The right not to be offended


I think it is quite a good starting point that society is better if we do not go out of our way to offend each other simply to enjoy the thrill of causing offence.  I have never made an image of the prophet Mohammed because I have not particular wish to do so and (not that I have really thought about it) it clearly would cause offence if I did so.  Actually I have felt a bit of pressure to do just that after the Charlie Hebdo atrocity – violent behaviour acts as a recruiting sergeant for the enemy in both directions – but I won’t, not because I am particularly afraid but because it is not quite a good enough reason to cause offence to the many Muslims who abhor the people of violence (yet – I could see that changing if there are repeat performances).  But I was very impressed by the passionate way that the likes of Nick Clegg popped up making very clear that ‘nobody has a right not to be offended’.

Yet a couple of days ago Benedict Cumberbatch felt he had to apologise profusely because he used the term ‘coloured people’ (or actors), which is offensive, rather than ’people of colour’, which is not.  I gather that a soap star in his 70s (Ken Morley – Ed.) was sacked from Celebrity Big Brother or referring to ‘negroes’.  And we all find ourselves in high dudgeon if a UKIP candidate makes a (in my view) bizarre reference of one kind or another, say about women or homosexuals.

Where is Nick Clegg jumping in defence of people’s right to be offensive when the people being offended are the ‘liberal establishment’ (a loose term I use for those who seem to have taken on themselves a role as guardians of what a ‘decent’ person should say and think)?  Where was Ed Miliband decrying the destruction of Andrew Mitchell’s career and putting huge pressure on his home life simply for (allegedly) using an offensive word ‘pleb’, which when all is said and done is simply the mirror image of the ‘toff’ insult that Miliband himself takes such pleasure in?  When Jeremy Clarkson insults Gordon Brown’s eye condition he nearly loses his job, when a right-on liberal comedian does it he gets great applause.

I’m not muslim or ‘a person of colour’ so I can’t know whether I’d be directly offended by iconism of racist language.  As it happens I find racist language personally offensive but I don’t find images of Prophet so.  But why should that give me the right to hound someone who does the one out of their careers but not the other?  (I am gay and I get pretty fed up by the LE telling me when I should be offended and when I shouldn’t – I find UKIP’s (or rural Conservatism’s or indeed that found in some trade unions or in a LibDem who can sniff a few votes) homophobic laughable and even a bit sad and have been told I am ‘letting the side down’ by doing so.)

Let’s at least be honest. The LE has created an atmosphere in which they have the right both to offend and not to be offended.  In this mindset people primitive enough to believe in a God of their choosing deserve to be mocked and the right to offend should be defended passionately.  But that right should not be extended to anyone who dares to offend the LE themselves.  Some people do not have a right not to be offended but some do.  Let’s not be surprised if some of those denied that right feel hard done by.

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