Defending the right to offend

It’s sad seeing the Dutch — or at least one Dutch politician — dis Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born refugee and member of Parliament who has bravely stood up against Muslim extremism (she was the author of the film that led to Theo Van Gogh’s murder). Through this story — via Andrew Sullivan and Pieter Dorsman — I found the blog of Leon De Winter, a Dutch author I respect, who in turn quoted Hirsi Ali’s speech about the right to offend in the wake of the Muslim cartoon madness:

I am here to defend the right to offend.

It is my conviction that the vulnerable enterprise called democracy cannot exist without free expression, particularly in the media. Journalists must not forgo the obligation of free speech, which people in other hemispheres are denied….

Shame on those papers and TV channels who lacked the courage to show their readers the caricatures in The Cartoon Affair. These intellectuals live off free speech but they accept censorship. They hide their mediocrity of mind behind noble-sounding terms such as ‘responsibility’ and ‘sensitivity’.

: By the way, I have now subscribed to De Winter’s blog and wish I’d discovered it long ago. As I said, he’s a Dutch author but here he writes in English on a German newspaper site. Adding to this linguistic carousel, I read many of his novels in transation from Dutch to German (because I find that reading translations is sometimes easier than reading works written in German as I try to improve my woeful language skills). A sample of his deftly blunt prose, which gains much in translation:

Don’t you just love the Norwegians? That wonderful nation that gave us bloodcurdling Vikings and Christmas trees, dynamite and peace prizes. They’ve done it again: last week they promised to help bail out the bankrupt Palestinian authority, and now they’re ticking off Hamas for not ‘living up to their expectations’. Norway, which brokered the failed Oslo accords (yes, that’s where Oslo is) seems to have a gift for overreacting and overcompensating. What kind of expectations could thay have had of Hamas? Didn’t they read the manifesto? Israel must vacate occupied Palestine: and in their language occupied Palestine means all Palestine. In other words the Jewish state must be dismantled, defeated, destroyed. Then those Jews that haven’t already fled or been killed will be redispersed. Hamas isn’t about compromise and peace, it’s about waging and preparing for war. Nice try Norway.

  • http://www.tyndallreport.com Andrew Tyndall

    Having seen Hirsi Ali in person make an inflammatory presentation at the News Xchange in Amsterdam last winter, the point should be made that this “right to offend” claim is a straw man.

    No one disputes her “right” to offend. My quibble was over whether her tactics of offense-giving were wise, tactful, courteous, productive or enlightening. Whether they advanced a dialogue or, in a self-fulfilling prophecy, made it easier for her opponents to remain closed-minded.

    At the time, my personal response was that she had a vested interest in her opponents’ bigotry and was willing to engage in blatant self-promoting provocation — ostentatiously putting her copy of the Koran on the floor and refusing to move it to a table when politely asked to — in order to ensure that there would be no possibility of finding any common ground.

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