Friday, 14 May 2010

08 June 2010: 'The Right to Offend?'

Sticks and Stones Do we have a right to be protected from those who would offend our values, or is it our right to free speech that matters?

Tim Black from Spiked Online visits from London to passionately defend freedom of speech. He argues that, for a democracy to thrive, for ideas to be thoroughly and rigorously debated, there can be no right to freedom from offence. He believes that no value or idea, if it is to be worth anything, should be beyond questioning, no matter how offended some might be. To claim offence, as it stands right now, simply closes down debate.

He is challenged by local lass, Fakhara Rehman who is coordinator for The Kirklees Faith Forum. Fakhara urges caution and says that with the right to freedom of speech comes responsibility. She suggests that the media shapes our view of the world - what we 'know' about current affairs and what's going on in the world is through the news. But is the news really a source of information? Or is it a manipulation tool and we’re not really as free in our minds as we think we are?

Enough to get you started? Come and join us for a lively debate!

Refreshments available.


Mark Harrop said...

This was an unusual discussion with both speakers claiming to defend the right to Free Speech. Farakah Rehman, though, maintained from the outset that such a right also puts great responsibility upon those speaking not to be offensive.

It was an unusual discussion mostly because Rehman's bearing - seemingly a devout muslim, evident throughout with mentions of Allah or Mohammed followed by 'Praise be upon him', etc - shaped the discussion more than it should. Perhaps a salon discussion on Identity would be beneficial.

Sp!ked's Tim Black gave a more rounded contribution although given the prevalence of 'The Muslim Question' in wider society and his 'opponent' on the panel then any mention of such was noted, this as much that Farakah Rehman challenged him in the break that his contribution was '80% against Islam' (or words very much to that effect). In these circumstances it was difficult to move onto more open ground although Black certainly made the attempt.

Black mentioned that significant changes in society have occurred mostly in the face of convention and outspoken thinkers such as Voltaire spent much of their time on the run and in fear for their lives from those who didn't want their worldview (or, lack of) challenging. Despite the salon audience being some 80% non-muslim and, I assume, largely agnostic if not atheist, then Rehman's utterances were challenged in genteel fashion - one audience member who was offended by Rehman's views practically apologetic for being so.

Of course, no mention of the right to free speech passes without mention of the BNP and denying them the oxygen of publicity. Yet the BNP largely rely on not getting an airing and when done so their view hardly sways a critical audience. I was able to be quite scathing of the BNP even though upholding their right to speak - 'safe' to speak out as, assumedly, there were none present.
It was more difficult to have a go at our muslim friends for their views but this salon was not about particular cultural differences and that discussion, though necessary, was not the agenda. Looking back, I was offended by Rehman's remark that the problems of society are due to rampant individualism; our needs, wants and the trends we follow rather than socio-economic circumstances; that we should be chaste, in obeyance to a god or allah.

Chairing, Adrian Sinclair asked the audience who would make jokes about, say, the holocaust before mentioning that amongst 'the jewish community' such jokes are rife - gallows humour abounds. I stated I would, though would choose the circumstances, further mentioning that my brother and I tell the most obscene, nasty and degraded jokes amongst ourselves. This seemed to bring a knowing chuckle from the audience - including Farakah Rehman.

Cruel jokes aside, it would seem that there are many things we talk about more openly in private settings than we do publicly - perhaps avoiding airing our concerns for not appearing as we feel we should or even saying near the opposite so as to fit in with the crowd. This has problems throughout society as we are expected to conform to type and not challenge the dominant view - a duty to support our troops, be subject to a monarchy or, more so these days, not to upset the Environmentalist bandwagon, etc.

An assumption then that society is not made up of individuals with differing views and tastes but rather one of staid conformity.

Mark Harrop.

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