Monday, March 06, 2006

Facts and Beliefs

André Glucksmann on the Khartoons.

It is high time that the democrats regained their spirit, and that the constitutional states remembered their principles. With solemnity and solidarity they must recall that one, two or three religions, four or five ideologies may in no way decide what citizens can do or think. What is at stake here is not only the freedom of the press, but also the permission to call a spade a spade and a gas chamber an abomination, regardless of our beliefs. What is at stake is the basis of all morality: here on earth the respect due to each individual starts with the recognition and rejection of the most flagrant examples of inhumanity.
His fundamental point, which the viral spread of relativism has obscured almost totally, is that there is a difference between an historical fact (that is, one that is susceptible to proof or disproof according to evidence) and a belief (some view that I choose to adopt just as I may choose not to, such as, the Angel Gabriel spoke the word of God to Mohammad). The distinction between the former and the latter must be maintained if democratic societies are to exist. All the checks and balances of the American Constitution are there for just that reason: so that one view of the world, be it of the majority or a minority, should not prevail for too long. So that in the end, it is facts that must be addressed, and not just beliefs. And this is why it is not the same to make jokes about the Holocaust as it is about Mohammad.

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