The right to free speech or the right to freely offend and insult?

While I am busy bemoaning the use of sexist language that derides women, (see previous post) the rest of the world is busy working itself into a frenzy following Penguin Books India’s decision to recall Wendy Doniger’s book ‘The Hindus: An alternative history’.

Vishal mentioned this on his blog earlier this week, and fojap reblogged a post from Kenan Malik on Pandaemonium.

Story in India Today

India Today editor writes about Dinanath Batra

In summary, for the past four years, Penguin has been fighting a lawsuit by Hindus that found Doniger’s book inaccurate and offensive.

Kavaree Bamzai, editor of India Today, gives more info about Batra, who was one of the ones who actioned the lawsuit. And here we do indeed have a link with feminism.

Apparently Batra told Bamzai that included in his recommendations for education, girls should be taught housekeeping because of their ‘biological and emotional needs’. Really? Just really??!!

That comment alone would be enough to make me read Ms Doniger’s book out of principle.

But the ensuing debates around freedom of speech and the right to offend are interesting.

Malik, in two articles on his blog, mentions the fatwa against Rushdie back in the 80s, and the censorship around Jesus and Mo(hammed) cartoons on Channel 4 News in the UK. He contrasts the difference between Penguin’s stance at the time, and the current situation in India, which is probably an unfair comparison.

Penguin’s statement following the conclusion of the lawsuit, refers to the Indian Penal Code, specifically section 295A, which says:

Deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs

In contrast, when The Satanic Verses was published in 1988, the UK blasphemy laws covered only Christianity, not Islam.

However the Racial and Religious Hatred Act of 2006 (definitely Orwellian Speak there) elevated religion to the same status as race. Hmmm. Race and colour are a given. I can’t change the fact that I am white and British-born. I can’t become Spanish and of Latin extraction just because I live in Spain. I could become Christian, Muslim, (but not Jewish), Buddhist, Jain, Wiccan, whatever.

Seems the House of Lords wasn’t too happy with the bill, as they kept chucking it out. They removed the clauses that included abusive and insulting, and also required intention rather than possibility, of stirring up hatred.

An interesting one. How do you prove that someone intended to stir up hatred, or that their actions were ‘unintentional’ and therefore not a crime?

So to look at the conversation repeated on the previous post, as an example. ‘I am not a PC person,’ is thereby meant to excuse any offense that was ‘unintentionally caused’. ie, I didn’t know and I don’t want to know, so I am guiltless.

If I came out with an offensive religious comment, (which I’m sure I could easily do), would my defense of ‘I am not a religious person, I didn’t intend to offend you’ hold water? Hypothetical. But I find it irritating that religion seems to be gaining precedence everywhere.

I have seen some seriously nasty words directed at homosexuals and feminists and anyone in favour of abortion. Where is the law to protect these groups?

London Transport, which apparently is now stupidly called Transport for London – why include an extra word? – or TfL for short (sounds too much like TFI Friday), banned a Christian anti-gay ad back in 2012.

Malik seems to think it is ok to have ads saying:

NOT GAY! EX-GAY, POST-GAY AND PROUD. GET OVER IT!

And while the High Court upheld the ban on the advert on London transport, the court has now authorised an investigation into whether Boris Johnson initiated the ban to influence voting for his candidacy as Mayor of London in the 2012 elections.

Seems Johnson contacted the Guardian after he had pulled the ad. Well, why would you not? What’s wrong with pointing out that something like that is grossly discriminatory and that gays should ‘get over it’?

How about:

NOT FEMINIST! EX-FEMINIST, POST-FEMINIST AND NOW A TOTAL DOORMAT. GET OVER IT!

or

NOT VEGETARIAN! EX-VEGETARIAN, POST-VEGETARIAN AND NOW KILLING AND EATING AS MANY DEAD ANIMALS AS I CAN CRAM DOWN MY NECK!

better still

NOT CHRISTIAN! EX-CHRISTIAN, POST-CHRISTIAN AND ATHEIST. GET OVER IT!

To put those all into perspective, the groups are not the same. However you look at it, gays, feminists and vegetarians are minority groups who basically suffer discrimination. Christians on the other hand, are the ‘official’ religion of England ie the Church of England. The monarch is the Defender of the Faith. Christianity has always had a protected position within the law (at one point blasphemy was rewarded with death) and now it has been extended to all religions.

The essential differences here are that advocating free speech and freedom to insult and offend in terms of religion is not the same as advocating free speech and freedom to offend other people simply because they have made their own choices whether in terms of sexuality, diet, political thought, or whatever. How we live our own lives is up to us. We don’t seek to impose our way of life on everyone else (although I would welcome a few more vegetarians and feminists I must say).

Christian charity The Core Issues Trust’s poster against gays is a classic example of perpetuating hatred against gays. It’s implying they are wrong, flawed, abnormal blah blah blah. It’s the sort of thing I would have seen during the day and gone out at night or early morning and ripped down.

Is it freedom of speech? Technically yes. Is it inciting hatred and discrimination? Without a doubt. Is it perpetuating stereotypical views, or worse, hoping to make more people buy into gay hatred? Yes. So why should that be considered allowable? It’s hardly a rational analysis quoting multiple sources. It’s a prejudiced bigoted perspective based on religious drivel that certainly deserved to be banned. And if Boris got some good publicity out of it, I don’t give a shit.

With freedom of speech should come responsibility. So we can all learn why words and concepts are offensive, and discuss changing ideas, maybe even respect people who are different to us.

But although I didn’t set off with this conclusion in mind, the easiest answer would be to ban religion.

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About roughseasinthemed

I write about my life as an English person living in Spain and Gibraltar, on Roughseas, subjects range from politics and current developments in Gib to book reviews, cooking and getting on with life. My views and thoughts on a variety of topics - depending on my mood of the day - can be found over on Clouds. A few pix are over on Everypic - although it is not a photoblog. And of course my dog had his own blog, but most of you knew that anyway. Pippadogblog etc
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12 Responses to The right to free speech or the right to freely offend and insult?

  1. davidprosser says:

    I’ve always maintained religion should be the choice of a reasonably informed adult and that children should not be indoctrinated into a faith. Either all religions should be taught in schools to allow youngsters to see the differences between beliefs, or none, and my preference is none.To raise even the nicest children in a religious household is to bring a child up with some form of bigotry against someone else.
    xxx Hugs xxx

    Like

    • My school was CofE by default so we had to go to assembly which I largely skipped by sixth form and joined the other sinners in the ‘quiet study room’. I went to Methodist Sunday School with my cousin a couple of times and wasn’t impressed so that bit the dust. I went to church on and off more off than on with my parents, mainly for the event.

      I had no belief then, have none now, although I did say Gentle Jesus before I went to sleep. The most important bit of that though, was the bit I added on, which was ‘God bless mummy and daddy and good dog Tarquin’.

      RS at school was interesting, but it was pretty much like history so of course I liked it. One year, we looked at loads of other religions and visited their different places of worship which I thought was really good, and should actually be a must in all schools if RS is to be taught.

      Like

  2. pinkagendist says:

    I believe in argument, as you know πŸ™‚ Make a point, hash it out, win on merits. You were perfectly capable of convincing me to edit my vocabulary. That doesn’t doesn’t mean I’ll never use one word or another, but that I now look at it from a different perspective- and choose much more carefully.
    I’m wary of the American thought model which doesn’t differentiate satire and offence. What did you think of that whole Galliano affair? Did what he say actually rise to the level of a crime, or was he just a total jack-ass? I go back and forth on that one. He was drunk, but saying ‘your people should have all died’ does kind of cross the line. It’s borderline incitement to hatred, depending on who hears it.

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    • I can live with discussion where I can learn something. Argument? Mostly I can’t be bothered. If people wish to remain ignorant and ill-informed that’s up to them. Sometimes there is no win. There is no right answer. Or – people don’t want to accept a different answer.

      I didn’t realise I had convinced you. I’m sure you still call women ladies πŸ˜‰ Well ones of a certain class who may well be (en)titled anyway. Unlike me πŸ˜€

      Satire is very British I think. I confess to rolling my eyes at Americans who say they love irony and satire and sarcasm and totally miss the mark. There is a fine line between using any of those and causing offence. Or still causing offence, but being so funny that it actually is outweighed by the humour. But that’s rare and clever and not for the amateur.

      Galliano. I could take the easy way out and say, I never heard about it. But I had to look it up. Interesting from a gay Gibbo fashion designer.

      So from what I have read, pretty obnoxious and abusive to a group of people. I think there is a difference between a drunken idiot spouting off nastily in a bar and propagating permanent and lasting hatred via posters/books/films/social media. Would his comments have incited violence in a bar though? Certainly could have done, depending on the other people concerned. I think Partner would have smacked him, given that he offered to kick some Spaniards who were about to abuse a dying horse in our village.

      It’s a difficult one. Personal insults are one thing, but going so far as to be saying someone should be dead? I think you are right, it does cross the line. If I’d been sitting there and feeling smart, I would probably have said, ‘well you’d be with us then too, gayboy’. Not nice, but true.

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  3. cobbies69 says:

    I am not religious but I do respect it and the people who do. But I do get pissed when the Muslims etc are forever moaning about people making fun or says something they consider out of line. If one insults Christianity one hardly bats an eye, no fuss made. Same as a white person insulting a coloured, they are racist, but a black or should I say coloured insults a white person, again it passes over peoples’ eyes. I get the impression the law are themselves are frightened of offending. Gutless and double standards in my view. Hope this sounds ok, I know what I mean, but never sure if I write that way. πŸ˜‰

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    • I think I know what you are saying Gerry, basically one law/rule for one (set of people) and a different one for another.

      I draw a distinction between religious and racial discrimination though. Certainly in the past you can’t argue that racially, blacks/coloureds were (and still are despite laws) discriminated against as a minority group. In the past, if you look at religion and the UK blasphemy laws, religion was in the position of power, as were and are the teachers/priests etc. Part of the problem also in the case of Islam in the UK is that race and religion blur together – I lived and worked in a high percentage muslim/pakistani community in Yorkshire. In Liverpool I lived in Toxteth which is a black community, and like my Yorkshire background, a scene for some of the (earlier, 80s) race riots.

      Basically I don’t see the need to insult anyone. It’s not difficult to be respectful to people – but as you say, when we don’t receive respect back, it leads to grievance. I thought the gay poster example was a good one. I’m neither religious nor gay, but to suggest that someone is wrong to be gay and they should stop choosing their own sexual preference, to me, is downright offensive and insulting and discriminatory. Moreover, that comment came from a protected species, because religion is protected by the law in a different way to so-called equality legislation.

      It is always the religious controversies that spark this type of discussion about freedom of expression/speech, when they don’t like criticism of their whacky views. I just do not see why religion gets away with it – they seek to impose their views on others and restrict individual freedoms and yet we can’t criticise that?

      Like

      • cobbies69 says:

        I have always believed if there was no religion then there would have been more peace and less wars in this world. πŸ˜‰

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        • Nah, people would just have found something else to fight over. In a lot of cases religion is just the excuse for power-mongering. What gripes me is inflicting someone’s whacky views on other people, especially on me.

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          • cobbies69 says:

            Probably right on that, and yes, whacky views I really hate. live peacefully πŸ˜‰

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          • I’m sure people consider my views whacky. But I don’t go out trying to convert everyone else or fighting them because they don’t fit within my beliefs, and that is the big difference. Oh and because I don’t want the oil in their back garden etc etc etc. I wrote an analogy of that a while back. Live and let live is a valid statement that no-one seems to live by 😦

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  4. In the end my guess is that Penguin skirted right around any moral reasoning and applied business logic, deciding that, for that market at least, it was not worth it. Interesting to see it’s not over – I saw a news story today that indicated a movement in India, on behalf of those who wanted the book to be marketed. I think they are looking for the rights to the material to maybe do an indie job or something.
    On religion, my contention is that it’s not necessarily exactly it per se but maybe the skillful vs. ignorant practice of it. I have encountered some who can make good out of religion, and a lot who do the exact opposite.
    And I’d hasten to add three things: 1-you don’t need religion to lead a “good life” 2–much of the bad happens when people start arguing about the finer points of “god” and 3–the rest of the bad happens when people use religion as a tool by which to set themselves as “different” (bad) or “better” (horrible).

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    • Well Penguin stated quite clearly that Indian readers could either get it on line or elsewhere as I vaguely remember. I have to say, if I was in charge of penguin india and there was a case, however plausible/implausible of it being illegal I would pull it. Totally different to Rushdie in the UK.

      Yes, to all three. I think 1 is paramount and so therefore, why need religion when it causes so much harm? ie death to say the least.

      Like

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