Friday, 2 November 2012

Festival of Ideas: free thinking?

Mary Robinson: click for lecture
BBC Radio 3’s Free Thinking Festival of Ideas has launched with a lecture from Mary Robinson (right), former President of Ireland, arguing that women leaders would be better placed to face the challenges of the 20th century.

As polemical as the idea sounds, Robinson succeeded in laying out her case that women aren’t better than men, but rather have a different and complimentary way of approaching problems.

Observing the BBC shibboleth of abstention from some subjects, Robinson danced so studiously around her topic’s elephants as to qualify her for Strictly Come Dancing. For example, while mentioning Tahrir Square as an infamous centre of harassment, she didn’t actually mention Islam until after the lecture, when in conversation with Matthew Sweet about the role of religion in oppression of women she said she felt that growing up as a Catholic had helped her appreciate what girls go through in Islam.

Really? As tight a hold as the RC church had on quondam Ireland, where were the stonings, the honour attacks, the burqas?

Thomas Jefferson
The problem, I think, is the BBC is attempting to take on the mantle of the Freethinkers: people such as Voltaire, Thomas Jefferson (left) and Bertrand Russell who sought to break the chains of dogmatic belief, religious and otherwise.

Freethinkers were liberals in the classical, muscular tradition that birthed the United States and modern democracy. Their traditions, revolving around the protection of liberty, seem now to have been relegated to the fringes of debate, and freethinkers have been replaced by safe pairs of hands who bow to new dogmas like climate change and diversity. When the Festival of Ideas includes in its mix speakers who have, for instance, campaigned against female genital mutilation in Bristol and been ostracised by their community, or who struggle in other ways to maintain our diminishing liberties, I’ll be listening.

Gerry Dorrian
300 words

Resources

Click for Mary Robinson's lecture opening the Radio 3 Free Thinking Festival of Ideas

Free Thinking Festival of Ideas homepage

Mary Robinson's page on The Elders' website

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