Action and reaction

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The debate about sartorial choices of Muslim women is claiming a lot of space in the media at present. Obviously, the person who set the ball rolling knew there was going to be a reaction to his comments. He chose to have his cake and eat it at the same time, through appearing to defend the rights of women of that religion to wear garments that many regard as controversial. On the other hand, he also went out of his way to be disrespectful of that mode of dressing.

Whenever this sort of problem flares up nowadays, some people take it upon themselves to talk about freedom of speech and censorship. A similar situation occurred when a highly contentious theatre presentation featured folks of African descent in bondage as exhibits, claiming to be a work of art.

Those who choose to bait folks from sections of a community who might feel sensitive about ways that aspects of their identities or histories might be perceived are entitled to express their opinions. There is no problem with this. When others respond, expressing resentment or hostility, the baiters and their friends start complaining about censorship. If Newton came up with the bright idea that “every action has an equal and opposite reaction”, isn’t it true that the baiters are also trying to censor the complainants for expressing their opposing opinions?

This is where the idea of the “dog whistle” enters the scenario. Unscrupulous politicians (and artists) can use their power as public figures to stir up conflicts, with the aim of polarising points of view in a community, in order to gain support for their own ends.

The self centred person who instigated the current debate is more familiar with the Classics than I am. He should be aware therefore, of the line spoken by Clytemnestra in Agamemnon – a play by Aeschylus, which reads as follows: “By the sword you did your work, and by the sword you die”.