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Freedom Of Speech Means The Freedom To Offend.

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George Orwell once famously said 'If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.' This sentence sums up the very essence of free speech; it is, as Orwell believed, the mother of all civil rights. Without the unconditional freedom to offend it cannot exist. Ideas are, more often than not, dangerous things. There is little point in having freedom of speech if it only defends the most popular and innocuous of opinions. The freedom to offend can perpetrate racial, social or religious intolerance; however, conversely, it is also the only means available to fight against such bigotry. Free speech is not something to work towards when the world is 'better'; it is, rather, the vital tool through which a better world can be built. Absolute free speech is the cornerstone of all civil rights; without it we cannot truly progress.

Now, more so than ever, ideas are dangerous things. All of them, no matter how suitably innocuous they seem at first, have the inherent potential to offend. There has never been (and nor will there ever be) such thing as a universally popular idea- the infinite diversity of human opinion has made sure of that. And yet, offence is, in itself, hardly the most precise of adjectives. A rather relative term, it varies with the subject in question. A public figure, vilified in his own country may be celebrated in another as being a great hero and freedom-fighter. Here we come to the crux of the issue- the definition of free speech, unlike offence, is not relative. It does not change with the years, the country, the demography or the belief. Freedom of expression has always been defined as being absolute. It encompasses literally everything, be it the inane, the incendiary, or the offensive; in fact, it exists solely because of the above. No one needs an amendment that preserves their right to write about how adorable small furry animals are, or to talk about the weather, or how pretty the flowers are. There is no use for a provision that only defends the right to express popular or blandly unanimous views. To treat freedom of speech as a job selection, where only suitably 'qualified' candidates are selected and processed, is to render it utterly meaningless. Stalin was also in favour of free speech for those he liked. So was Hitler. And yet, neither of their brutal regimes placed great value (or indeed, any at all) on civil liberties. In some countries, Holocaust denial, or the glorification of Hitler's regime in any way shape or form, is enough for a three year long prison sentence. Some believe that this is more than justified-after all; the systematic slaughter of six million Jewish people was an atrocity that should today hardly be denied. Holocaust denial is, indisputably enough, an act of immeasurable barbarity and offence- however, to quote Noam Chomsky 'it is a poor service to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust to adopt a central doctrine of their murderers.' Imprisoning someone for expressing their opinion, no matter how despicable or vile that opinion may be contradicts one of the base values of liberty. In a free society people are free to hate whoever they like. When they act upon their hatred, or try and incite others to do so, there are laws and suitable penalties to deal with them. However, if people are free to think whatever they like, they must also be able to express the same. Far more effective than censorship is successful rebuttal with truth and history. If one does not believe in free expression of the offensive, the repulsive and the appalling, then one does not believe in it at all.

While it is true that the freedom to offend can be interpreted as an excuse to promote racial, social, or religious unrest, it is also true that free speech remains the only means through which we can counter these arguments. Again, it should be noted that by use of the word 'promote', it is implicit that the material on which the promotion is based exists. Censoring intolerance, or forcibly punishing it by imprisonment, is not an effective tactic. Without the freedom to offend, we cannot recognise these social problems, nor fight them with any real conviction. Relating back to this line of debate is of course the overseas publication of the controversial Danish cartoons. Cultural tensions within the European Muslim communities have been building up for decades; the Danish Cartoon Armageddon of early this year has only proven if anything, that social tolerance cannot be won through silence or apathy. Rather, it can only be gained through the implementation of free speech. To claim however that the caricatures championed some great 'in defence of free speech movement' is wrong; they were, in themselves, badly drawn, inarticulate, and obscenely unfunny. The Danish cartoons were deliberately



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