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So – do we have the right to talk about things we can’t experience?

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post Stephen Fry got a lot of heat from expressing his dislike of those who “slaughtered, [and] bombed”. I might add that this seems like a fair dislike. However, given that this came up during a conversation on religion, he made the fatal error of saying “Muslims who slaughtered, bombed”. In the context of the conversation–one that said that Richard Dawkins and those who agreed with him never dared to say a bad word against Islam–Stephen Fry chose to make things fair: negative comments were made about certain people in Christianity, so why not make fair negative comments about certain people in Islam? Please bear in mind that when I say fair negative comments, I’m not saying that it’s fair to believe all Muslims slaughter and bomb others; however, we can agree that a small amount of Muslims do so, just like a small amount of Christians, Jews, and most other religions do so. In context, and with the modifiers he gave, it was a perfectly reasonable comment to make.

So why did so many people get upset by it?

I think it’s a combination of two things.

1. Political Correctness

2. Feeling that we don’t have the right to talk about a group we are not a part off.

In a way, these two things are linked. We tend to not be overly politically correct when talking about our own race, gender, or social group of some kind. But when referencing a group of which we are not a part we seem to afraid of offending to the point that our desire to be PC is almost offensive itself.

So, can we make comments about groups we are not a part of? Was Stephen Fry wrong to say what he did, not because it wasn’t true but because he didn’t grow up in a predominantly Islamic society, and therefore can’t truly know how a comment like that would feel?

I would argue that views such as the one expressed by Stephen Fry should be taken into account. Views that are based on a certain facts and are as objective as possible are entirely fair. We are very selective when it comes to what people are and aren’t allowed to say in the US and most of Europe. I am not referring so much to governmental censorship or anything; rather, what I mean is how we view people who speak out of turn about topics they “are not supposed to”.

As a white female I have the right to talk about feminist issues, and I can write things that don’t always agree with the “feminist viewpoint” (I know there isn’t one viewpoint on everything, but in general). I was able to write about why I though Blurred Lines was not a terrible song without being completely attacked. People disagree, yes, and that’s good, disagreement brings discussion, but I wasn’t attacked and called sexist and told I couldn’t truly understand. Had a man written the same article he would have likely been torn down for it – not through rational arguments but through emotive words like sexist, misogynist, and chauvinist. On the other hand, as a white female I do not have the right to disagree with certain issues about race. If I were to write an article disagreeing with affirmative action I would be called racist, while the same article written by someone who was not white might not be agreed with, but it would be responded to without the emotional attacks that white person would receive.

Yes, I know I’m generalizing. Everyone can be attacked for their views, and anyone’s views can be heard. But, in my experience these things seem to hold true.

What is interesting, though, is that generally a person who is not part of the group can talk about the group of issues within it, if they are spoken about positively. If a man wrote an article about how terrible the objectification of women was today he would not be attacked as not being able to understand. Why? Because he’s agreeing and supporting.

But should a white person have the right to provide a well-reasoned unemotional view against affirmative action just as a non-white person could? Many would argue no. If you haven’t experienced it then you don’t have the right to talk about it.

Once again, it all boils down to what hypocrites we all are. Women seem to be allowed to write articles citing all the bad traits of men, but when a man does this it’s a terrible thing. It all depends on the viewpoint. Even if you agree that from every side in religion, race, and gender we don’t have the right to talk about “the other” because we can’t understand there is still great hypocrisy at play.

What about deaf culture? Those of us who have never had a hearing difficulty seem highly inclined to judge deaf parents who don’t want their child to get a cochlear implant. “It’s abuse,” we cry. Why? How is this not hypocritical? We are talking about a different group. People who we can’t relate to, and now with this group we have a right to judge and impose our will on them?

The same with other religions. Most people around me are Christian and would never dream of insulting Islam or Judaism. But what about the other religions? Oh, they don’t count. Those are ones that we can mock.

I do not know if we have a right to comment on things we can’t truly understand; however, I think that if you are going to believe that for your own group, then you should extend that courtesy to the other “groups” that you are not a part of as well.

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