Thursday, 20 August 2009

Muzzie, muzzie, muzzie!! Nobody died, move on

An ironic little censorship story has come my way.
What’s ironic is that the group involved, GALHA (Gay & Lesbian Humanist Association), was born from a famous free speech battle – the Gay News trial.
I’m actually a little uncomfortable going into this, because I value and support GALHA, but you have to be consistent in defending free speech. We can’t just criticise the fundie groups for their censorship and ignore the topic when it crops up amongst those we call friends.
Briefly, GALHA has an online discussion group, and one poster used the word “Muzzies” in a posting, (coincidentally not about Islam) much as you might use terms like “godbotherer” or “fundie” (or for that matter ‘Toffees”, “Baggies”, “Blades”, etc. , etc. in a footie discussion group, I suppose).
The post was disallowed, and it was at this point that members realised someone at GALHA must be censoring e-mails. As it turned out, this had been going on for months without members realising or agreeing to the practice.
Things got worse as discussion on the list continued, because everyone wanted to know what the ‘banned’ word was, but as it was banned the original poster couldn’t enlighten them, and the original censor didn’t seem to want to tell them. Eventually, for the purposes of explanation, the original poster was allowed a single “Muzzie”, though his ‘original’ remained censored.
(At this point I’m reminded of Mike Harding talking about how the BBC once allowed him two tits and a bum but no buggery during a TV routine)
Anyway, still following? No laughing at the back, either, because now things get more serious.
The ‘uncensored’ post happened only after a GALHA committee member had suggested that “Muzzie” is akin to “Paki” or “Nigger”, thus intimating the intent of the poster was racist. As the poster is another stalwart of the gay humanist world, who I've come to know well, I don't believe that for a second.
But all this fuss about a word, when surely it’s when, where and how it was used that matters. Excuse me saying so, but isn’t being scared of the power of a word a little superstitious? Manx people know where I’m heading here – but for the benefit of off-island readers, the Manx have a phobia of the word ‘rat’, as if the mere sound could conjure up a plague of them. A fellow Freethinker once reduced a Thought For The Day producer to tears with a ‘talk’ consisting of repeating the word “rat” for one minute just to prove it wouldn’t. Needless to say, it wasn’t broadcast!
And being scared of letting the world know there’s a disagreement is even worse. We’re talking about groups of thinking, feeling people here, not the dress alike, knee-jerk cults of biscuit munching, rug-butting, tax-dodging zombie worshippers we’re not supposed to snigger at.
But seriously though, as this is something I’m experiencing more and more myself, it worries me when people tell you to shut up because, somehow, arguing in public lets down the side and suggests to the ‘opposition’ that you have no clear ‘party line’. It worries me when humanist groups start acting like churches, where somehow ‘divine wisdom’ (profane wisdom?) filters down through the ether from the top and is not to be questioned. A lot like New Labour and modern politics then.
Oh, and by the way, I’m sick of being told that whatever Richard Dawkins pronounces is what I think too. If he wants to know what you or I think, he can ask us instead of palming easy money with pointless TV 'interviews' of faith leaders which are edited to hell and back to avoid either party losing face.
Atheist role models? Fuck 'em all. Who needs them if you can think for yourself?
No, argument is good. Argument is debate, argument says you’re part of a group that thinks and cares, that wants to know what you think (not tell you what to think) so that your contribution makes the whole richer and stronger.
I’m not saying humanism should descend to the Judean Peoples Front level of Manx evangelicals, where every third bampot splits and forms a new cult, inevitably demanding the same tax exemptions and access to government as every other two village idiots and a mangy dog howling at the moon in an empty building.
I would argue the opposite in fact. It is at the times we noisily, passionately argue in public about stuff that others notice and join in. It is at the times we don’t speak for fear of offending that the same religionists and their hopelessly hierarchical churches who claim offence take our silence as ‘evidence’ that we are few and irrelevant.
Oh sod it.
There, nobody died, nobody got bombed, nobody called a lawyer or a police officer.
So move on.

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