And what we can do about the tyranny.
A number of books have been written recently about how the new online world has, no surprise, turned into a haven for tyranny. In the past, Western societies sometimes censored books thought to harm popular culture. Today, under new secular rulers, a vast variety of communication is censured or censored on university campuses because it does not reliably lead to a progressive point of view.
So, far from hearing that students are taught to engage in reasoned debate, we hear about trigger warnings, microaggressions, and very small acceptable “free speech” zones (sometimes arbitrarily removed) on university campuses. Just read this twisted explanation of why pro life ads are not allowed on a university campus, and you will get the picture.
Now, I’d be the first to agree that many issues arise with respect to what is taught to minors in compulsory, tax-funded school systems. But that is a special case.
In adult society, on or off campus, freedom of speech means the right to offend people. I am always told, as a Christian, to “be winsome.” The problem is, all important speech acts offend someone; otherwise, there would be no occasion for such acts.
To understand controversies today over, say drawing Mohammed or criticizing Islam, we should begin by asking, are we still allowed to criticize a point of view? Many Muslims believe that no “unbeliever” has the right to criticize Islam. Or that no one may depict its Prophet. Accepting such concerns as legitimate in a country that is not a Muslim theocracy has been called, legitimately in my view, creeping Sharia. That is, it amounts to the de facto adoption of the assumptions, values and beliefs of an Islamic culture in a country whose legal culture was shaped by quite different views.
And what about the rights of the many people raised in a Muslim tradition, who have moved to non-majority Muslim countries, and no longer identify with or wish to follow a demand for violence if Muslim beliefs are insulted. In my own Canadian province, Ontario, Muslim women rejected the application of sharia a decade ago.
They absolutely rejected it. They liked English Common Law. Am I to assume they are not good Muslims?
I wouldn’t go to see any of it, but—standing on my rights as a citizen of a free society—I also would not engage in illegal activities to prevent it. Those artist got their chance to cavort in public, and now we see what they themselves are. Period.
The controversy between that shared worldview and a different one resulted in the Charlie Hebdo massacre and the thwarted Garland, Texas, massacre. It has grave implications for free speech. Surprising numbers of traditional media have taken the view that one ought not to offend the self-described defenders of a religion, no matter what.
One book that has resulted from the conflict is worth noting: The Tyranny of Silence by Dane Flemming Rose, who defended his newspaper’s decision to print images of Mohammed. The Economist listed The Tyranny of Silence as one of the best books of 2014. Here’s an interview with Rose, and here is a free excerpt from the book.
Canadians like myself have suffered much from fear of retribution.
Not retribution from Islamists but from government minders who would not hesitate to sacrifice our civil liberties in order to keep the peace with aggressive individuals with little respect for the views of others. See, for example, Shakedown and Tyranny of Nice.
That is where we must start. Disinfect the right to be angry about the loss of our civil liberty to complain about aggression from government minders and their endlessly aggrieved clients.
Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger.