Ferial Haffajee
Ferial Haffajee

Of ivory towers and diseased black men

Here is why people are so afraid to “debate” Ronald Suresh Roberts. After last week’s post in which I objected to Ronald’s name-calling, I called him and explained why he’d really pissed me off. I know him and believe that he has a great mind that should be applied to weightier matters than personal attack.

To prove the point, he sends me the following SMS: “Am writing something called ‘mondli in my bedroom’. Need comment: in paul [my husband] are you fleeing diseased black men? (still my heroine, incidentally).”

Talk about playing the woman and not the ball. He tells me the missive is going into the new media magazine, Empire, and not on to Thought Leader. I can’t wait.

Robert Brand’s blog is, as usual, thought-provoking and professorial. I fear that in criticising Tim du Plessis’s decision to can the columnist Deon Maas who penned a piece pleading for the tolerance of satanists, he writes from the ivory tower. It’s one thing to sit in the town soon not to be called Grahamstown and pontificate on what should have been done.

It’s entirely another to receive chain emails and SMSs and have your newspaper’s viability threatened by irate Christians — all this was Tim’s personal hell this past week.

Robert’s argument paints the saga as the easy capitulation to the capitalist bosses at Media24. The reality was probably more complex and scary than that.

Personally, I think Tim should have opened the newspaper to debate and kept Deon on as a columnist. Sales may have hurt for the first weekend but Rapport‘s a compelling Sunday read and it would not have gone on forever. If the suits wanted to fire Deon, they should have been made to do so themselves in order to protect editorial from allegations of interference.

When the M&G was so threatened last year after we published one of the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, numerous Muslim shop owners cancelled their orders. Men whispered hell and damnation into my cellphone and chain-mailed the newspaper as Rapport‘s detractors have done. It’s a hard place to be in and there are no easy exits.

I apologised for the offence caused as it was completely unanticipated — some readers appreciated this; others thought it capitulation.

You grow through these things. Some shopkeepers still refuse to stock the newspaper but it has not hurt us as we engaged the enraged. The big freedom of expression issues of the 21st century are not going to be fought on the political terrain, but around religion.

The big debates we should have are about the relative weightings we give to religious freedoms versus freedom of expression. And often we cannot have them because of the rush to bully and to boycott instead of to debate and to differ.