Opinion: "Tolerance Demands a Little Courtesy"

February 5, 2006

Source: Sunday Herald


On February 5, 2006 the Sunday Herald ran an opinion piece by Richard Holloway, former Bishop of Edinburgh, on the controversy surrounding the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad by a Danish newspaper. Holloway writes, "[A] decent society needs more than free speech. It also needs to prize values that ease relations between people of opposing convictions, and the highest of these is courtesy. Courtesy is a form of restraint that sees no point in upsetting people just for the sake of it. The courteous prize the right of free speech – and might even be prepared to defend it to the death – but they also know that freedom may sometimes have to be exercised with restraint, especially towards those who have passed through a different cultural history.

At the moment there is a profound dissonance between some of our values and those of the Muslim world, including the part of it that lives in our midst. As we are seeing with the latest incident, the protests against cartoons of Muhammed, this is a conflict that has the potential to destroy lives as well as shatter civic tranquillity.

Finding the right balance between defending one of our most prized freedoms, and showing a civilised courtesy towards people with whom we profoundly disagree, is hard to achieve. But if we don’t learn how to do it soon, we could end up losing more than the right to freedom of speech."