The “Sacredness” of Free Expression

A wonderful insight from the dramatic, yet eloquent and intelligent, Christopher Hitchens:

No, nothing is sacred. And even if there were to be something called sacred, we mere primates wouldn’t be able to decide which book or which idol or which city was the truly holy one. Thus, the only thing that should be upheld at all costs and without qualification is the right of free expression, because if that goes, then so do all other claims of right as well.

Looking back at Salman Rushdie’s fatwa struggle, this is how Hitchens has decided he should’ve answered the question, “Is nothing sacred?” which was posed to him during the fatwa by a Muslim journalist.  Now a famous and textbook example of the importance of freedom of speech, it’s amazing to recall how many governments, fellow writers, etc.–people and organizations that purport to defend free speech–failed to stand up for Rushdie.  Many even claimed that he deserved the fatwa for speaking so critically toward a powerful religion.

Rushdie is one of my most beloved authors, for his writing first and foremost.  But the stand that he took against what Hitchens calls a “cultural fatwa” is one that not only deserves its now famous and lauded status but is an event–a life or death struggle–that needs to be remembered and understood.  Not that I have any fear of its importance dissolving, but even I sometimes skip over another article or quote that rehashes the event, feeling as though I’ve read all there was to read about this issue and patting myself on the back for being comfortable in my own convictions.  Well, in repentance for these lazy assumptions, I’d definitely encourage checking out Hitchens’s article in Vanity Fair about all of this which, if a bit informal and irreverent, is great gloss on Rushdie’s struggle and a reminder of the sacredness of free expression.


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