‘Thank you @Channel4News you just pushed us liberal Muslims further into a ditch’. So tweeted Maajid Nawaz, prospective Liberal Democratic parliamentary candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn, last night. He had every right to be incandescent. Channel 4 News had just held a debate about the Jesus and Mo cartoons and about the campaign to deselect Nawaz for tweeting one of the cartoons, not finding them offensive. Channel 4 decided that they were offensive and could not be shown. It would have been bad enough had the channel decided simply not to show the cartoon. What it did was worse. It showed the cartoon – but blanked out Muhammad’s face (and only Muhammad’s face). In the context of a debate about whether Nawaz had been right to tweet the cartoon in the first place, or whether his critics were right to hound him for ‘offending’ Muslims, it was an extraordinary decision. The broadcaster had effectively taken sides in the debate – and taken the side of the reactionaries against the liberal.
There has been something quite surreal about the whole controversy over Maajid Nawaz and his refusal to be offended by the Jesus and Mo cartoons. A one-time Islamist turned anti-extremist campaigner, Nawaz is a founder of the Quilliam Foundation, dedicated to combating Islamic extremism, and Liberal Democrat PPC for Hampstead and Kilburn. Two weeks ago he took part in the BBC’s Big Questions programme, in which there was a debate about religious offence. The programme discussed an incident at the LSE Fresher’s Fair when two students from the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society were forced to cover up the ‘Jesus and Mo’ t-shirts they had been wearing. (The LSE later apologized to the students for its heavy-handed reaction.) For those who don’t know, Jesus and Mo is a cartoon strip featuring Jesus and Mohammed sharing a house and discussing religion, philosophy and politics, with each other and sometimes with an atheist barmaid down the pub. It is clever, witty and, of course, irreverent
Nawaz insisted on the show that he found nothing offensive about the cartoons. ‘I’m sure God is greater than to feel threatened by it’, he observed. Astounded by the fact that BBC had refused to show the cartoons on air, Nawaz later tweeted an image of one to once again make the point that there was nothing offensive about it. At which point all hell broke lose.
Fellow Liberal Democrat Muhammad Shafiq organized an international campaign to hound Nawaz for causing ‘immense offence and disrespect to the religious beliefs and sentiments’ of Musims. A petition was set up calling for Nawaz’s deselection. The activist, ‘community leader’ and prolific tweeter Mohammed Ansar joined the campaign against Nawaz, urging people to sign the petition (though absurdly he also insists that he neither finds the cartoons offensive nor necessarily wants Nawaz sacked; that apparently is ‘nuance’). Nawaz has received a torrent of abuse on social media and a sackful of death threats.
There is something truly bizarre (and yet in keeping with the zeitgeist of our age) that someone should become the focus of death threats and an international campaign of vilification for suggesting that an inoffensive cartoon was, well, inoffensive.
From the Rushdie affair to the controversy over the Danish cartoons, from the forcing offstage of Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s play Behzti to the attempt this week by members of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party to shut down the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s production of The Bible: The Complete Word Of God (a decision thankfully later reversed), reactionaries have often used campaigns against ‘offence’ as a political weapon with which to harass opponents and as a means of bolstering their community support. The anti-Nawaz campaign is no different. Muhammad Shafiq and Muhammad Ansar both have had public spats with Nawaz, and both are cynically exploiting the claim of ‘offensiveness’ to reclaim political kudos.
What gives the reactionaries the room to operate and to flex their muscles is, however, the pusillanimity of many so-called liberals, their unwillingness to stand up for basic liberal principles, their fear of causing offence, their reluctance to call so-called community leaders to account. This is why Channel 4’s stance was so obnoxious. The broadcaster’s role is not to take sides in these debates. It is to tease out the arguments, and to stand by basic journalistic principles, including the principle of free speech. What Channel 4 did was the very opposite. It abandoned its journalistic principles, refused to stand up for free speech and took sides with the reactionaries. The Liberal Democrats themselves have been equally spineless. Though some have publicly defended Nawaz, leading figures have been noticeably reluctant to stick their necks out. It took almost a week before party leader Nick Clegg put out a statement, and then a relatively bland one, urging both sides to play nicely.
Such backsliding liberals need reminding of some basic points about liberalism, free speech and the giving of offence:
1 There is a right to free speech. There is no right not to be offended
People have the right to say what they wish, short of inciting violence, however offensive others may find it. Others have the right not to listen or to watch. Nobody has the right to be listened to. And nobody has the right not to be offended.
2 It is minority communities who most suffer from censorship
Many people argue that while free speech may be a good, it must necessarily be less free in a plural society. For diverse societies to function and to be fair, so the argument runs, we need to show respect not just for individuals but also for the cultures and beliefs in which those individuals are embedded and which helps give them a sense of identity and being. This requires that we police public discourse about those cultures and beliefs, both to minimise friction between antagonistic groups and to protect the dignity of those individuals embedded in them. As the sociologist Tariq Modood has put it, that ‘If people are to occupy the same political space without conflict, they mutually have to limit the extent to which they subject each others’ fundamental beliefs to criticism.’
In fact, it is precisely because we do live in a plural society that we need the fullest extension possible of free speech. In such a society, it is both inevitable and important that people offend the sensibilities of others. Inevitable, because where different beliefs are deeply held, clashes are unavoidable. Almost by definition such clashes express what it is to live in a diverse society. And so they should be openly resolved than suppressed in the name of ‘respect’ or ‘tolerance’.
But more than this: the giving of offence is not just inevitable, it is also important. Any kind of social change or social progress means offending some deeply held sensibilities. Or to put it another way: ‘You can’t say that!’ is all too often the response of those in power to having their power challenged. To accept that certain things cannot be said is to accept that certain forms of power cannot be challenged.
The notion of giving offence suggests that certain beliefs are so important or valuable to certain people that they should be put beyond the possibility of being insulted, or caricatured or even questioned. The importance of the principle of free speech is precisely that it provides a permanent challenge to the idea that some questions are beyond contention, and hence acts as a permanent challenge to authority. This is why free speech is essential not simply to the practice of democracy, but to the aspirations of those groups who may have been failed by the formal democratic processes; to those whose voices may have been silenced by racism, for instance. The real value of free speech, in other words, is not to those who possess power, but to those who want to challenge them. And the real value of censorship is to those who do not wish their authority to be challenged. Once we give up on the right to offend in the name of ‘tolerance’ or ‘respect’, we constrain our ability to challenge those in power, and therefore to challenge injustice.
3 What is often called offence to a community is actually a debate within that community
People often talk about ‘offence to a community’. More often than not what they actually mean is ‘debate within a community’. Some Muslims find the Jesus and Mo cartoons offensive. Other Muslims – Maajid Nawaz among them – do not. Some found The Satanic Verses offensive. Others did not. Some Sikhs found Behzti offensive. Others did not. It is because what is often called ‘offence to a community’ is in reality a ‘debate within a community’ that so many of the flashpoints over offensiveness have been over works produced by minority artists – Salman Rushdie, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, Hanif Kuresihi, Monica Ali, Sooreh Hera, Taslima Nasrin, MF Hussain, and so on.
The trouble is, that every time one of these controversies comes along only the conservative, reactionary figures are seen as the authentic voices of minority communities. So the critics of The Satanic Verses were seen as authenitic Muslims, but not Salman Rushdie. The campaigners against Behzti were seen as authentic Sikhs, but not Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti. And so on. Salman Rushdie and Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti (and Maajid Nawaz) are regarded as too Westernized, secular or progressive to be truly of their community. To be a proper Muslim, in other words, is to be offended by the Jesus and Mo cartoons or The Satanic Verses, to be a proper Sikh is to be offended by Behzti. The argument that offensive talk should be restrained is, then, both rooted in a stereotype of what it is to be an authentic Muslim or a Sikh and helps reinforce that stereotype. It plays into the racist view of minority communities. That is why it is important to challenge the campaign against Maajid Nawaz not simply as free speech campaigners but as anti-racist campaigners too.
4 There can be no freedom of religion without the freedom to offend
Freedom of worship is another form of freedom of expression – the freedom to believe as one likes about the divine and to assemble and enact rituals with respect to those beliefs. You cannot protect freedom of worship without protecting freedom of expression. Take, for instance, the Dutch populist politician Geert Wilders’ attempt to outlaw the Qur’an in Holland because it ‘promotes hatred’. Or the attempt by Transport for London to ban a Christian anti-gay poster because it is ‘offensive to gays’. Both Wilders and TfL are wrong, just as Channel 4 is wrong. Believers have as much right to offend liberal sensibilities as liberals have the right to offend religious ones. Freedom of speech requires that everyone has the right to cause offence. So does freedom of religion.
For more discussions on these themes see The Pleasure of Pluralism, The Pain of Offence, Why Hate Speech Should Not be Banned, On the Right to Satirise, Provoke and Be Downright Offensive, When Does Criticism of Islam Become Islamophobia? and The Cartoon View of the Authentic Muslim. And do check out the wonderful, irreverent Jesus and Mo website. My thanks to J&M for the cartoons here.
Channel 4 showed Mohammed as a black faceless blob – which is a perfect metaphor for how multi-culturalism.
Any individuality is suppressed in the name of a common cultural identity.
A very good article, but on the topic of the ex-gay bus-ad ban, he doesn’t consider the main problem. The ads weren’t merely offensive: they had potential to cause harm.
Thank you for this article. Kenan Malik you are a breath of fresh air!
An excellent post. But one thing gnaws at me a little. In prior instances where people have been offended, the debate has focused on threats – often violent – against the putative offender, or legal measures that would curb the speech in the first place. Each of these would prevent, whether by coercion or law, important types of expression.
In this particular case, the issue is primarily (though not exclusively) about a petition for de-selection, which is nether a violent threat nor a legal measure. Fine. We can still argue, reasonably, that the claimed ground for offence – depicting a cartoon – is absurdly mild.
But we are left with two possibilities: (1) our criticism should depend on some subjective measure of offensiveness, or (2) there are no circumstances whatsoever where we should call for a political figure to face electoral censure for something he/she has said.
Naturally, (1) is not an appealing course: the whole point of this post is that offence is critical to pluralism, and that even **legal and persuasive** measures to curb offence can be detrimental to that end. But if a politician were to propose, say, the internment of homosexuals or the disenfranchisement of women, would we be in the wrong to urge his de-selection or resignation, as distinct from merely withholding our support? If he make the propriety of urging de-selection or resignation conditional on the specific offence, then we run in to the same problems outlined in this post – how, for instance, to “legitimate” from “gratuitous” offence. But if we make this unconditionally improper, then we not inadvertently generate other constraints on political debate?
The cartoon in this case is indeed inoffensive – but the whole point here is that no-one, least of all the state, should be a powerful arbiter of offensiveness, and therefore does the cartoon’s inoffensiveness really enter into it? To put it another way, would Shafiq’s campaign have legitimacy were Nawaz to have said or written something that could not be characterised as “inoffensive”?
If this were just a call to boycott the Lib Dems if they didn’t deselect him then it wouldn’t be an issue but since the source of the protest is coming from a group with a history of violence who are drawing comparisons with the Mo Toons there’s an implicit threat against both Nawaz and other Muslims who fail to express appropriate feelings of ‘offence’.
SJ, I am not arguing that people don’t have the right to campaign for any PPC to be deselected (or for any public figure to face censure). Nor am I suggesting that the Liberal Democrats do not have the right to discipline Nawaz as they see fit under party rules. What I am arguing against is the content of the campaign. To suggest that giving offence should be unacceptable is corrosive not simply of free speech but of democracy too. Do we really want a society in which no political representative is allowed to offend anyone? As I pointed out, any pursuit of social progress requires the giving of offence. I would object to someone who advocates ‘the internment of homosexuals or the disenfranchisement of women’ not because they are ‘offensive’ but because I fundamentally disagree with their political stance.
Reblogged this on In The Gap Between Two Trapezes and commented:
Perfectly encapsulates why freedom of speech and the right to offend are interlinked for a forward thinking discourse about the future of multicultural society.
Conceptions of the good, rights, and basic values are plural and sometimes incompatible or even incommensurate so within a pluralist society there must be mechanisms for getting along with one another and a very good place to start is with secularism – denying any specific value system a hegemonic or leading position. Toleration is vital but it must be clear what is meant by this term. Toleration is not indifference nor is it a polite name for a shabby relativism. It may mean putting up with things that you do not support or believe but it certainly does not preclude or bar disagreement – indeed I believe that toleration requires that things not only are taken seriously but where necessary contested strenuously. Tolerance does not entail giving up the right to offend and so in this it is not the same as a respect agenda. It is possible to tolerate things that you do not respect (in fact you cannot actually tolerate something with which you agree).
Thanks for this. I thought the Channel 4 coverage was pathetic.
This fawning view of Majid Nawaz contrasts nicely with the description of Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala as a “bigot”. The pro-forma lip service defense of Dieudonné’s “free speech rights” is accompanied by the usual politically correct disclaimers distancing yourself from his views while an opportunistic grifter and shyster like Nawaz escapes the same treatment and is laughably lionized as “free speech” hero.
Using your own logic, I could turn around and say that it is Dieudonné who is the free speech hero who is merely sparking a debate about “political correctness” and the “acceptable limits of debate” and is being unfairly hounded by sanctimonious and hypocritical pricks like Manuel Valls and Bernard-Henri Lévy (Both of whom were predictably singing a different tune with regard to “Mohammed Cartoons”), who are only cynically exploiting the ‘quenelle’ issue as an excuse for their own self aggrandizing agenda. Dieudonné should apparently be celebrated for so thoroughly exposing their base hypocrisy and blatant double standards with regards to their hyperconcern about supposed “antisemitism” compared to bigotries directed at less politically powerful and more unpopular minorities. Thus, instead of letting the debate play out you have already taken sides with the politically correct censors by dubbing him a “bigot” without question and therefore outside the bounds of normal discourse. Instead of taking sides, you should have just reported the facts and let people come to their own conclusion without telling them what to think. For shame!
Oh, and if Majid is feeling down about people exercising their “free speech” rights to campaign against his political candidacy, he needn’t worry; He can always leave the sinking ship of the Lib Dems for fresh horizons. There’s he UKIP, the BNP, or he could even form his own party with his good mates Tommy Robinson and Kevin Carrol. They can call it the QuillEDL party.
Wouldn’t the two be more similar if Dieudonné were Jewish?
You can compare Nawaz to Gilad Atzmon if you like. see how many people are ling up to declare him a “free speech” warrior.
Can you point to specific views of Nawaz that are bigoted in a similar manner to Atzmon? Has he called for the burning of mosques? Has he claimed that the narrative of Muslim abuse in the UK is untrue? I frankly can’t see the parallels you claim.
Dieudonné is a wannabe Nazi but if he was as as fearless as you think he is he’d do real Nazi salutes.
As it is he just does cowardly half-salutes.
TeC15, I’m afraid I’m at a loss as to know where I ‘fawned’ over Nawaz. I have all manner of political differences with him. What Nawaz is not, however, is a bigot in the way that Dieudonné is. If you cannot recognise Dieudonné’s anti-Semitism, that’s your problem, not mine.
I am being perfectly consistent here. My point is that whatever are people’s political views, however much I might disagree with them, and whether or not I think they are bigots, I will defend their freedom of expression. Equally, even as I defend their right to free speech, I will also challenge their bigotry. Indeed, as I argued many times, it is incumbent on those who argue for free speech to also challenge racism and bigotry. It is a pity that those who wish to lionise Dieudonné and limit Nawaz’s right to free speech are not equally consistent.
“I am being perfectly consistent here.” – Nope. “What Nawaz is not, however, is a bigot in the way that Dieudonné is.”- he’s a “different” kind off bigot, more respectable and presentable to the powers that be, but a bigot all the same. Funny that you have no qualms about dubbing Dieudonné a bigot, but go out of your way to avoid impugning any sort of bigotry on the part of the execrable Sam Harris, considering that latter’s statements regarding Muslims are as bad or arguably much worse than anything Dieudonné’s done. You have also preemptively cleared Nawaz of any charges of bigotry, when it’s by no means settled and part of an ongoing discussion. In effect you have already injected yourself into the debate and already decided it’s result, something that you accuse Channel 4 of being guilty of. “it is incumbent on those who argue for free speech to also challenge racism and bigotry”- Nice idea in theory, but you don’t apply it anywhere near consistently, so functionally worthless.
“It is a pity that those who wish to lionise Dieudonné and limit Nawaz’s right to free speech are not equally consistent.” You appear to have (mendaciously) taken my devil’s advocacy for a wish to “lionize” anyone, but nope. Also how am I trying to limit Nawaz’s “free speech”? I didn’t realize that “free speech” meant people like Nawaz were forever immune from anyone mobilizing to challenge their political candidacy. Politicians are challenged for things they say or do all the time- get over it. As I said, if Nawaz finds it troubling he can always defect to a party that has even less consideration for the public opinion of Muslims than the LibDems, like the UKIP, the BNP, etc.
You have a strange notion of bigotry. Be that as it may, my point is that whether or not you consider someone a bigot, they should have the right to free speech. As I pointed out in response to SJ above, I am not arguing that people don’t have the right to campaign for any PPC to be deselected (or for any public figure to face censure). Nor am I suggesting that the Liberal Democrats do not have the right to discipline Nawaz as they see fit under party rules. What I am arguing against is the content of the anti-Nawaz campaign and petition. To suggest that the giving of offence should be unacceptable is corrosive not simply of free speech but of democracy too.
Your comparison between my stance and what I demand of Channel 4 is inane. Of course I ‘have already injected [myself] into the debate’. That is the whole point of this post and this blog. I am not Channel 4 News. I am not reporting this case; I am giving my opinion. Challenge that opinion if you wish, but you seem more interested in trying to score (untenable) rhetorical points.
“I am not arguing that people don’t have the right to campaign for any PPC to be deselected (or for any public figure to face censure). Nor am I suggesting that the Liberal Democrats do not have the right to discipline Nawaz as they see fit under party rules.”
Really? Good to know, but nothing of that sort was apparent in your missive which instead whined about “the pusillanimity of many so-called liberals”, and the “spinelessness” of the LibDems alleged “failure” to stand by Nawaz. None of those sentiments implied a belief that Nawaz could (or should) be disciplined by party rules under any circumstances or that the petition against him could in anyway be justified. Indeed you cast the people allegedly behind the petition as cynical censors trying to bully poor old, virtuous and blameless Majid Nawaz and take away his sacred “free speech” rights. Only now have you even oh-so graciously conceded that they are “allowed” to campaign for the deselection and censure of a politician like Nawaz. A far cry from the black and white “battle for free speech” that you initially painted it as with wooly headed useful idiots failing to stand up for the “free speech” rights of one of the token “good ones” against the vile Mahomatan Hordes. Indeed, some of the links you provide (Such as the one to LibDems supportive of Nawaz) contain contributions from NSS staffers which imply that the petitions and attempts at censure are in toto illegitimate and supposedly a grave threat to “free speech” rather than something people are fully entitled to do.
So, you assume that I mean something that I have not suggested, and based solely on your assumption criticise me for something that I have not said. As you have mentioned Dieudonné and Gilad Atzmon in your previous comments without explicitly denouncing Holacaust denial, by your logic I can therefore assume that you are a Holocaust denier and take you up on that?
You again seem unable, or unwilling, to understand that it is quite possible to defend the right of people to say or do something, while also challenging what they actually say or do; that it is quite possible to defend the right of people to campaign against Maajid Nawaz while also opposing the content of that campaign. You seem unable to understand, too, that one can oppose the campaign against Nawaz without necessarily agreeing with Nawaz’s politics. And only you could interpret my argument that there is a plurality of views within Muslim communities and that “what is often called ‘offence to a community’ is in reality a ‘debate within a community’” to be an attack ‘against the vile Mahomatan Hordes’. As I have already suggested you seem more interested in making stale rhetorical points, and in willfully caricaturing arguments, than in debating anything substantial; perhaps because there is nothing substantial that you can say in defence of your stance. Be that as it may, it’s getting tiresome.
It continually amazes me that some people think their own stupidity is a trump card.
‘On the importance of the right to offend’ – well said. Of course Galileo made some incredibly offensive remarks, as did Darwin. If the lefto-fascists get their way, we’re all off back to the Dark Ages. Or a world-wide amalgam of North Korea & Saudi Arabia, with the lefto-fascists in the controlling politburo of course. Funnily enough, Muhammad made the most deliberately offensive remarks of all historical figures in his Koran. For examples of his explicit religious insults and hatred (my caps):
Koran 5.72 They do BLASPHEME who say: “Allah is Christ the son of Mary”
5.73 THEY DO BLASPHEME who say: Allah is one of three in a Trinity… verily A GRIEVOUS PENALTY will befall the blasphemers
9.30 And the Jews say: Ezra is the son of Allah, and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah…ALLAH (Himself) FIGHTETH AGAINST THEM. How PERVERSE ARE THEY!
3.151 We shall cast TERROR into the hearts of those who disbelieve because they ascribe unto Allah PARTNERS [partners as mentioned above in 9.30]
9.29 FIGHT THOSE those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.
98.6 Those who reject (Truth), among the People of the Book and among the Polytheists..are the WORST of creatures
4.160 For the WICKEDNESS of the JEWS We made unlawful for them certain (foods)..
Etc etc etc… Now imagine these verses with Muslims as the target & see the insult, and the hatred. Imagine for example a group publicly preaching something similar to Koran 5.72 & 73: “They do blaspheme who claim Muhammad was a prophet. Verily a grievous penalty will befall them”. Or as with 9.29 “Fight those Muslims who do not believe in Christ, until they are subdued” etc.
If all offensive and insulting speech must be censored or destroyed, Muhammad’s Koran is clearly the first cab off the rank. But even in a free society, the Koran clearly fails the value you cite of “People have the right to say what they wish, SHORT OF INCITING VIOLENCE, however offensive others may find it.” In any case, to begin with, we must focus on destroying the power of those who would stop any of us speaking frankly – e.g. the goons running Channel 4, et al.
So, are you saying it was what you call lefto-fascists who opposed or encouraged Galileo and Darwin?
It seems an odd – if not downright idiotic – term you are using.
Historically, it is people on the left and centre of the political spectrum who have opposed fascism.
People historically on the right of the political spectrum opposed scientific thinking from people like Galileo and Darwin.
Do please get your historical facts right !!
Regrettably, Channel 4 seem to be doing anything in the chase for ratings and advertising. The fact that their “The Jump” programme is being sponsored by Sodastream – whose main factory is inside militarily occupied Palestinian territory – says it all for me. No doubt, they will be running paid Scarlett Johansson ads for Sodastream as a reward for their immoral and unethical stance today. Politicians use contemporary issues to wage power struggles against one another; so what is new?
Thank you for you post, I come from Australia, so I am unaware of the incidents you write about, nor the people involved. But I am interested in your argument about the right to offend as a core tenant of Free Speech. In Australia we currently have the Commonwealth Government seeking to overturn Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act as they argue that Human Rights Commission has gone too far in inhibiting free speech. I, and many others do not agree with them, and are seeking to have this part of the Act preserved. I am attempting to apply the arguments in your post to our situation here in Australia and I am unable to accept your thesis. Firstly, the assumption that we live in a pluralist society is surely mute, when, while I agree there are many competing interest groups, the structural inequality of those groups means that inevitably it is minority groups who are most disadvantaged by the free speech of the powerful. Secondly, I absolutely acknowledge your observation that “offence to a community” is “debate within a community”. As I write, my head is nodding yes, yes, this is so right. But once again, in Australia, in particular Indigenous people and our issues are in many ways prey to the voyeristic gaze of the powerful mainstream media. It’s their influence, particularly that of the Murdoch owned News Limited, which I would argue detrimentally influences government policy and shapes the opinion of the nation. There are very few opportunities, where minority groups can have free, frank and open discussion without the gaze from outside – the hinders our expression, we self-censor regularly or in the least, we wait until it’s safe to discuss it within the community only. I understand the spirit of your argument, and it is valuable to read about similar debates in other jurisdictions, and in a perfect world, I could agree. However when you’re only a small percentage of the population, Whiteness’s Right To Offend, is truly not something that I, and many others can accept.
Leesa: I do not believe bringing racism into this debate – in the form of so-called “Whiteness” – is a good idea.
The whole idea of a tolerant society is to safeguard the rights of all, including minorities. I am a humanist but I accept the idea of religiously motivated individuals being able to express their ideas in public. What is not tolerable is when anyone uses such a right to advocate hatred and violence against others, particularly when those others are a minority.
The idea of holding debates exclusively within a community is not a good idea either, as it leaves them not open to intellectual challenge and can create an atmosphere of unreality. We are all capable of understanding historic rights and wrongs these days. It is now not an uncommon sight to see politicians making apologies to communities for wrongs committed in the past. I think you need to consider more carefully just what your current right-wing government truly intends with its changes in the law against racial discrimination. It seems to me that they are trying to move the hands of time back towards what they and their more extreme followers consider to be some sort of halcyonic golden era, which never actually existed. Be careful what you wish for and always remember the “law” of unintended consequences !!!
Leesa, it is true that there are ‘structural inequalities’ in society. The question is: does censorship help overcome such inequalities? The answer is no.
First, because the main victims of any restrictions on liberties are not the powerful, but those with least power, and those seeking to challenge those with power. Since I know of Australia only from the outside, let me provide some examples from Britain. The 1936 Public Order Act, for instance, brought ostensibly to stop Moseley’s Blackshirts, became in the 1970s and 1980s an invaluable tool for the state against anti-racist demonstrators and strikers. It was extensively used against the miners during 1984/85 strike. The first person to be charged and imprisoned under the incitement to racial hatred clause of the 1965 Race Relations Act was the Trinidadian Black Power leader Michael X. A review in 2002 suggested that a disproportionate number of people charged under the act were from minority communities. A series of Muslim protestors and Islamist speakers have, in the last few years, been jailed for ‘inciting racial hatred’. In 2007 Mizanur Rahman, Umran Javed and Abdul Muhid were sentenced to six years imprisonment for ‘inciting racial hatred’ and ‘soliciting murder’ after taking part in a rally in London against the publications of the Danish cartoons. They had been chanting ‘bomb, bomb Denmark’ and ‘Annihilate those who insult Islam’. The point is not that I agree with any of these people. I don’t. The point is that once we allow the state to restrict liberties, or to define what is and is not acceptable speech, then it will not be the Murdoch press that primarily suffers.
Second, suppressing free speech will not rid the world of bigotry. Censoring ugly ideas does not make them go away. Bans, rather, are a means of abrogating our responsibility for dealing with such ideas. Rather than challenging hateful or bigoted ideas, or engage with the concerns of those who might be drawn to them, too many people today prefer today simply to ban that which is deemed unacceptable. That is simply to let such sentiments fester underground.
Finally, the issue is not, as you seem to suggest in posing it as ‘Whiteness’s Right To Offend’, one of whites vs minorities. It is an issue of those fighting injustice against those perpetrating such injustice. The latter are not just whites. The former are not just non-whites. We cannot challenge injustice by allowing those in power, whether whites or not, to define what is and is not acceptable speech, and what ideas and beliefs may or may not be challenged.