Thursday, 15 January 2015

French and British Multiculturalism and why Britain's Future may be a Silent One


This post first appeared on Adam Penny's new blog, which you can find here.

The difference between the way that France and Britain have responded to the questions raised over the murder of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists as a result of the, admittedly vulgar, cartoons directed at the prophet Muhammad, is that France's media has taken the view that because a murder has been committed trying to curtail Charlie Hebdo's freedom of expression by insulting anyone it chooses (and it has been shown that it has drawn no less derogatory cartoons about other faiths or ideas), that the response has been 'someone has tried to force us to stop this, which means that we must keep doing it'. In contrast, in the UK press the attitude has been very different, with the BBC preventing its journalists from showing the offending cartoons, because of a wish not to offend the Muslim community. The reaction has been similar in the rest of the UK Press.

One reaction from some Muslims has been that they are offensive, so they must be banned. On the other hand, the reaction of some Muslims has been that it's a cartoon, however vulgar, and does nothing to actually tarnish the prophet Muhammad's reputation, thus ignore it. However, the approach taken by the BBC has been, well, it's offensive to some Muslims so it should be banned.

There are multiple flaws in this logic. Firstly, banning it because some Muslims may be offended fails to deal with Muslims as individuals. It doesn't allow for the opinion of the Muslims that are willing to just ignore it as something of no consequence. Some Muslims are angry about it, so you mustn't be allowed to say or do anything that could be considered offensive.

In another area, golliwogs are largely considered off limits because there is a view that they are offensive to black people. That all starts to fall down when Chaka Artwell, who is black, comes along and insists on wearing a golliwog around his neck for a BBC interview because 'this was a popular little guy when he was young' and 'white, middle-class liberal types' had decided his doll was racist and offensive. The BBC didn't interview him because his way of expressing himself didn't fit a presumption of how a black man or woman would react to a golliwog.

The concerning thing is where this goes. What if atheists become a 'community', with more extreme elements taking objection to any utterance that forwards the idea that there might be a God, even if more easy-going atheists might not have any issue? Are we then to take the view that some atheists may be offended by anything to do with religion so we should prevent any religious utterances in the media in order not to offend atheists?

This is why responding to anything offensive by demanding a ban is fundamentally flawed. You have to allow for it to be said, even if you don't like it, or the end result will be that nobody can say anything.
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