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Austin Cline

Rushdie & Pornography

By August 15, 2004

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Salman Rushdie is not very popular in the Muslim world and he may be about to get even less popular. He is, apparently, arguing that the presence of pornography can be a sign of a healthy, free society. Many Muslims will object to this; even more interesting are the objections being raised by Christians.

Titus Online quote from the Sunday Times of London:

Rushdie argues that a free and civilised society should be judged by its willingness to accept pornography. In an extract from his essay, The East is Blue, to be published this autumn, Rushdie implies that Muslims are avid consumers of pornography because of the segregation of the sexes. He writes: “Pornography exists everywhere, of course, but when it comes into societies in which it’s difficult for young men and women to get together and do what young men and women often like doing, it satisfies a more general need.” He adds: “While doing so, it sometimes becomes a kind of standard-bearer for freedom, even civilisation….”

Titus comments:

I struggle to understand why someone such as Mr. Rushdie who is already incredibly alienated from Islam would say these kinds of things. I shall be glad to join Muslims in protesting such arguments, but I shall do so by seeking a recovery of the New Testament notion of freedom: freedom is freedom from, freedom with, and freedom for (see Galatians 5). In terms of public discourse, we need to return to a notion of freedom for the public good, not the kind of public harm brought about by pornographers. If you look under the surface here, you will see one of the biggest flashpoints in the West between a more secularist and a more theistic worldview: differing notions of freedom.

No attempt to prove the existence of “public harm” caused by pornography, no explanation of what is meant by “pornography,” no indication that the issue of pornography might be complex, and no sympathy for Rushdie for the reactions this might cause among Muslims — if anything, these comments tend more towards blaming the victim.

A similar response can be found at Ecumenical Insanity:

Of course the mullahs are barbarians to threaten Rushdie's life. But it's hard to say what Rushdie is trying to prove with this, other than that he is willing to live the rest of his life surrounded by bodyguards. Pornography coursens relationships between men and women, and causes men to think of women as objects to be used for self-gratification rather than people. While guarantees of freedom of speech and press may mean that a society has to tolerate the presence of porn, no healthy society ever accepts it, much less celebrates it. It is a sign of the degradation of civilization, rather than its standard-bearer.

Do these comments accurately describe everything that falls under the label “pornography”? It’s hard to see how — not that you’ll find the above author making any attempt to validate this position. Notice how the author “admits” that the mullahs are “barbarians,” but then turns around and insists that Rushdie’s position (if widely accepted) would lead to “the degradation of civilization.” Because the label “barbarian” is used to describe one who is the antithesis of “civilization,” the above author is essentially putting Rushdie and those who threaten his life in the same category.

How ecumenical.

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