Anorak | Free speech and mental Perdition: The self-censoring mind of a fanatic

Free speech and mental Perdition: The self-censoring mind of a fanatic

by | 18th, January 2015


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.

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In 1987, Bernard Levin wrote in The Times of the play Perdition:

In 1987 a debate occurred in public sphere on

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Posted: 18th, January 2015 | In: News Comment | Follow the Comments on our RSS feed: RSS 2.0 | TrackBack | Permalink