Of Course You Can, Except When You Can’t
Back to the real world, where cartoons ‘are’ representations of Mohammed – some depressing oxymoronism from Jack Straw. Of course we respect free speech, but you can’t say that; of course everyone has a right to free speech, but no one can insult religion. Well which is it, bub? It ain’t both! I’m not a free speech absolutist, as I’ve said many times, but this idea that free speech is okay as long as it doesn’t offend anyone is sheer jam tomorrow. If we can’t say anything that might offend someone, our speech is pretty damn restricted, isn’t it!
Speaking after talks with the Sudanese foreign minister, Mr Straw said: “There is freedom of speech, we all respect that. But there is not any obligation to insult or to be gratuitously inflammatory. I believe that the republication of these cartoons has been insulting, it has been insensitive, it has been disrespectful and it has been wrong. There are taboos in every religion. It is not the case that there is open season in respect of all aspects of Christian rites and rituals in the name of free speech.
Oh? Really? What does he mean? That it’s illegal to say ‘offensive’ things about some aspects of Christian rites and rituals? (Perhaps he’s thinking of the dear blasphemy law.) Does he mean that if one says ‘offensive’ things about some aspects of Christian rites and rituals, the result will be violent riots and death threats, and that that’s a good thing? If neither of those, what does he mean? What, exactly, does he mean?
Nor is it the case that there is open season in respect of rights and rituals of the Jewish religion, the Hindu religion, the Sikh religion. It should not be the case in respect of the Islamic religion either. We have to be very careful about showing the proper respect in this situation.
Do we? Why? And why doesn’t that work the other way? Why don’t people who want to prevent free speech on the subject of religion have to be very careful about showing the proper respect for our beliefs? Because we don’t chant ‘”7/7 is on its way” while also waving placards and burning flags, during a march through London to the Danish, French and German embassies’? Because we don’t threaten to blow up 57 random people as revenge for our feeling offended?
More bullying oxymoronism, this sample from Bunglawala.
UK Muslims have denied that the reaction to the cartoons’ reproduction has been a threat to freedom of speech. It was a “question of exercising good judgement”, said Inayat Bunglawala, from the Muslim Council of Britain…”Of course Europe has the right to freedom of speech, and of course newspapers have the right to publish offensive cartoons. This was really a question about exercising good judgment,” he said. “Knowing full well the nature of these cartoons, they were offensive, deeply offensive to millions of Muslims, these newspaper editors should have exercised better judgment.”
But of course Europe has the right to freedom of speech, and of course the reaction to the cartoons is not a threat to freedom of speech. How silly! Of course you can have your pesky freedom of speech! You just can’t say anything we don’t like, that’s all! What is the big stinking deal?
That is a really massively irritating trope – that saying you can have free speech and then instantly saying the opposite, in the very same breath. At leas they could have the honesty to say what they mean – ‘No, you can’t have free speech, because you say things we don’t like, so you have to shut up. And shut up about your free speech, too.’
I’ve had exactly the same thought Mediawatchwatch has had – remembering Stephen Fry at the Hay Festival last summer, talking with Hitchens, talking about the two words that have taken on a creepy resonance (and I knew what they were before he said them), ‘offended’ and ‘respect’. And I can hear him saying what Mediawatchwatch quotes him saying – ‘So you’re offended. So fucking what?’