My argument was that having concern for the feelings of others - such as the sensibilities of Muslims offended by the Danish cartoons - should be no part of public policy. One aspect of the debate on free speech that I found particularly worrying was this:
The debate has not been aided – it has indeed been severely clouded – by an imprecise use of the term ‘respect’. If this is merely a metaphor for the free exercise of religious and political liberty, then it is an unexceptionable principle, but also an unclear and redundant usage. Respect for ideas and those who hold them is a different matter altogether. Ideas have no claim on our respect; they earn respect to the extent that they are able to withstand criticism.
The usage I'm criticising is a common part of the debate on free speech. Among innumerable examples, consider this well intentioned remark by a Danish Muslim, as reported by the BBC after the recent republication in Denmark of one of the offending cartoons:
“I am hurt, as I was the first time,” says Feisal, who works in marketing and was also born in Denmark. He believes the problem is not Danish society but the media. “The Danish press should have learned from their previous mistakes and the only thing the Muslims are asking for is respect, nothing else”.
It's not just that I believe Feisal’s requirement should be ignored by policy makers lest it lead to illiberal outcomes such as censorship of the press. I consider his position inherently unreasonable - as if “respect, nothing else” were some minimal demand…
It is a widespread notion that deeply held convictions are at least entitled to respect - when in reality there is no “at least” about it, and no entitlement either. The challenging of beliefs is an often brutal business, but the ensuing and almost inevitable hurt is emotional and not physical. There is nothing wrong in this; it is how knowledge advances.
Indeed. And despite its obviousness, I’m guessing the above will bear repeating.