...because to assert that free speech is a licence to offend is to imply that a licence is needed.
Each of us is sovereign of ourselves. The State, and its law, is our servant. Australian’s need no licence to speak. Sometimes it is necessary to offend. The amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act should be supported because it must be re-made legal for me to offend, say, that it is wrong for religious groups to circumcise girls, or to aim to keep half their subject community, women, enslaved in their home..
In Australia you get in line to have your tribal beliefs scrutinised. Civility and respect for one another is important. But, if you don’t want your church to be ridiculed as child abusing then make sure your clerics don’t abuse children. If suicide bombers believe they will be rewarded by virgins in heaven and you can’t make fun of that, what can you make fun of?
Statements that exacerbate bigotry and racism are not OK. We should not say anything, anytime, anywhere. There is a boundary of prudence and wisdom. Where is the boundary? Not where cartoons hurt the feelings? No thank you.
The Danish cartoon of Mohamed, with a bomb in his turban, a sword in his hand and a menacing look on his face was going nowhere until magnified by outrage, by the creation of false cartoons and propaganda, to inflame people to kill to silence free speech.
If hurt feelings, or being offended, is the test then I am offended by the implication that free speech needs a licence to offend, that there is someone who has the right to issue licences about what can and can’t be said.
Outrageousness in the pursuit of political and social discourse is inherently subjective. Those who are outraged can respond with the same tool – free speech. It is ok to, maybe even a duty to, demonstrate that bigots say stupid things.
Words do have consequences. They can be weaponised. Should they not be spoken? Maybe. But how does it avail the cause of civilisation to fight for democracy with silence? By silencing dissent? Why is it ok for people who have commented in way unacceptable to some religion to have to live under police protection and stay silent?
Where words are intended to stop peoples participation in society by reducing their self or public worth, Should they not be spoken? Probably not in the workplace, no free slagging of women in the male work environment, not in the street either, no free slagging of women wearing burkas. No rights to insult indigenous Aussies for the sake of it.
Who decides? Who do you appoint? Who have you heard of in history who can decide for us all where the line is? Does Islam respect my right to unbelief? Of course it doesn’t . Does it respect the right of a muslim to change belief? Of course it doesn’t. That is already a risky thing to say or do in a lot of places.
In Rwanda the State in power, while inciting viscous attacks and murders, silenced and censored those who promoted commity of the two sides because they were “offensive”. So who decides? I have had enough of people who respond to a defenceless argument with “I am offended by that.” “So What!” is the proper response. But of course they are offended by that as well.
We become prisoners of our own opinions if we deny ourselves the knowledge that may change them. I am big enough to read peoples bigoted and racist statements and make up my own mind about it. I don’t need someone to stop me reading it or hearing it or to do it for me. It may well be lawful for them to bigots and racists, I do not have to like it.
If we forbid someone from saying truly what’s on their mind we won’t know what’s on their mind. By finding out what it is then we can deal with it. We need the capacity to observe the reality of bigotry and rascism to be able to contend with it.
I may well want to march in the street one day to support aboriginal rights and march the next day to support Andrew Bolt’s right to criticise them. Humans can be robust. We can dispute and discuss ideas.
We can learn from calling each other names but by calling for a restriction on the right to free speech for others you can be sure that one day it will happen to you.
There is a right time, a right environment, and the right words with which to present facts and arguments that some may want to call offensive.
The amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act seek to: re-open public debate, to restore balance, to make it ok, to make it not a criminal offence, to properly canvass each and all and every issue “...in the course of participating in the public discussion of any political, social, cultural, artistic, academic or scientific matter...”.
I agree with them. Don’t be offended. Respond.