In this day and age it is supposedley no longer the individual but religion that is guaranteed rights, equality, tolerance, respect…And most often at the expense of individuals.
The concept of rights, equality, respect and tolerance were concepts raised vis-à-vis the individual not beliefs. But today, it seems mainly applicable to the latter.
We are told time and time again to respect people’s beliefs, religion and culture, to tolerate them, to accept the equality of all beliefs – irrespective of how reactionary or misogynist they are. Of course human beings are worthy of the highest respect but why all beliefs? Are we to respect fascism, Nazism, white supremacy? Are we to respect beliefs that regard women and children as inferior and sub-human? And are such beliefs equal to humanitarian and progressive ideals fought for by generations?
Of course people have a right to their beliefs – even if they believe in pure nonsense. Moreover, the right to belief was a historically important gain and right but again it was and is for the individual - not for belief’s sake.
It’s as if beliefs, religion, Islam have become legal persons with rights superseding that of real human beings – so much so that Islamists can compare their demand for a ban on the reprinting of the Mohammad caricatures to the ban on child pornography!
Attempts to destroy any distinction between individuals and beliefs is part and parcel of the world we live in today. That is why any criticism and ridiculing of or opposition to religions, god and prophets are being deemed libellous, defamatory, racist, inciting hatred, violence?! Of course this is not the case.
Only an unequivocal defence of universal rights and a demand for secularism and de-religionisation of rights will challenge the attempts at redefinition by vile political religious movements.
(The above is part of a speech given at Westfield State College in Massachusetts, USA on February 15, 2006.)