The animal rights campaign has something in common with the extremist reaction to the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, as seen in the attacks on Danish embassies. In both cases, a particular group says: "We feel so strongly about this that we are going to do everything we can to stop it. We recognise no moral limits. The end justifies the means. Continue on this path and you must fear for your life." I don't claim that the two cases are strictly comparable. Human lives are saved by medicines developed as a result of tests on animals; no comparable good is achieved by the republication of cartoons of the prophet. But the mechanism of intimidation is very similar, including the fact that it works across frontiers and is therefore hard to tackle by national laws or law enforcement agencies.via Peaktalk
If the intimidators succeed, then the lesson for any group that strongly believes in anything is: shout more loudly, be more extreme, threaten violence, and you will get your way. Frightened firms, newspapers or universities will cave in, as will softbellied democratic states, where politicians scrabble to keep the votes of diverse constituencies. But in our increasingly mixed-up, multicultural world, there are so many groups that care so strongly about so many different things, from fruitarians to anti-abortionists and from Jehovah's Witnesses to Kurdish nationalists. Aggregate all their taboos and you have a vast herd of sacred cows. Let the frightened nanny state enshrine all those taboos in new laws or bureaucratic prohibitions, and you have a drastic loss of freedom. That, I think, is what is happening to us, issue by issue. These days, you can't even read a list of the British war dead in Iraq outside the gates of No 10 Downing Street without getting a criminal record. Inch by inch, paragraph by paragraph, we are becoming less free.
Let me now make a shocking leap in the argument. If you agree with me so far, and believe that reason requires consistency, then you should want David Irving let out of his Austrian prison and Ken Livingstone let off with a rap over the knuckles. Why? Because the fateful tendency in all this is to reject everyone else's group taboos while obstinately defending your own. The result is indefensible double standards. In the case of Irving, and the much less serious one of Livingstone, I have been struck over the past few weeks by the contorted equivocations of my own group - by which I mean, roughly speaking, liberal Europeans and English-speaking persons who believe (as I do) that the Nazi Holocaust of the European Jews was the greatest single crime of the last century and should be a foundation-stone of today's moral consciousness across the world.
03 March 2006
T. G. Ash on the Global Madness over Sacred Cows
Timothy Garton Ash opines on the "creeping tyranny of the group veto" in Thursday's Guardian:
Posted by Joel at 3/03/2006 12:36:00 AM