Friday, November 19, 2004

Just because you're offended does not mean you can kill someone

A particularly horrific passage from The Spectator:
In a sickening essay, Rohan Jayasekera.... blamed van Gogh for his own murder. He wrote that the film-maker was guilty of ‘an abuse of his right to free speech’, his ritual slaughter was ‘his very own martyrdom operation’ and we should ‘applaud Theo van Gogh’s death as the marvellous piece of theatre it was’.
Mr. Jayasekera is the associate director of Index on Censorship -- a group which supposedly defends freedom of speech. The organization has defended Jayasekera, saying that his piece argued "that sometimes free speech has to be limited by our responsibilities – and it castigated Van Gogh for his failure to recognise that. He did so robustly and in a style that was, inevitably, not to everyone’s taste."
Even if you agree that freedom of speech does sometimes have to be curtailed, Van Gogh's movie -- which was pointing out the abuse of women in Muslim society -- was not one of those cases.
His real crime was to have offended Muslims. But as my father-in-law once wrote, "The liberty to cause offence, even outrage, is precisely what freedom of speech is about. It presumes the right to be wrong."
In any case, Jayasekera did not merely argue that Van Gogh has abused his right of free speech, as his defenders claim. He actually defended murder, and seemed to relish it. It would be interesting to see how he would have responded had the makers of The Last Temptation of Christ or Life of Brian had been hacked to death for offending Christians. If people like him are placing the importance of not offending Muslims above free speech, and above the responsibility not to murder, what hope do the democracies of the West have?

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