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Taboos Against Blasphemy Are Normal

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In relation to what happened in Paris today, Ezra Klein ends a passionate post with this:

These murders can’t be explained by a close read of an editorial product, and they needn’t be condemned on free speech grounds. They can only be explained by the madness of the perpetrators, who did something horrible and evil that almost no human beings anywhere ever do, and the condemnation doesn’t need to be any more complex than saying unprovoked mass slaughter is wrong.

This is a tragedy. It is a crime. It is not a statement, or a controversy.

Darwins-Cathedral-cover Much of the above is so wrong that it is jaw-dropping. Does Klein really believe this? Is it copy rushed out in the moment? If you read history and observe patterns in human culture it is clear that most societies hold certain metaphysical ideas sacred. Sacrosanct. This came home to me years ago when reading Jay Winik’s The Great Upheaval — America and the Birth of the Modern World, 1788-1800. One of the most radical acts of the Founding Fathers was to not base the federal government of the United States under the imprimatur of a particular divine order. All organized complex societies across history had done so, from the Chinese Empires under Heaven, to Augustus’ traditionalist attempt to resurrect older Roman family religious practices, to the religiously justified polities which arose under Christianity and Islam. Arguably the first cities were theocratic in their organized structure! Socrates was famously brought under charges of impiety against the gods of Athens. This may have been a pretense, but it illustrates the principle. Athens was not a theocracy in the manner that the Islamic Republic of Iran is a theocracy, but in ancient societies religious sensibilities suffused everyday life. In fact they often did not have a separate word for religion, so ubiquitous was the melange of ritual and supernatural in the agora and the hearth.

World Values Survey

World Values Survey

This co-mingling of religious and communal identity is not an aberration, but the human norm over most of history. In much of the world it still is the norm. Dishonoring the gods of barbarians and unbelievers has long been a matter of course. Churches were built over temples and mosques over churches for a reason. To show the power of one communal identity and the eclipse of another. Gods and people were interchangeable in the psyche. When the Assyrians sacked Babylon they dragged away the statue of the god Marduk in chains. But individuals dishonoring the gods of their own people was always a matter of serious concern, violating public order, and potentially undermining social harmony (often, innovation in religious practice prefigured rebellion). It doesn’t take much to imagine that there might be functional reason for societies to establish taboos of what is inviolate and sacred, and sanction those who trespass.

41PkQaRolCL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ The modern West, and to an extent the modern world writ large, upturns these conventional sensibilities, lionizing individual self-actualization to the point where almost all public communal taboos are open to question and critique. This is a radical overturning of conventional human assumptions. Even within the West most nations have limits on freedom of expression around particular topics of great emotional sensitivity (e.g., Holocaust denial in Germany). The fact that religion is no longer in that class is a reflection of the marginalization of religion in the life of the modern West. But the post-materialist Western viewpoint is not the dominant one throughout the world. Dissent from it is not madness, it is simply different.

Ramna Kali Mandir Hindu temple, destroyed by Pakistani army in 1971

Ramna Kali Mandir Hindu temple, destroyed by Pakistani army in 1971

So the behavior of Islamic radicals is definitely not beyond comprehension. Rather, it is totally explicable, and in many societies and times would be entirely normal and healthy behavior. Attacking the religion of the folk is understood to be synonymous with attacking the folk. That is why Thomas Jefferson had to elucidate his views on religion in the first place, they did not come naturally to people in the 18th century. They had to be inculcated over generations. Even if Islamic radicals in the West prey upon the marginalized, they reflect ancient and primal methods of social outrage and sanction. What you see here is the reality of living in a multicultural world where there is no a harmony of values and norms, and free movement of individuals who don’t necessarily subscribe to the social viewpoints of the lands in which they settle. With the rise of globalization a jockeying of civilizational values through channels of travel and across nodes of cosmopolitan cities will naturally occur, because different Weltanschauung abrade against each other uncomfortably when their demands are at cross-purposes. The norm of free speech and acceptance of blasphemy as a fundamental right is young to the world.* We shouldn’t think anything otherwise, and turn the world upside to conform to our prejudices of what is good, true, and beautiful.

One can agree that something is evil without asserting that it is inexplicable. Just because you can not understand someone’s language does not imply that their speech has no content or structure.

* Just to be clear, I stridently support an absolutist stand on free speech. I just don’t live under the delusion that it is somehow natural or eternal. It is a historical artifact. One I cherish, but not one I take for granted.

• Category: Ideology • Tags: Charlie Hebdo, Religion 

56 Comments to "Taboos Against Blasphemy Are Normal"

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  1. “can only be explained by the madness of the perpetrators, who did something horrible and evil that almost no human beings anywhere ever do”

    19th and K is like ten blocks away from where I work, but apparently he is in a different world (Unless it was written by some young intern; Vox is full of interns and fresh off college Coeds).

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  2. I agree that taboos against impiety and blasphemy have been widespread and normal. And these rules are commonly enforced by violence. But, I suspect it is normal only for the majority group to act this way. It is unusual for a minority group to feel able to enforce its standards on the majority. I cannot really think of any historical or contemporary examples.

    When paganism reigned in Rome, Romans made fun of the Christians leader for having been crucified, a very demeaning and dishonorable death. Did the minority ever contemplate punishing the majority for such blasphemy? I doubt it. In this regard, the West is wierd.

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  3. Both French authorities, when they talked about muslims driving into crowds before Christmas, and Ezra Klein now talk about madness because they refuse to accept that the french have a serious cultural conflict on their hands.
    Admitting what you say would mean admitting that immigration from radically different cultures creates sources of conflict rather than a multiculti utopia.
    And because they refuse to acknowledge that they have a problem they can’t even start finding a solution.

  4. Did the minority ever contemplate punishing the majority for such blasphemy?

    your general point is valid, but actually there are plenty of examples. you have to remember that sometimes motivated minorities dominate societies. first, even before xtianity was official roman religion, heretical sects like montanism could result in major disorder, often due to internecine xtian conflict, but sometimes spilling over into the non-xtian population. second, even after xtianity became dominant in the 4th century it was a minority in many regions. fanatic christian monks periodically engaged in a frenzy of destruction against the old religious orders, and were simultaneously protected and restrained by the powers that be. the second major example is the protestant reformation. in many areas the initial phases of reform occurred among what we might term the middle and upper classes, and these groups could mobilize effectively to impose their will on society. attacks on catholic statuary and the like in places like switzerland under zwinglians was certainly the acts of a motivated minority, which became militarized and dominant.

    these situations are not analogous though. what you are talking about in the modern west is different, because modern multiculturalism is fundamentally different.

  5. Klein: “The incident has no particular meaning other than the one I’m giving it right now. Please retweet! Vox needs clicks.”

    I love how he pretty much was saying that he was going to redefine the media with Vox and yet still you see liberal pandering butcher jobs like this. So typical how they instantly redirect attention from those that were killed and the politics of it to damage control for their cause. It’s offensive and disgraceful. Similar to the #illridewithyou SJW opportunism.

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  6. also, it’s ironic that Ezra’s mentality is one of the main reasons why France, Germany and other countries are having the issues they are with muslims. i’m positive he’s unaware of that.
    Howard Dean: Don’t Call Paris Attackers ‘Muslim Terrorists’

    wow. it’s been mentioned a million times but just stop and think about how deluded one must be to really think this.

  7. The quality of your writing and thinking is consistently above most commentators on the blogosphere. You are like a neural network with an extra hidden layer – more percipient than most.

  8. Excellent thought provoking post. The world values chart deserves a post of its own as well and is fascinating in both its broad outline and its details.

  9. Even within the West most nations have limits on freedom of expression around particular topics of great emotional sensitivity (e.g., Holocaust denial in Germany).

    Also in France it is illegal to question any particulars regarding the Holocaust or Racial/Ethnic Equality, see the Gayssot law passed in 1990.

    Please explain to the Muslims that in the West certain things like the Holocaust narrative and the dream of Racial Equality are sacrosanct; the state and the dominant elite strata of society (what the Dark Enlightenment apostates refer to as “The Cathedral”) will mercilessly persecute anyone who dares to blaspheme these sacred tenets. When it comes to critical discussion regarding the Holocaust and matters of Racial Equality there really is little or no freedom of speech in the West.

  10. I have not researched this seriously, but I have frequently heard (from Amartya Sen in the argumentative Indian to Hindutvadis expressing pride in ancient India, to friends and family) that ancient and even medieval India did not enforce orthodoxy (although they did enforce orthopraxy) and therefore did not really have any prosecutions for blasphemy. Intellectuals disagreed about every aspect of philosophy and it was posibble to be a nastik (non-believing) Hindu in ways that it was not possible to be a non-believing Christian or Muslim.
    Jews have made similar claims.
    Do these in some way constitute exceptions to the above post?

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  11. btw, in Pakistan, we dont wait for killers from alqaeda to show up. Every region seems to have it’s own enforcers. And they wont even let you bury the body of the blasphemer (in this case, a mentally ill blasphemer)

  12. When it comes to critical discussion regarding the Holocaust and matters of Racial Equality there really is little or no freedom of speech in the West.

    a stupid comment. the united states is not “little or no.”

    second, anymore attempts to hijack this comment thread will result in banning with no warning.

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  13. Do these in some way constitute exceptions to the above post?

    no. arguably most societies are more focused on orthopraxy because that is a matter of public record. taboos in primordial hunter-gatherer societies almost certainly were focused on practice, not belief. the issue here isn’t about what people believe, and in fact in islam operationally dissent from islamic creeds was acceptable so long as it was private. but now the boundary between private and public has been blurred (e.g., facebook).

  14. living in a multicultural world where there is no a harmony of values and norms, and free movement of individuals who don’t necessarily subscribe to the social viewpoints of the lands in which they settle

    Japan doesn’t seem to have these problems, that is to say that their extremists are Japanese.

  15. fwiw, just to be clear, not amusing to make equivalence between losing one’s job to being killed. just so you people understand i’m not kidding around when it comes to banning with impunity.

  16. Razib, it’s important to point out the irony of how and why Klein is doing this. That is, Klein, in a genuine bout of his own brand of faith-induced self-delusion, is hoping to conjure a mystical fog of amnesia upon the minds of Westerners who might otherwise be inclined to remember that on and off for centuries there has been a historical conflict between Islam and the West. This, of course, is one of the “far right” Euro parties’ points. Or, as Sailer would say, “political correctness makes you stupid.”

  17. #16, i fear you presume too much historical consciousness in both klein and his audience.

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  18. Much of the above is so wrong that it is jaw-dropping. Does Klein really believe this? Is it copy rushed out in the moment?

    I don’t think so. I think it’s just shows an ignorance of history and even the world as it is now by most Western secular elite.

    Something to think about: Steve pointed out the last pre-massacre issue featured on its cover a caricature of Michel Houellebecq, who’s latest book is, as far as I can tell, seems to be a bog-standard Eurabia text, with mass conversion to Islam in France within 10 to 20 years and such. Now, this is crazy, as all of the Eurabia stuff is. The numbers just don’t work out when you look at them closely (cf Demography Matters).

    Yet talking about an Islamist French president by 2030 or how that’s nuts seems besides the point. That ain’t the problem; the problem is that by 2015 Muslims in the West have become a troublesome minority, and within that aggrieved minority, there a bunch of thugs who are willing to shoot up war memorials, cafes and newspaper offices in the name of Islam, all at an alarming pace. Hopefully, this will slow down, but who knows? What’s going to happen all those foreign fighters in Syria once the Civil War end there? For that matter, what about all those would be Anders Breiviks out there who aren’t going to let Eurabia happen on their watch, and “do” something about it?

    I don’t know the solution, but I do think we have to acknowledge there is a problem. Platitudes given out by Western secular elites like “only a few Muslims commit these acts of violence”, while true, do nothing to solve it, and just erode their already reduced creditability.

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  19. It is unusual for a minority group to feel able to enforce its standards on the majority. I cannot really think of any historical or contemporary examples.

    To a large extent German Nazis were able to enforce their values on Austrians in the 1930′s, well before the actual Anschluss took place. At least if Stefan Zweig is to be believed, most Austrians had no interest in Greater German nationalism in the 1920s but a committed minority, with considerable support from Germany and targeted violence, was able to intimidate and divide the opposition, and eventually win over a lot of the more apathetic parts of the population. Not an encouraging analogy.

  20. The half-educated have an easy time manipulating the uneducated. It looks like Klein had to rush out some propaganda to reinforce the “Islam is a religion of peace” narrative. On 9/11, the media didn’t wait very long to bring forth the black kettle and begin ladeling out heaping portions of that gruel.

    The majority of Vox’s political and cultural coverage wouldn’t be worth reading most of the time, but Vox has become a top clearinghouse for spreading what I’ll call for convenience the “US elite’s” memes, narratives, taking points and propaganda. Thus, you have to pay some attention to Vox if you want to stay current on how these people further elite interests through distorted analysis of day-to-day developments.

    I feel like Unz and this blog do a good job actively combating the influence of sites like Vox.

  21. lol, Razib, that was very tactfully spoken! You are a pleasure to read. Thank you. :)

  22. I disagree that current Western culture accepts blasphemy. There are many sacred beliefs in the West, and transgressing those beliefs results in punishment. The significant differences in the modern West today are:

    1. That most of these beliefs are now secular in nature (but no less sacred)
    2. That punishment is less severe (but most punishments are now less severe)
    3. That punishment is often carried out without resort to the law (although that is increasingly changing with hate speech laws).

    It is interesting to see from the reaction in France that in today’s West freedom of speech has itself become a sacred idea. The thousands protesting in the streets seem most upset by the threat to free speech, rather than the loss of lives. The fact that these people died for freedom of speech in effect sacralized their deaths.

    I think we will increasingly see a conflict between these two secular tenets – freedom of speech and multi-culturalism. As you point out they are in a state of inevitable confrontation in a multi-cultural society. What I think we may see is a redefinition of free speech as that which is “open-minded” or “tolerant”, because only speech that is not dictated by hate is truly free. Of course I disagree, but that is just one possible way I see for the Left to overcome the cognitive dissonance.

  23. @ Razib

    “equivalence between losing one’s job to being killed”

    How about Pim Fortuyn? He was killed for being un-pc and stirring up a hornet´s nest. And not by a Muslim, but by an antifa, who´s now free. Antifascists are but shock troops of Globalism, and are heavily infiltrated, not to say orchestrated, by the State.
    You might add Joerg Haider to the list.

  24. In the West today, what is akin to a blasphemous statement, that goes against the official beliefs and could potentially put you in jail, is no longer the mockery of the gods, but saying something across the lines, “Men and Women are different by nature”, “Intelligence is highly inheritable”, “Races exists and they have quite different abilities”

  25. I’ve written often about this topic. It is incorrectly assumed that religions must have an invisible man in the sky component. Dividing theology from ideology by the presence or absence of the super natural is convenient, but leads to the false assumption that ideologies are devoid of magical thinking. That’s not the case.

    That bit from Ezra Klein sounds like a journal entry of a rabbinical student for a reason. That reason is Klein is a true believer forever struggling with his faith. It why he has chosen a life proselytizing. The Vox project is all about discrediting the non-believers and formalizing the faith of Ezra Klein. Vox is Hebrew school for liberal adults.

    A great short book for the average reader is True Believer, by Eric Hoffer. It’s a nice primer on mass movements, how they function and how the adherents act within them.

    When you ask, “Does Klein really believe this?” the answer is an emphatic “yes” or maybe a “hallelujah.”

  26. […] Taboos Against Blasphemy Are Normal by Razib Khan for the Unz Review. […]

  27. I’ve seen some of the magazine’s cartoons now and I don’t know what the point was other than to incite a violent attack. They aren’t the least bit clever but very vulgar. A month ago, we were being told to stand up for freedom of speech by supporting a comedy movie about assassinating someone and now we are told that free speech requires lionizing pornographic cartoons.

    Now I’m watching cspan Washington journal and the president of the Assn of American editorial cartoonists is telling us what Mohammed would have thought of things! Sort of epitomizes the weirdness of our elites. French cartoonists working hard to insult 10% of the French population by drawing dirty pictures of a man who lived 1400 years ago and American cartoonists telling us what that man would have thought about everything.

    A caller from Oklahoma just made the point that journalists have no code but try to push people’s buttons. Brought up the journalists who chased Princess Diana to her death.

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  28. If you have not read it I think you would enjoy this very short chapter by Howard Bloom – “The Conformity Police”

    “Jesus Christ, William Wordsworth, and the current New Age Touch The Future Movement in California have portrayed children as avatars of innocence. If so, then innocence is barb-wired with ferocity. In the early 1960s, Eibl-Eibesfeldt found “toddlers…hitting, kicking, biting and spitting at one another” no matter what culture he studied. It is unlikely that these newcomers to our world had learned their harshness from parents or from violent movies on tv. In many of the societies Eibl-Eibesfeldt scrutinized, television was at best a distant dream. In others parents worked like hell to stop the hailstorms of savagery. If anything the behavioral circuitry of sadism seems a curse genetically pre-stamped into us. ”

    “But coordinated viciousness serves a function within the group as well. It builds the backbone of a social structure, polices it, and then compels conformity… Says legendary ethologist Niko Tinbergen, hostility in social creatures is almost universal against “individuals that behave in an abnormal manner.” “

  29. What seems to be unnerving about the most recent outbreaks of Islamo-terrorism is not that some Ayatollah in Iran is issuing a ‘fatwa’ against a European writer or a self styled Caliph sending his fanatics out on a carefully planned mission of mayhem a la 9/11 or the Munich Olympics but that the latest outrages are being committed by second generation, seemingly assimilated Muslims or Muslim converts acting independently. This is a game changer for governments and law enforcement.

  30. says:
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    (1004.6) 92:2.3 When modern man wonders at the presentation of so much in the scriptures of different religions that may be regarded as obscene, he should pause to consider that passing generations have feared to eliminate what their ancestors deemed to be holy and sacred. A great deal that one generation might look upon as obscene, preceding generations have considered a part of their accepted mores, even as approved religious rituals. A considerable amount of religious controversy has been occasioned by the never-ending attempts to reconcile olden but reprehensible practices with newly advanced reason, to find plausible theories in justification of creedal perpetuation of ancient and outworn customs.

    (1004.7) 92:2.4 But it is only foolish to attempt the too sudden acceleration of religious growth. A race or nation can only assimilate from any advanced religion that which is reasonably consistent and compatible with its current evolutionary status, plus its genius for adaptation. Social, climatic, political, and economic conditions are all influential in determining the course and progress of religious evolution. Social morality is not determined by religion, that is, by evolutionary religion; rather are the forms of religion dictated by the racial morality.

  31. “that ancient and even medieval India did not enforce orthodoxy (although they did enforce orthopraxy) and therefore did not really have any prosecutions for blasphemy”

    This is incorrect. First, traditional India had multiple upheavals that saw the orthodoxy swing from unknown paganism to vedic Hinduism to Jainism to Buddhism to yet another form of Hinduism. The swings were associated with hanging of the the proponents of the previous order, temple absorption into the new order with minor modifications of te presiding deity, and wholesale transfer of concerts as new elites. In south India, wholesale slaughter of Jains when Saivite kingdoms came about, are actually celebrated as religious poetry.

    The reason why the impact of orthodoxy switching upon the masses and the history was minor, was that 80% of the population had been outside the fold of mainstream Hinduism, be it Vedic or the dvbaita or Adavaita or any later sufi influenced versions. Whatever happened at the top, the masses (“sudras”) went on celebrating their own variants of local gods.

    Let us not assign credits where credits are not due.

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  32. I think it’s worth linking to Juan Cole’s original piece on the attacks. It’s obviously only one take, but I daresay he knows more about Islam than most of the posters here (and possibly Razib as well). Ron Unz seems to take his opinions seriously too, since he syndicates the posts on this very website.

    Regardless, I find his initial hypothesis to be plausible. This was quite likely not just an emotive attack against those who blaspheme Islam. It was probably also a calculated attempt to rile up anti-Islamic animus in the French public, and in turn radicalize French Muslims, who are economically disadvantaged, but really not very observant compared to Muslims in other European nations.

    Regardless, this is why the best outcome is literally if the French government did nothing at all. Any short-term response would only widen the social gulf between French Muslims and the general public, which would make further incidents more likely. A more active assimilationist policy is probably the best in the longer run, but should not be taken in the heat of the moment, as it would create the perception that the attack was successful.

    Edit: I’m not sure why my linked text is in all caps. Razib, can you fix that?

  33. “Did the minority ever contemplate punishing the majority for such blasphemy?”

    Well, when Christians got into the saddle and seized the whip, they persecuted pagans and even their own fellow Christian “heretics” with zeal. Today, Europeans don’t have any religious fire in their belly, which is why Muslims can exploit their minority status so successfully. Muslims know Europeans no longer possess religious zeal. They know Europeans are shy about issues of race and culture. In other words, Europeans cannot fight the Muslim fire because they no longer possess any fire of their own.

  34. Agreed that Klien’s post is dumb, and I just read an interview with Steven Pinker at the Atlantic about the difference between moral reformers who condemn evil and scientist who try to understand behavior.

    But, as you admit in the comments, this is not about taboos against blasphemy, it’s about a suicidal immigration policy: “these situations are not analogous though. what you are talking about in the modern west is different, because modern multiculturalism is fundamentally different.”

    Now, what’s that event crucial to understanding modern multiculturalism…? Starts with an H, and it’s not hijack.

  35. This is what I meant by “i have not researched this”. I have been hearing some version of “tolerant multicultural India” for a while, but have not really looked into it in any detail. My impression has been that there was relative tolerance of “wrong belief” and the weakness of state control meant a lot could go on, but I need to look this up in detail some day. Any good books or articles you can suggest?

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  36. The past is the past – things and thinking can evolve for the better.

    “God willing” is the operative notion of the Muslims. This is a totally false notion – God does not play within the universe. That is the absolute truth – there is no scientific evidence to disprove that. The Muslim people limit themselves when they leave things up to the notion of an involved working God that does not exist. They can do better by embracing modern idealistic ideas.

    It is self evident that God’s universe allows good things to happen – that is how we have evolved to our current status – there is more to come. We are no friend to the Muslim peoples if we coddle their old world unworkable thinking.

    Good practical Christians have to shed the thinking found in the Old Testament – Muslims must do the same.

  37. “I don’t know the solution . . .”

    Yeah, what other solution is there besides learning to live with Muslims? There are 3 million Muslims in the US already and its the fastest growing religion. About 10% of the French population is Muslim and growing. If there really is a segment of Muslims who will commit acts like the massacre yesterday because they are offended by journalists – if that is an actual concern the way our media is telling us it is – then our societies are going to have to find a way to impose on the journalists to not provoke violence. The journalists who try to deliberately offend Muslims are very identifiable. So they are the ones to deal with, obviously. We’re not going to be able to put an FBI agent next to every Muslim and we cannot deport them, just a fact.

    The reaction that we need more offensive cartoons insulting the dignity of Muslims and they should be every where is very strange and foolish.

  38. The fact that these “blasphemies” were directed against Mohammed shows once more that he is a de facto god in the Islamic religion. Those who criticize him publicly should be well-armed.

  39. Much of the above is so wrong that it is jaw-dropping. Does Klein really believe this?

    Probably. As several commenters point out, the contemporary post-West enforces blasphemy bans, just not with the death sentence. Also, interestingly, not self-consciously.

    I doubt Klein would have any particular problem with Wastonning racists, anti-semites, homophobes and the like for their unclean speech. I doubt he would hesitate to use the kind of venomous, vitriolic, fighting-words-style language which commonly accompanies purity-maintenance. It just would not occur to him that he was engaged in a communal purgation of blasphemy. In fact, his ersatz religion would require him to deny the nature of what he was doing, and perhaps even to engage in a second-order round of purity-maintenance against anyone who insistently pointed out what he was doing. The whole time, he would see himself as simply upholding the objective truth against the unclean bigots. Except he would not say or think the actual word “unclean.”

  40. #17 LOL

    #20 After 9/11, the biggest proponent of the idea that “Islam is a religion of peace” was someone who was intensely disliked by the media. His initials were GWB. Of course, they thought that like the stopped clock, he was right about that one.

  41. I’ve seen some of the magazine’s cartoons now and I don’t know what the point was other than to incite a violent attack.

    You seem to have seen only the ones making fun of Muslims or Islam. CH made fun of pretty much everyone.
    Freedom of speech is important esp. if & when many or most people dislike what is said.

  42. An answer to this question would test Razib’s patience, and would need to move outside this format, and I try to be brief.

    The dictionary defines tolerance [1] as ” the disposition to tolerate or allow the existence of beliefs, practices or habits differing from one’s own; with freedom from bigotry, sympathetic understanding of others’ beliefs without acceptance of them…”

    The above sense of the word which is now the main or usual sense became prominent perhaps only in the 17/18th century when Western Europe (and US?) saw the dawn of the age of tolerance, and is strongly related to the idea of nation-state (which legally permitted tolerance). With this definition, and a requirement of a nation-state that emphasizes the practice of tolerance, the answer is “No, Ancient India neither defined or allowed tolerance, nor did there exist a polity that allowed the practice of tolerance.

    When people say Hindu religion permits “the existence of beliefs, practices or habits differing from one’s own”, the interpretation (per Ambedkar/EVR) is “as you are outside the scope of the sanatana Dharma, you are allowed to make up beliefs and be as wild as you wish”. That is not the same as what the modern Nation-State practices as tolerance.

    I cut my answer short with the following references:
    2. “The Political Thought of Ambedkar” K.S.Bharathi, Concept Publishing Company.

  43. Worth noting that the three men who carried out this act of vengeance targeted only those whom they considered the perpetrators of acts of blasphemy that are rather specifically defined by the blasphemers themselves.

    Other avengers of offenses against ‘taboos’ have carried out collective and indiscriminate punishment, destabilizing, starving, even massacring entire populations for “outrages” that are amorphous and ill-defined if not, indeed, mendacious smokescreens for the hidden, and taboo-violating, agenda of the avengers themselves.

  44. For any action, there is reaction. Actors wish reactors responded in the same way as rule of engagement. But that is only wish. More likely reactors will make reaction (or punishment) severer than action as deterrent.

    Rule of engagement only works in sport. In real life, rarely works.

    The result is escalation until all actors or aggressors or reactors perish.

  45. @omar

    I think it is mostly true that Hindus were mostly interested in orthopraxy than orthodoxy but not entirely. The Astika/Nastika dichotomy is between those who say asti (“it is so”) or nasti (“it is not so”) to traditionally three propositions 1. There is a supreme Being (sometimes but not necessarily a creator God.) 2. there is a self or soul that survives after death. 3. The Vedas and works that derive from them are a pramana or valid means of knowledge. That’s doxy not praxy albeit with a lot of leeway.

    And in practice it doesn’t really matter. Jains for example are Nastika by that definition but and there are polemics against them in the philosophical literature and sometimes direct action as mentions but as far as the man in the street including the average Jain they are just another Hindu sect.

    Those who would like to think of ancient India as multicultural utopia are surely exaggerating but you are exaggerating too much in the opposite direction. First of all it is a bizarre definition of mainstream if 80% of the population is considered out of it. Second that 80% aren’t all Shudras and Shudras aren’t all lowly “masses.”

    Because the activities of the 80% weren’t written down as much we know less about their activities than the elites but for example several of those Jain-persecuting Shaivas celebrated in poetry were Shudras and/or of humble origins were they not? You also exaggerating the persistence of “eternal village India.” While the local devatas have have a long history of their own, they have also always been equated with “great traditions” and which tradition that would be could be subject to as much tolerance/intolerance as amongst the elite. In both classes I think we can safely say tolerance did outweigh intolerance.

    Yes, sometimes in India changes of regime and the corresponding change of official state cultus were accompanied by religious violence — that’s historical fact but as in Tudor England that’s more about treason than blasphemy. Scant relief for the victims I know but there is a difference. When the new dynasty was secure, persecutions didn’t continue. E.g. Shravan Belgola still exists and is a popular pilgrimage site despite being surrounded by Shaivas. Or we can point to how many “Hindu” customs are still prevalent in “Buddhist” Southeast Asia.

    Overall, Razib is right about Human nature and his view applies to India no less than elsewhere but while we may not have been multicultural to the level expected by the editorial board of the New York Times, by the sordid and low standards of world history we have done pretty good I’d dare say.

  46. Razib,

    What do you think of the “Frontlashing” phenomenon (per Steve Sailer) the mainstream newspapers like the NYT have been doing in response to this attack? Does it serve any useful value at all?

  47. “When it comes to critical discussion regarding the Holocaust and matters of Racial Equality there really is little or no freedom of speech in the West.”

    “a stupid comment. the united states is not ‘little or no.’”

    A little stunned by your reaction here. His comment may have lacked in precision, but it was not without merit. It’s a bit hypocritical for Western countries to tell Muslims they must tolerate blasphemy while jailing those who engage in Holocaust denial, or even in acts of speech far less inflammatory, while paroling those who assassinate the “wrong” kinds of politicians, like Pim Fortuyn.

    The Left has turned into its own godless religion. State schools are now merely parochial schools controlled by the Left. To those of you who write here that the West has lost its religious zeal, I say look to the Left, who have created their own intolerant dogma, their own form of Creationism beyond the reach of scientific reason, and gladly punish heretics.

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  48. I would add something else: the Left’s formally unorganized state religion mirrors Al Qaeda’s stateless terrorism. Just as Al Qaeda’s statelessness made it so hard to attack, there is no way to fight the Left on the grounds of religious freedom, since it refuses to acknowledge that it is even a religion. If The Crucible or “The New Colossus” were scripture – and they are, in all but name – I could sue the school system for teaching them to my child. But they aren’t, so I can’t, and the indoctrination continues.

  49. In the West today, what is akin to a blasphemous statement, that goes against the official beliefs and could potentially put you in jail, is no longer the mockery of the gods, but saying something across the lines, “Men and Women are different by nature”, “Intelligence is highly inheritable”, “Races exists and they have quite different abilities”


    Belief in universal human equality is an expression of faith, so there’s really no difference between the old and new blasphemy. And think about this: people didn’t used to think of Jesus or Mary as some abstract concept, but a real presence in their lives. A fact on the ground, so to speak. The idea that they weren’t right there with us all the time would seem absurd to a faithful medieval Christian. I mean, they’re right there in church every Sunday, after all, and in the very flesh and blood. I’d be one to know, because on many occasions I had a taste.

    So when people declare equality a fact, and point here and there at examples that prove nothing or make no sense to non-believers (e.g. look! Don’t you see that our President is a black? And that means that he’s better than you, so, equality!), remember that people would have done the same if you questioned Christianity a few hundred years ago. It is as much a religion as any that came before it. This is what really makes me smirk a bit at these so-called atheists (the public kind I mean) who denounce Christianity and then declare that everyone is equal. PZ Myers is an example of one of these equalist holy rollers, and he’s a biologist! Often, they’re really engaged in a religious war against Christians, and their beliefs are just as nakedly irrational as those of the man mumbling incoherently about God on the streetcorner.

    The greatest sleight of hand is that this faith is declared not to be a religion, and therefore it is implied to be an objective truth and promoted by the state. It has become our state-sponsored religion, and that’s actually kind of disturbing to me as a non-Puritan American who isn’t comfortable with that. Also, it kind of sucks for white people, who apparently carry some sort of mark of Cain for their alleged wickedness over the centuries.

  50. To blaspheme or not depends on the rules of the Western game. Even in my conservative flyover country upbringing, I had friends who would put out all kinds of blasphemous, Church of the Subgenius-type zines with no repercussions whatsoever. I remember seeing people put out atheist pamphlets at the First Baptist Church an intensely Baptist city in the South. America has had quite a strong tradition of laicite of its own for some time.

    Russia’s rules are different. I would ask my congressman why the State Department funds the masha gessens and pussy riots to fight a culture war that is not ours.

    In France, even Voltaire could enjoy his “exile” in the mid-18th century with plenty of freedom from the punitive power attacks of the Church. For at least three centuries, France has worked into place a set of rules that makes blasphemous art, literature, and journalism an accepted norm. The Catholic Church can wring its hands, but they have been a defeated force for some time.

    France has imported millions of people who don’t recognize these rules. It is absurd of them to assume that these newly minted Frenchmen will play by these rules now or in the future when their numbers become even greater. If they want to keeps the rules they have, they better at minimum shut the gates and work on assimilating those who are already there. It could be their latest “grand projet”.

    I know there’s nothing profound or original about what I’m saying, but I’m having a bit of success discussing these events with libs by framing the discussion in these terms.

  51. […] Razib Khan explains that taboos against blasphemy aren’t crazy. They’re […]

  52. @Dutch Boy
    says: “The fact that these “blasphemies” were directed against Mohammed shows once more that he is a de facto god in the Islamic religion. Those who criticize him publicly should be well-armed.”

    You obviously know nothing about Islam or Muslim culture. Muslims will generally not even take the name of Jesus, Moses or any of the other prophets without invoking God’s blessing upon them.

    Muhammad is not God, but be is the most revered and loved person for Muslims.

    You could educate yourself, but somehow I doubt you will…

  53. Blasphemy A.K.A “I don’t agree with your opinions and I think you should be punished for speaking them” it doesn’t matter if its from the “Nonreligious” Secular Humanist or Muslims.

  54. i have a personal issue which means i will be away from the computer a lot for the next few days. so i’m going to close comments for now since i can’t moderate. might open them back up.

    one last thing i do want to say: some cartoonists here were *killed* for political speech. i think most of you making analogies with people that get fired for saying things are being pretty stupid, as there isn’t any comparison. even with holocaust denial laws people are imprisoned, at most (and in fact european hate speech laws seem to be enforced very sporadically; charlie hebdo was sued dozens of times by catholics and muslims apparently). i guess it says something about someone’s intellectual quality that they can analogize extreme social sanction against people who espouse politically incorrect views with being shot to death.

  55. […] Khan explains that taboos against blasphemy aren’t crazy. They’re […]

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