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Consequences of inappropriate dialogue


Guidelines for Critical Dialogue between Worldviews: as exemplified by the need for non-antisemitic dialogue with Israelis? (Part #6)


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Justification for extremist action: With respect to any of the forms of "chosenness", it is instructive to note the controversial comment of Roger Garaudy who has argued that:

The idea of a chosen people is politically criminal, for it has always sanctified aggression, expansion and domination. The idea of a chosen people is theologically intolerable, for if some are 'chosen' that means that others are 'rejected'.

Whilst most worldviews do not provide any guidelines for acceptable criticism of their perspective, a number provide rationalizations or guidelines for responses to critical discourse deemed inappropriate -- notably when this is framed to include forms of apostasy, namely the renunciation of a worldview as the result of revolt or defection. Of particular importance is the religious and moral justification for war -- known as just war. Other examples from the monotheistic "religions of the book" (Christianity, Islam, Judaism) have included:

  • Islam: a well-defined legal pronouncement in Islam, provides for the issuance of a fatwa on a specialized issue as in the case of:
    • Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989, pronouncing a death sentence on Salman Rushdie (Satanic Verses)
    • Osama bin Laden in 1998, declaring war on the USA.
    A number of widely publicized incidents of violent response by Muslims to blasphemy (cf Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy, 2005) are seen as an appropriate response to insult to the faith. Islam provides for the death penalty in the case of apostasy (ridda) (Syed Mumtaz Ali, Apostasy and Blasphemy in Islam; Daniel Pipes, How Dare You Defame Islam, Commentary, November 1999). Scriptures can be narrowly interpreted to justify jihad in the form of religious warfare.
  • Judaism: widespread response to critics such as Jostein Gaarder (see above) is based on scriptural provisions; These may be interpreted as justifications for death threats. Judaism provides for a death penalty in the case of apostasy (Deuteronomy 13:6-10)
  • Christianity: some denominations may provide for shunning or excommunication in the case of heresy or apostasy [more more]. Military action, sanctioned by the Pope, has long been a characteristic of Christianity, most notably at the time of the crusades. Other forms of extreme action that have been justified (as a means of "saving souls") have been persecutions and inquisitions -- or condoning such actions by others. A militaristic tradition persists:
    • millions of children have been exposed to hymns joyously employing military metaphors [more] | more] | more | more] such as: "Onward Christian soldiers, Marching as to War / With the Cross of Jesus, Going on Before".
    • Reverend Pat Robertson (a former US Presidential Candidate) speaking to 7 million viewers of the evangelical Christian Broadcasting Network on 23 August 2005 [more] called for the assassination of the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez: "We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come to exercise that ability... It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with." [more more more]
    • violent anti-abortion activists see themselves as "helping God" in his just retribution (Matthias Beier, On the Psychology of Violent Christian Fundamentalism: Fighting to Matter Ultimately, Psychoanalytic Review, 93, April 2006)

Although other examples of the above are widely available (on the web), even quoting the scriptural basis for such justifications from sacred texts tends to be interpreted as a justification for retribution. As "religions of the book" it might be said that these religions are deserving of the rationalizations they have developed for their bloody treatment of each other -- purportedly in the name of a common deity.

Other variants are notably associated with semi-secret societies and sects, of which well-known examples include:

  • Freemasonry: breach of the binding oaths of a freemason provides for "no less penalty than that of having my body severed in two, my bowels taken from thence and burned to ashes" or "to have my body opened perpendicularly and to be exposed for eight hours in the open air, so that the venomous flies may eat my entrails, my head to be cut off and put on the highest pinnacle of the world, and I will always be ready to inflict the same punishment on those who shall disclose this degree and break this obligation" [more].
  • Mafia: inductees, governed by the code of omerta, commit to obedience, including murder, in defence of their society and for the advancement of its interests [more]

In the world of politics, business and the military, the priorities of the operating logic provide rationalizations for the undermining of those with opposing worldviews where other modes of dialogue prove inadequate. Legislative measures may be developed to facilitate a form of "dialogue" with detainees suspected of terrorism, for example [more | more].

It will be interesting to observe whether subsequent web versions of this article -- possibly including this sentence -- have been subject to prudent editing in response to pressures appropriately denied

Intimidation: With the aid of such rationalizations a range of techniques -- including various forms of harassment, threats and bullying -- may be deployed against those who have evidenced various forms of inappropriate dialogue:

Another range of variants is associated with politics, business and the security services:

  • "dirty tricks". In politics and business, these refer to unethical, duplicitous, slanderous or illegal tactics employed to destroy or diminish the effectiveness of those with an opposing worldview [more].
  • security services: When it is in their interests, secret services are alleged to provide "friendly warnings" to those whose activities they wish to constrain, perhaps extended into various forms of legal harassment. "Covert operations" (black ops) are not only clandestine (undertaken in a manner that disguises the identity of the perpetrators) but also covert, i.e. denied by the governments that undertake them. [more]
  • science: Typically intimidation from superiors in a discipline takes the form of (implicit) threats to block publishing opportunities, conference participation, research funding or career advancement.

Invaders of a particular religious persuasion have typically intimidated populations to convert. Christians and Muslims down the centuries have accused each other of religious conversion under intimidation -- "by the sword". Considerable protest was engendered by the Pope through quoting a predecessor's view that Muhammed had commanded his followers "to spread by the sword the faith he preached" (12 September 2006).

It is now unfortunately impossible for the adherents of any powerful worldview to prove with any credibility that those questioning that perspective are not subject to constraining intimidation and harassment, whether deliberately or inadvertently.

Retraction and apology: Typically highly publicized critical statements evoke protests, and requests for retraction and apology. In the USA, for example, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has a policy of requesting retractions from those who have made anti-Jewish statements [more | more]. The Jewish Defense League (JDL) is allegedly more militant in this respect.

Under conditions of accusation, denial and counter-accusation, it is difficult to determine the extent to which retractions and apologies are made in response to intimidation. Three days after publishing his criticism, Jostein Gaarder announced his intention to "withdraw from the debate." [more] An earlier highly publicized retraction and apology was that of Mel Gibson [more].

Again, it is now unfortunately impossible for the adherents of any powerful worldview to prove with any credibility that those questioning that perspective are not subject to intimidation and harassment to ensure the retraction of any publicized statement and the dissemination of an associated apology.

Perhaps the most delayed apology of historical significance was that of Pope John Paul II in 1992 to Galileo Galilei condemned in 1633 and forced to abjure -- for teaching that the Earth revolved around the Sun. It is claimed that the apology implied that Galileo did not suffer from the church as such, but from "churchmen and church bodies." [more] Galileo has long constituted an exemplar of the conflict of authority and freedom of thought, particularly with science, in Western society.

Complicity with extremist action: Given the dominant psychosocial, political or economic role of the worldview subject to criticism, and given the rationale for extremist action, there is a widespread tendency towards tolerance of any action against a critic, even complicity in that action. This might be understood as a perversion of "tolerance". Examples include:

  • religion: there is little tendency within a dominant religion to protest the actions of extremists against those stigmatized as critical of the fundamental beliefs of the religion. "Christians" are extremely circumspect in their protest against the actions of Christian fundamentalists. Muslims are equally circumspect in their protest against the actions of Muslim fundamentalists. The same situation applies with respect to Jewish fundamentalists.
  • science: there is little tendency within a scientific discipline to protest the discriminatory measures taken against those who challenge dominant theories. Scientists have proven to be extremely tolerant of the use of medical research on humans in institutionalized settings (whether in concentration camps, prisons, or the military). There is little protest against the development of inhumane weapons, or against marine biologists repeatedly involved in "scientific whaling".
  • politics: there is little tendency amongst politicians to protest against unethical campaign fund raising or "dirty tricks" applied against opposing parties
  • business: the business community is extremely circumspect in its criticism of corporations discovered to have been using "dirty tricks" of the most unethical and reprehensible kind. An extreme example is the case of corporations trading with the enemy in wartime or who largely derived their wealth from such activity.

Yet again, it is now unfortunately impossible for the adherents of any powerful worldview -- by which the the rules of dialogue are defined -- to prove with any credibility that those rules are not systematically abused, whether deliberately or inadvertently. Again, it is possible, but unwise, to name groups whom it is widely acknowledged engage actively in intimidation -- and even "termination with prejudice" -- and with whom many are knowingly or inadvertently complicit.

Adherents of a dominant worldview are unable to demonstrate credibly their noncomplicity in extremist actions in their name. It is unfortunate that any approach to more radical forms of dialogue is inhibited by extremists from whom the honorable are both unable, and unwilling, to distinguish themselves.


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