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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars What rubbish, September 16, 2011
David Walters (Auckland, New Zealand) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A Brief History of Blasphemy: Liberalism, Censorship and the "Satanic Verses" (Paperback)
Richard Webster's A Brief History of Blasphemy, written in response to the controversy over The Satanic Verses, is an attack on Salman Rushdie and the principle of free speech. It is a self-important and smugly written little book. Despite presenting himself as someone making a plea for religious tolerance and understanding, Webster presumptuously refers to "our religious tradition" when he means Protestant Christianity, effectively excluding the non-Protestant Christian reader and giving the lie to his claim that he is exposing western prejudice against and condescension toward non-Christians. Yet he manages to criticize The International Committee for the Defence of Salman Rushdie and his Publishers for their supposed "unconscious adoption of a Christian perspective."

A similar failure to see that his judgments return to their sender shows when he declares that he fears "the machine-gun bullets of liberal self-righteousness" more than the bombs of Islamic fundamentalists, one of the most foolish statements I have ever seen in a published book. If comparing support for the right to blaspheme against Islam to physical violence isn't self-righteous, then what is? Webster seems so desperate to remove all blame from Islam that he is prepared to commit almost any kind of rhetorical excess against its critics, even to imply that no matter what atrocities Islamic fundamentalists may be guilty of, they cannot be worse than the rhetoric of those awful liberal supporters of free speech.

Webster argues that it is right to censor The Satanic Verses, on the grounds that it helped drive allegedly "moderate" Muslims into the hands of the radical extremists. He doesn't ask what kind of "moderation" it is that can so easily be damaged by one post-modernist novel, or consider that censoring things offensive to Muslims to help "moderation" will only lead to further and yet further demands. Apparently concerned that some people won't consider anti-Islamic prejudice worth worrying about, he insinuates that blasphemy against Islam will somehow help promote anti-Semitism; he also, predictably, equates anti-Islamic views with racism.

Throughout the book, Webster criticizes "liberals" and "liberalism" without making it clear from what political standpoint he makes his criticisms; seemingly, he believes that it is possible to convincingly criticize liberalism without adopting a definite political position. He suggests that unqualified support for freedom of speech is a form of anti-intellectualism, but is all too clearly guilty of his own form of anti-intellectualism in making such free-floating criticisms, and trivializes the issues involved in withdrawing The Satanic Verses from circulation by snidely implying that the main reason for not censoring it would be that censorship would hurt liberals' feelings. Webster's approving citation of Muslim writer Shabbir Akhtar's book Be Careful With Muhammad!, which crassly equates liberals with "white people", helps show where he's really coming from.
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A Brief History of Blasphemy: Liberalism, Censorship and the "Satanic Verses"
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