All religious leaders condemned the assassination of the staff at the great French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, France’s Private Eye. I remember, however, that in wake of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, religious leaders warned against hurting people’s feelings. In my submission to the House of Lords Committee considering proposals for strengthening blasphemy laws, I quoted the wise old nursery rhyme, Sticks and stones/may break my bones/but names will never hurt me. This was the drift of the majority of submissions, and the proposal for strengthening the blasphemy laws never got anywhere, but offending somebody’s feelings had become a heinous offense just the same. Jeremy Clarkson nearly lost his job at the BBC because he was thought to use an offensive word –and the examples are many. Wasn’t a student arrested after a demonstration because he made an offensive comment to a mounted policeman?
The infantilization of Western societies continues apace. People who proclaim their support for free speech, but at the same time condemn the use of offensive words, of hurting people’s feelings in any way, are among the greatest enemies of free speech and add to the infantile atmosphere in which crazed individuals resort to murder because their beliefs were insulted. We live in a pluralistic society where people believe in different things and are touchy about different things. Hardly a day goes by without my feelings being deeply hurt, but that’s the price I am willing to pay for freedom of speech. There can be no serious discussion on any subject if we must restrain ourselves from offending anybody. The media could do a lot to restore sanity.