that made me blow a fuse a few months ago. I really feel the weight of the shadow of Hitchens here. I fell for the bursting the boil stance. So much so that I thought a brand new world was imminent. Your argument that the  rebuilding of the Notre Dame cathedral was essential, for many reasons, was to me, feeding the system that I thought we had agreed wasn’t working. Other discussions seemed to have no link to another. Too much philosophy! Anyway, that was my mental breakdown when in a place where I couldn’t really express myself. I took on Brexiters, deniers of all kind, and now am driving myself silly with Covid conspiracy theorists. Going to the supermarket with my wife only twice since the outbreak and many people not doing what they are supposed to. Now I’m stuck at home.  The fuse is getting ready to blow again I feel. I might need internet isolation as well. I am sorry anyway and thank the mod that blocked my responses.



    (sorry to sneak around. I hate it. I tried to get back on the site with two different email addresses but it didn’t work. One was accepted and then rejected on signing in. I realise I might have caused problem by deleting my old account but that doesn’t explain rejecting the second email address? I finally asked my wife to try on hers and she got right in. A little paranoid maybe? If I do disappear……)

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  • Welcome back, Olgun!

    Sorry you’ve had difficulty getting back onto the site – there’s no reason we know of why that should have happened, but if you have any more difficulties, feel free to email us at moderator @ richarddawkins dot net, and we’ll help if we can.

    We also haven’t blocked any recent responses of yours, so if you’re talking about responses you’ve made since you’ve been back, there may have been another blip. Again, feel free to email us if so.

    The mods

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  • Obviously I don’t think recommending people stop producing creative output like the satirical cartoons is equivalent to asking your neighbors to be tolerant.  I don’t think you’ve acknowledged the implications of what you’re arguing.


    On the nature of the argument and how you feel, welcome to the club. I’m reminded of Neil Shubin’s Inner Fish, which I recently reread, in it he relays his experience of encountering robust scientific debate for the first time. In the story the scientists would routinely devolve into swearing and insults, and they were discussing taxonomy! lol  🙂

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  • Marco,

    I brought misunderstanding on myself here by my usual trick of thinking my ideas are more understood because I thought them quite clearly at some earlier time.

    I have to say, though, I’ve always understood your posts on this subject to be saying that religion and morality are inherently at odds, because morality is something that needs to be actively worked out, not simply adopted wholesale from a set of religious tenets.

    I have increasingly posted my approval of UK Quakers and specific (often Sufi) Muslims who believe they are charged by their faith to be moral authors, that that is the whole idea of Free Will and assuming responsibility.

    Religion may indeed have edicts and parables and the like, but the solution to Moral Dogma is decent doubt whenever you come to pass harmful/lethal judgement on another; that you know with absolute clarity the motivations, the mental health, the full context of what is happening, the possibility of a test, or the appropriate prioritising of concerns is taken account of.

    This is why I say-

    Moral dogma as a “must act automatically” is what we all must take notice of.

    Acting automatically is dogma decoupled from our essential humanity.

    In its Golden Age, Islam was a plural and tolerant society that allowed poet Omar Khayyam to rail against Allah. There followed a lockdown fomented by a new wave of clerics seeking to assert better political control through greater automaticity of thought. Dogma was made the more dogmatic. Recently and in all sorts of places it was rolled back by the likes of Mujahadeen Ahmad Shah Masoud, great champion of democracy and female education and empowerment, usually portrayed as very devout.

    In the last couple of years I have never been able to support the blanket condemnation of religion because I see religious folk retaining a proper, healthy moral authorship and I have always deflected onto moral dogma as the very toxin that Hitchens rightly railed against. But he too recognised moral Muslims and was proud to be called Brother Kurd.

    Please don’t shy away from this conversation on my account. This issue of how we respond to moral dogma I contend is the real issue for those wishing a secular comity where all can meet. Blasphemy, is merely a major coal face where this bigger issue, for all would be dogmatists  and adogmatists, is exposed.

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  • It’s not specifically because of you, Phil, and in any case, I don’t “shy”, I choose. I’ve put hours, literally, into the discussion so far, and frankly, anything else I write now is likely to be repetition. I’ve made my case, I stand by every word I’ve written, and I feel very strongly about it, but I can’t see the point of spending the next goodness knows how long repeating myself.

    I may of course change my mind, in which case I’ll be back. I’ll be back on other threads in any case. But having been one of the main contributors to this discussion so far, I didn’t want to just vanish from it without a word of explanation.

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  • Sean

    Can this creative material be about gays or black people? The comedians who still use this type of humour are outcasts now. Unless you are black, you can’t come out and insult black people. We, in the west, claim to be two rungs above in terms of morality but there are a lot of steps ahead of us. Punching down I think Marco called it. Bullying!

    I might not know what I am asking for but know what I expect. I expect science based thinking to jump ahead a decade or three and realise now is the time to imagine licking wounds and not go through the whole process and then say, oh yeh, that was all wrong wasn’t it.

    What percentage of Muslims would have to be recorded as moderate before we stand up for their rights like any other group? What percentage before it becomes a good enough cause for the chattering classes? What percentage that allows us to say this person is not a public toilet pedophile and is my friend? 

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  • There is an annoying thread in this discussion of carrying on as though facts don’t matter.  Well, they do.  If we’re going to have a discussion about what ought to be done in the world, then let’s make sure we’re talking about the world as it actually is.

    Homophobia is repugnant.  Satirizing aspects of gay culture is considerably less so, and a regular part of our lives.

    The cartoons satirize–poorly–the belief that Mohammed has anything of value to add to the discussion of things like gay rights.

    This is a normal behavior in response to oppressive belief systems.

    As for punching down, again where are the facts?  Do you speak for all Muslims?  How about the oppressed many who would love the creative outlet to take on the worst aspects of their family religion?

    I’m reminded of the time when as a  young kid I scribbled obscenities all over the church program. My poor mother! –stop taking me to church 🙂

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  • Sean

    I am not talking for any Muslims or at any Sean. I am making an appeal to you guys as an admin of a Turkish Cypriot FB page and my facts are that I am losing them with this nonsense. That and what is happening with Macron and Turkey has even the moderates backing Erdogan for this reason alone although they don’t support him anywhere else. The letter in the link shows other communities are feeling the same. Let Hebdo use the freedom of speech. If that means supporting a racist president and hate inspired cartoons then maybe breaking it down and being precise in what you are really supporting and not scaring the crap out of people who see Syria as their future.

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  • The Cyprus problem is not really for here but all this is effecting it and me so maybe a little more of my personal facts?


    A Greek lobby group put together a letter asking for condemnation of Turkey for opening a disputed town that has been closed for over fifty years. I dispute their claim but the letter was signed by a well known writer, and an actor(comedian and all rounder). A friend of mine who was at the House of Lords doing her own lobbying, knowing the writer, asked why he had signed the letter knowing what’s going on in n Cyprus and was told that they both hated Erdogan. They virtually signed a document that condemns the Turkish Cypriots because of one man. I am worried.

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  • You should open with that gill.  I’ve already said that modifying your behavior -even stopping perfectly normal behavior- to deal with conflict is a rational response in certain circumstances.

    That is different from a recommendation to stop all such behavior because it is inherently unwise, or any of the other nasty things said about the teacher earlier in the thread.


    I’m afraid the question becomes a  bit more difficult though, and I can’t really add anything of value to the discussion!  I hope it’s obvious why determining whether or not the cartoons should stop on account of what may happen in Turkey, is a bit much to ask of me on a random Thursday in November… 🙂


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  • I don’t usually like Turkish films but this is a remake of a South Korean movie you might have seen. There are films that explore moral issues and this is a good one showing that it is being explored. It made me cry mainly because of the “lingo lingo” part which made me remember my mum and how she sang this to every generation of babies in our family, and friends, whilst bouncing them on her knee. It also reminded me of who we are doing all this for. The children.

    Miracle in cell No7 (Turkish version). Netflix.

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