The Marquess of Queensberry RulesT. SHER SINGH
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
The Marquess of Queensberry Rules is a code of generally accepted rules in the sport of boxing. The code of rules on which modern boxing is based, the Queensberry rules were the first to mention gloves in boxing.
In popular culture the term is sometimes used to refer to a sense of sportsmanship and fair play. [Wikipedia]
One of the key traits that sets us - the human species - “above” the rest of the food chain is our infinite capacity to justify anything expedient we want to do for our own benefit.
All human beings, everywhere, are guilty of this; it’s a human trait, not the affliction of any particular society or community.
But the British perfected it into an art form, and then passed it on to societies that they shaped through their colonization. Their technique is now part of daily practice in the western world.
You recognize it instantly when you hear someone who finds himself at a disadvantage or is losing a fight and complains that the other is “not playing according to the Marquess of Queensberry rules!”
Though the “rules” stem from the sport of boxing, in everyday parlance the term now refers to a general code of conduct - based on decency, on fair play.
Thus, many societies - western, mostly - claim that they are ruled by civilized rules of behaviour, that their conduct is ruled by “the Marquess of Queensberry Rules”. Similarly , during war, parties cite the rules of the Geneva Convention when demanding fair play and decent treatment for their prisoners of war, for example.
But strangely, the same societies then cite the same rules by inverting them to justify their own contravention of those very rules!
When the British were confronted with the atrocities they committed in India and the other colonies, they justified their own boorish behaviour with: ” Well, the enemy doesn’t play according to the Marquess of Queensberry Rules, does it?”
Strange, isn’t it? The rules were formulated to impose decency on the other when one behaved badly, but not to be used to join in the alleged bad behaviour.
The same excuse was used by the Americans, for example, in their own animal behaviour in Abu Gharaib and in Guantanamo. The Geneva Convention fell by the wayside in a jiffy when it became expedient for them to suspend civilized behaviour on their part.
Yet, in the same breath, they feel no compunction in criticizing the Islamic world for bad behaviour.
The news media carries examples of such a dichotomy every day.
That brings me to the current situation vis-à-vis the film made by a few American Christians with the clear intention to insult Prophet Mohammed and to foment unrest not only in the middle-east but also between the West and the Muslim world.
We freely cite the Freedoms of Speech and Expression in defending the boorish behaviour of our citizens while, in the same breath, take the mobs in the middle-east to task for their boorish behaviour.
We describe the defence of our boors as civilized, but what the other side does as uncivilized!
I am unequivocally for the Freedoms of Speech and Expression, and acknowledge that they are indeed the pillars of a truly civilized society. In fact, there is no doubt that we in West are better societies as a result of our protecting these freedoms zealously.
But, we must not lose sight of the fact that one of the ways in which we have made these freedoms meaningful is by putting reasonable limits to these very freedoms.
The most trite example - cited by any school-going student - is that we do not allow our citizens to walk into a crowded theatre and yell “Fire!”
That’s a limit to Freedom of Speech, isn’t it?
There are laws against libel and slander. They are limits to Freedom of Speech, aren’t they?
Many nations have prohibited citizens from denying the existence of the Jewish Holocaust. And from pursuing pro-Hitler Nazi activities. Limits to freedoms, aren’t they?
Now, the question is, is the boorish behaviour of the film-makers who came up with the anti-Islam film in question deserving of scrutiny, or do we give them a free pass just because they cite Freedom of Speech?
Have we forgotten that we have Freedom of Religion as well, another fundamental pillar of the wonderful society we have here?
Well, freedom of religion is like the freedom to own property.
Property ownership is meaningless if it isn’t accompanied with the right to enjoyment of the property.
There are laws that prevent a person from placing a loud-speaker a few feet away from your property line and blaring music into your bedroom window.
There are laws that prevent you from building a skyscraper a foot away from your single-storied home, even though the high-rise is not encroaching on your property.
There are laws that prevent an airplane from strafing a few feet over your roof-top. And so on and so forth.
That is, to make the right to ownership of property meaningful, we have put limits to other rights and freedoms.
So, what good is freedom of religion if there is no protection from being abused and insulted and harassed by boors who simply feel entitled to do so because they belong to a different faith with different beliefs?
There’s no harm in disagreeing with other faiths and beliefs, or criticizing them, or rejecting them, etc., etc. All of those activities are - and should be - fully protected by freedom of speech.
But to go out and insult the prophet of another faith with obscenities is, I would argue, uncivilized behaviour that certainly cannot demand that the state should turn a blind eye.
Especially if the stated and self-professed intent is to cause violence.
For the life of me, I can’t understand why American authorities are having difficulty in laying criminal charges against the miscreants. What they have done has nothing to do with freedom of speech and expression, and everything to do with public mischief designed to create violence and disorder … and to put the nation of the United States of America and its citizens into jeopardy.
They have fraudulently claimed that the film was produced by Jewish-Americans, with the clear intention of creating conflict and violence. No criminal charges?
Are we looking for evidence? With corpses - American corpses - littered across the world - and the self-proclaimed motives of the rogues, how much more do we need?
In these difficult post-9/11 times, it is easy for us to find justification to be boorish against the Arab and Muslim worlds. And equally easy to overlook our own, often worse, behaviour.
But here’s the test.
Try screening the very same film or publishing the very same anti-Islamic cartoons by replacing all references to Islam and the Prophet Mohammed with those of your own faith and your own “prophet” or “saviour”, and then see how easily you get away with it.
Sure, we have allowed “The Last Temptation of Christ” or “The Passion of Christ” to be screened even though they offended some Christians. But that’s not a valid analogy. Those films were easy to live with: neither contained insults or obscenities against Christ. Or historical inaccuracies expressly designed to offend and to foment trouble.
More importantly, as a society - and this is the mandate of government, to maintain law and order - we need to keep an eye on those activities which serve no useful purpose, while intentionally creating anarchy, chaos and turmoil.
True, drawing the line is not easy: there is black, and there is white, and then, there’s a large swath of gray.
But we can’t refuse to deal with the black and the white merely because the vast gray has proved to be a challenge!
Conversation about this article
1: Aryeh Leib (Israel), September 19, 2012, 2:24 PM.
... and, "Life of Brian" was ...?
2: T. Sher Singh (Mount Forest, Ontario, Canada), September 19, 2012, 4:53 PM.
I am familiar with Monty Python's "Life of Brian", which was a satire directed against religion and religiousity per se. I see it once every few years because it points out to me what is wrong with many Sikh practices which, if they fail to meet the test, I willingly discard and move on. There are a number of reasons why I don't think it provides a good analogy to the stupidity behind the California film. For example, "Brian" does not heap obscenities on any religious leader or "saviour". Secondly, its intent was not to create violent conflict. Thirdly, it was not made by cowards who hid behind the cover of anonymity to hide their mischief; the creators of "Brian" stood in the public arena, and answered every criticism headlong. And so on and so forth. In my mind, "Brian" falls withing the category of "The Last Temptation ..." and "The Passion ..." However, I may be wrong in my reading or may be missing some crucial things. I am open to hearing you, Aryeh ji, spell out exactly what in "Life of Brian" you think would put it in the same category as the obscenity from California.
3: T. Sher Singh (Mount Forest, Ontario, Canada), September 19, 2012, 5:13 PM.
I should add that much of the work done for television and the big screen by Sacha Baron Cohen cheaply targets Muslims and Arabs, but - despite its total lack of intelligent content, class or quality - falls into the same category as other films that do manage to offend certain groups. But no, Cohen's life work should not be banned or censored and is, and should be, protected by the freedoms of speech and expression. It will, on its own accord, end up on the garbage heap, and does not deserve the kind of attention the makers and backers of the anti-Mohammed film are rightfully due from the authorities.
4: Kulwant Singh (U.S.A.), September 19, 2012, 8:23 PM.
There haven't been any criminal charges filed against them because they haven't committed any crime. Mocking a religion is not the same as lauding a genocide. Make a film mocking any other religion in a similar way, and I doubt you will get the same reaction.
5: Aryeh Leib (Israel), September 20, 2012, 11:01 AM.
Sher ji, all points well taken. I stand (or, I guess "sit" is what I'm doing at this blasted keyboard) corrected!
6: Ajay Singh (Rockville, Maryland, USA), September 20, 2012, 3:37 PM.
Sardar Sahib: Respectfully, I disagree with you, knowing full well you are a lawyer and a very good one from what I have heard. I agree that the movie and cartoons are certainly uncivilized and offend, but I do not want any official body governing civility or morality. Knowing full well that there are instances where exactly this is happening in the USA. Nobody claims perfection. But, how far away would the USA be from Iran, if civility becomes a legal issue? "The Passion of Christ" movie is a good example. You cite it to highlight your point and I know of bus-loads of church-going Americans along with their Pastors going to watch the same movie and loving it. I remember reading a poem about an untouchable who risks going to a temple and uses the parshad to save his dying daughter. He is discovered and threatened with punishment. He asks: "How strong is this God if I am able to render it impure?" This is too easy an argument. So, I ask sincerely: Did I miss your point?
7: N. Singh (Canada), September 22, 2012, 5:47 PM.
So how is it possible for authorities in the UK and France to not only ban the publishing of topless (and now bottomless) photos of Kate Middleton in the media, as the offices of the Closer are raided by the French police, and criminal charges are threatened by Prince William, and yet nothing has been done or said against the publishing of this obnoxious and nauseating film on the Prophet Mohammed? I was under the impression that photographers and journalists had a certain protection under the law, much like the freedom of speech argument(...and for those who argue about privacy, my understanding is that these photos were taken from a public road). I suppose it's one law for the West and another law for the 'others' ...