Last night, I attended this Guardian Live event from the comfort of this keyboard.
It wasn’t always comfortable, but it was liberal debate at its best. (How I sometimes hate that word “liberal”: it seems, in everything, even our progressive language, we find ourselves obliged to ape Americanisms.)
I tweeted several things which caught my eye during the stream. But the one that sticks in my head this morning, which I woke up to in fact, was this:
And Nick Cohen’s earlier counterpoint comes in handily here:
I finished my tweets by suggesting the following:
I still wonder, this morning, whether the problem of the deep cultural disagreement which clearly exists here isn’t a result of some of us recognising freedom of expression as an inalienable right whilst others seeing it as a qualified right.
I don’t mean the law here; I mean more in the moral plane.
I also found it interesting when one speaker – the cartoonist Martin Rowson I think it was – suggested that cartoonists were like school-yard bullies. I disagree completely, and think that if cartoonists more widely feel this is the case, they may be choosing for some reason to hide the complexity of their interactions with, as well as their importance for, society behind an unnecessarily flat stereotype:
I noted two interactions by Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian‘s editor, which interested me:
And this editorial today supports the line he’s carved out when justifying not publishing some of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons in the aforementioned solidarity (the bold is mine):
Of course there are tensions between an absolute right of free speech and the beliefs of most Muslims, including perhaps the likes of Ahmed Merabet, the policeman killed in Wednesday’s assault. But that is not the principal conflict here. The real clash is between free speech and a tiny number of jihadist murderers. We do not have to alter our editorial values to be on the right side of that divide.
The point is well made; well constructed at least. But it leads me to the question which headlines my post: “When does good judgement become self-censorship?”
How, in a society so infused with spook-speak, human ciphers of all kinds and the evermore greying areas of the surveillance state of mind, can we be sure our good judgement hasn’t slid dangerously into a self-confusing self-censoring vacillation of the hugely relativistic?
I have to say I catch myself self-censoring my public communications on multiple occasions every day. I’d like to think I was being respectful; I now fear, more and more, that I am being fearful.
As I suggested yesterday:
If there’s something that today’s far more violent fundamentalisms are losing us – and here I include, of course, the fundamentalisms that leap on all terrorist act to ratchet up the screws of a Big Brother we thought already ratcheted impossibly to the max – it’s this right to fudge, to get along, to muddle about an issue, to move slowly towards other ways of seeing, thinking and doing.
Whilst Rusbridger’s paper is right to draw our attention to the battle between “free speech and tiny numbers of jihadist murderers”, there is another equally insidious process going on out there. And just as the centre ground in British politics has been swerved imperceptibly to the right over the past couple of decades, so it would also seem that our instincts to just sensibly getting along with others – with both our dearest and our farthest – have been jiggled little by little towards the end of that security spectrum which sits much happier on the default of suspicion.
In this sense, fear may already have won out:
Maybe, now recognised, it’s our job to reverse the trend.
If reverse is a gear that freedom of speech understands …