Monday, February 27, 2006

Dutch Loony Tunes around Cartoons

In all the commotion around the cartoons in the Netherlands there has been some debate around the right to offend. Suprisingly the discussion hardly ever went so far as to take into account what the results of discarding the right to offend would entail.

Muslims and people of the Christian tradition pointed out that offending points of view should not be voiced publicly because it was unneccesary, disrespectful of other people's views and it could be harmful to relations between different groups. In these cases self-censorship was the way to go, if forbidding it by law was impossible.

First, let me state that self-censorship does not really exist. It's like positive discrimination. Positive discrimination is discriminating negatively at the same time, it just refers to the other group. You cannot do one without the other. 'Self-censorship' only exists if one feels one should not anger others because of the repurcusions it might have. If I wanted to mock someone publicly, but I don't, it's probably because of fear of what might happen if I do. Otherwise, what is the point of restraining myself?
I do not generally discredit muslims, christians, people with red hair or women who wear leggings. Why is that? Because I fear the wrath of muslims, christians, redheads or women who ... ? Or is it because I feel a muslim or a christian or a redhead or ... is no less a human than I am?
If I feel the need to make a point I make it. That is it. Self-censorship cannot be self-induced.

In all the discussions I followed in the press and on TV, everytime people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Geert Wilders and journalists with guts were asked why they felt the need to defend the right to offend they were attacked as being without morals, claimed 'unsocial' and far worse. The accusers as so often claimed the moral highground which of course is the end of any discussion. What amazed me was that nobody explained that defending the right to offend is not the same as calling for people to offend.

Futhermore, defenders of free speech failed to point out that if you lose the ability to offend, freedom of speech is lost right then and there. It's not some gradual slope, with a bit less freedom of speech if you're not allowed to offend. I'm not saying this will feel so for everyone. Everybody who has similar opinions as the current general public, will not feel any loss of freedom at all. But people on either side of spectrum will. Freedom of speech does not exist if it is not for all. You should never add Marcus Bakker's qualifications to it: all is all there is to it.

The stupid thing about offending is that there is no working definition for a judge to ascertain how to rule. To be offended is in the eye of the beholder. It's not something someone else, not even a judge, can assess (1). As such this should not ever be something which one could be sentenced for. If I become a muslim tomorrow, then from tomorrow onwards I could hold what someone says about Muhammed as an offence, although until today I wouldn't be offended. This makes it a neat trick for anyone to use it for their own purposes. If a rule of law becomes a stick to hit someone, instead of protecting them, you know something is amiss.

Outlawing the possibility to offend others is ridiculous and leads us to madness.

  1. There is a difference with slander. If I discredit someone, this can be shown, for example if I say someone is a pedofile, but there is no proof of such, and it results in people taking matters in one's own hands.
  2. Something else: Last friday a dutch entrepeneur launched a website where he sells T-shirts with one of the Muhammed cartoons on it, with the text: "I hate violence". Strange enough the website is unavailable for hours now, giving an server error that the page is forbidden. Is it censored?


Kleinverzet said...

The question is not what the limits on free speech are. The question is to what extent the West will allow those limits to be imposed by outside parties. To what extent it'll give in to violence and extortion. To what extent it is willing to sell out essential freedom for a little temporary security.

We've had van Gogh, we've had the Danish cartoons. Overviewing the general reaction in the world to both events, the answer to those questions is quite frightening.

Snouck said...

Herr Winn:
"To what extent it is willing to sell out essential freedom for a little temporary security."

Rights that are not challenged for a long time become dormant. Because we European had it so easy for a long time we let our rights go dormant. Now under challenge we are waking up. The future will show if we are strong enough and wise enough to chart a sound course.

"Life was easy, when it was boring". It is our privilege to live in times becoming increasingly entertaining. Let us enjoy it, rather than grouse about it.

Btw, I checked your blog and it looks really nice. Thanks for your comments!

Kleinverzet said...

Btw, I checked your blog and it looks really nice. Thanks for your comments!

Dank je. En geen dank