Friday, November 30, 2007

On proportion...

Just comment from the Times's Daniel Finkelstein:
Have you noticed that word disproportionate?

It keeps popping up in relation to Gillian Gibbons and the teddy bear.

The Archbishop of Canterbury called her jail sentence:

"absurdly disproportionate response" to a "minor cultural faux pas".

while the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (Fosis), which represents more than 90,000 Muslim students in the UK and Ireland, said it was:

"deeply concerned" at what was a "gravely disproportionate" verdict.

Er, no.

It was not a misunderstanding of culture on the part of Gillian Gibbons. And the verdict was not disproportionate.

The arrest and imprisonment of this teacher was a political act, not a cultural or religious one. Its aim is not cultural preservation but terrorising the population. It is the classic move of a totalitarian state supported by a mob.

Why wasn't it disproportionate? This word implies that some sort of censure was required but that imprisonment was too much. The punishment wasn't out of proportion. It was unwarranted, outrageous, insupportable.

The use of the phrase "disproportionate" is offensive.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree with the critique of the word "disproportionate."

But the assertion that her arrest/trial/conviction is solely a political act to terrorize the population is much more problematic. Even if true, surely it's significant that the authorities chose explicitly religious terms and concepts to frame the terrorization?

But what makes the "it's a political act" especially one-dimensional is the large-scale popular demonstrations that it spawned. I realize it's possible for the authorities to have staged and manipulated these protests, but based on a cursory reading of news reports that doesn't seem to have been the case.

The demonstrators actually could be considered protestors AGAINST the political authorities: they were objecting that Gibbons' sentence is too mild.

It would seem, to me, that religion and politics are a bit more closely intertwined here than Finkelstein asserts.