Free speech and mental Perdition: The self-censoring mind of a fanatic
Howard Jacobson writes in the Independent on ignorance, self censorship and the vanity of knowing your view and no other is right:
This is the terrifying paradox of zealotry: no one hates humanity more than those who believe they know what’s best for it…
Another way of putting this is to say that the fanatic is someone who has only ever read one book. It is right, therefore, to ask not only what the appeal of the story he goes on reading is, but where he heard it, who read it to him first, and where and why it goes on being told. Religions, like cultures, understand themselves through narrative. How we came into the world, what we were created for, what are our triumphs and our losses. These narratives enjoy a fearful pertinacity. They have the capacity to console but also to inflame. There are still people fighting over territory declared holy by their national stories a millennium ago.
So it was heartening to see the French – offenders and offendees, or at least some of them – putting aside their individual stories for an hour. But the anti-immigration demonstrations in Germany were reminders that masses on the move are frightening as well as stirring. A group that has only ever read one book is a fanatic group.
For all the day-long defiance of terror, fear continues to stalk the conversation. Fear for Muslims, for example, and fear of them. May I make a plea, in the name of varied reading – because it’s better to read even two books than one – for the right to hold both positions. I don’t want to see anti-Muslim demonstrations on the streets. I no more want to see Muslims homogenised and traduced than Jews. But must that mean I cannot ask where the single story beloved of the fanatic is engendered, and if it should turn out that the most moderate Muslim unthinkingly propounds a narrative that fuels the fanatic mind – an anti-Western, anti-Semitic, victim-driven narrative – can I not plead with him to shade it a little, to remember that the best stories liberate us from our pains and grievances into understanding other people’s.
In 1987, Bernard Levin wrote in The Times of the play Perdition:
In 1987 a debate occurred in public sphere on a play written Jim Allen, someone who had previously been associated with Gerry Healy’s organisation the Socialist Labour League, a forerunner to the WRP. The play was called Perdition and was in the genre of faction, a fictional play with historical facts brought in. The historical facts in this case was that of the Zionist leaders in Hungary during the Holocaust and of Zionism in general during the 1930s and 1940s. The play was loosely based on the Kasztner trial that occurred in Israel in the 1950s.
Allen was quoted in Time Out, (January 21-28, 1987) declaring the play:
…the most lethal attack on Zionism ever written, because it touches on the heart of the most abiding myth of modern history, the Holocaust. Because it says quite plainly that privileged Jewish leaders collaborated in the extermination of their own kind in order to bring about a Zionist state, Israel…
…free speech is for swine and liars as well as upright and honest men. I have insisted that any legally permissable view, however repugnant, is less dangerous promulgated than banned, and I would defend its promulgation even if the opposite were true. I have glorified in the central paradox of democracy, which is that it tolerates, and must continue to tolerate, the activities of those who wish to destroy it.
In all the beliefs I have lived, and I am minded to die in them; how then can I defend the suppression of this play? I cannot, which is not to say that if it had never been written it now should be. But it exists, and ‘He that is unjust, let him be unjust still; and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still.’ With a heavy heart, I yet must say it: Let them have their play.
Free speech. No buts…
It is a shame he is no longer with us.