Detestable debates

January 27, 2006

Although Voltaire never wrote "I detest what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it", it's not a bad principle. So all credit to The Times Higher for giving space in the January 20 issue to Milton Wainwright speaking up for intelligent design (Letters), and Abdul Wahid writing in support of Hizb ut-Tahrir (Opinion).

I will defend to the death the right of these people to peacefully express their views - especially Muslims, in the current climate. But let's not forget the part about detesting what they say.

Wainwright seems to be one of a minuscule number of academics who take ID seriously, instead of treating it as a fantasy with no more scientific value than the Peter Pan story. Similarly, one can only admire the chutzpah of an executive member of Hizb ut-Tahrir calling for free speech. The organisation's website says "Democracy is forbidden to be adopted", although it would encourage political parties to flourish in its proposed caliphate - Islamic parties that is. "It is not allowed for these parties to be communist, socialist, capitalist, nationalistic or patriotic" and they can't call for "democracy, secularism or free masonry".

The principle of free speech for detestable views has to go hand in hand with the principle that only views based on reason and logic deserve to be discussed using reason and logic. Otherwise we are in danger of giving superstitious junk the same value as science. Goethe didn't write "They must speak, and I must laugh at them" - but it's also not a bad principle.

Raphael Salkie Brighton University

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