So the Southern Poverty Law Center have now declared that everyone must submit to Islamic rules about blasphemy, and that if one does not then one is an “anti-Muslim extremist”. How have we come to this? How can it be that those who think that participation in a religion should be a free choice, and that we should not be obliged to submit to the rules and diktats of someone else’s religion, are now regarded as “extremists”?
It used to be the case that “free speech” included the right to speak in ways that upset people. The point was often made that speech that upsets no-one does not need protection; it is only speech that someone else does not want you to say that needs support from the fundamental principle that in a free society we need to be able to speak our mind and criticize others.
But no, “free speech” now has clear limits. If someone else is at all upset by anything you say, then you are making them “feel unsafe”, and making them feel unsafe is an act of violence. And if you want to pursue your speech down that road, then you are an extremist, the sort of person whom the Southern Poverty Law Center was set up to oppose. Continue reading
Free speech is increasingly under attack. We in the West thought that the issue had long been settled, but it is being reopened by those arguing that free speech must be used “responsibly”, and that it must be tensioned against the feelings of anyone who might be offended.
Such notions would, of course, negate free speech. Anyone could censor anything by claiming they were offended. And who gets to decide what is “responsible” speech? Clearly Martin Luther was irresponsible in nailing ninety-five theses to the door of a church in Wittenberg, given that they attacked the Catholic Church which had provided leadership and stability through all of Christendom. And clearly William Wilberforce was highly irresponsible to start attacking the system of slavery which underpinned the whole economic system.
The fashion for denigrating free speech is typified by a blog article by Ben Ryan, a researcher for the Theos think tank. Headed “Your unfunny t-shirts are not the answer”, it starts:
A blog was recently drawn to my attention by one Dr Chris Moos that tries to paint the LSE Director Professor Craig Calhoun as a “faith warrior”. By deigning to argue that religion ought to be taken more seriously in academia in a range of different subjects as an overlooked cause Calhoun is displaying some sort of scary Christian zeal (apparently).
Well that’s rather pompous writing. And the word “deigning” doesn’t mean what Ryan seems to think it does. And the grammar is wrong (the blog post was not drawn to his attention by Chris Moos, the post was written by Chris Moos). OK, maybe it’s bad form to attack the writer, rather than his ideas, but people who are so ready to give up principles of free speech rather annoy me, given how central the right to criticise is to the Western way of life. Continue reading
This article was written for the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science and is reproduced here
What is it about the decision by Channel 4 News to censor a Jesus and Mo cartoon that makes it wrong? In essence the decision is wrong because it implies that the request that no depiction of Mohammad be shown is a reasonable one, whereas by all normal standards of the secular West the request is totally unreasonable.
You are likely familiar with the story, of how students at the London School of Economics advertised their Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society by wearing T-shirts that are utterly innocuous in their content, save that they depict the prophet Mohammad. The LSE demanded that the T-shirts be covered up but subsequently apologised for their heavy-handed action.
The issue featured on the BBC’s The Big Questions leading to the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate Maajid Nawaz, a Muslim, tweeting the cartoon and stating that he was not offended by it. Less tolerant Muslims are now calling for his deselection and even threatening his life. In the resulting publicity Channel 4 News showed the cartoon but censored it owing to the “offence” it might cause, while the BBC’s Newsnight refused to show it at all. Continue reading