Sunday, 16 March 2014

Why nobody should care if you're offended

If you find this offensive, you're the one with the problem
At the weekend, thousands of people took part in protests after a woman who was breastfeeding in public was photographed by an anonymous individual, who then posted the picture on the internet, labeling her a “tramp”.

Most people have responded in the appropriate manner – also condemning the anonymous coward – although some have suggested she should feed her child in a toilet.

Well, yes – you’d eat your dinner in a public bog too, wouldn’t you?

I detect a common sense deficit.

It’s not clear who took or posted the picture and comment – and in many ways, it’s not the point.

Whoever they are, they’re an anonymous coward – simple as.

It’s not guaranteed that they were male, either.

As the BBC report of Saturday’s protests noted:

Be offended – be very offended
Cydney Davis, who organised an event in Milton Keynes, said she had also encountered negative comments while breastfeeding.

“I was in a restaurant and I was asked by an elderly lady to use a blanket because it was disturbing her eating,” she said ...

“I asked the lady if she’d like to eat her dinner under a blanket instead. She just walked away and very quickly finished her meal and left the restaurant, but that was her choice.”

Male or female, these are people who spend their lives looking for something to be offended about.

And it is the perfect illustration of why there should never be any form of law against offence or any idea that anyone has a right not to be offended.

You have a mother who, finding that her infant is hungry while she’s out shopping, discretely finds a place to feed the child.

There is nothing more natural in the world.

Yet someone thinks it’s bad. And on the basis of the quote above, they’re not alone.

‘Oh, get out of my face with your nasty, natural behaviour!’

Presumably they can’t see titties without thinking about sex – either in a prurient or a puritanical manner.

Offended people burning books and CDs, Pakistan
But we’re on an increasing path toward pandering to anyone and everyone who wants to be offended – not least in terms of religion, where it seems that believing in some form of a god or gods has to be treated as though it were a special gift.

And since any and all gods have proved singularly incapable of showing their own indignation at anyone saying naughty things about them, their followers have to step up to the mark and show their own offense.

In 1989, we had Muslims burning The Satanic Verses
(a brilliant novel that I very much doubt any of them had bothered to read) and in 2001, Christians burned Harry Potter books (‘it’s witchcraft, I tells thee!’).

Hands up children – who else burned books that they didn’t like?

Then there are the cartoonists who have been murdered for depicting a particular flavour of supposedly divine being.

In 2004, Sikhs rioted in Birmingham because they objected to Behzti, a play by a Sikh writer. The play was closed.

In 2005, Christians sent death threats to the BBC when Auntie decided to screen Jerry Springer: The Opera, after being stirred up by Rupert Murdoch’s rag the Sun and the equally odious Daily Mail, both of which will condemn others taking offence but whip it up when it suits their own agendas.

How odd that the offended in that case never seem to have objected to the Jerry Springer show itself, and the entire range of similarly vile, 21st century freak shows that exploit people’s problems for profit.

In 2008, Waterstones in Cardiff cancelled a poetry book launch by Patrick Jones, calling it prudent after a campaign by Christian Voice, which also called on the chain to stop selling the book because Jones is critical of religion in general and writes about that.

Offended people burning books, USA
In February this year, there was an outcry at London’s South Bank University when non-religious students advertised the secular society with a poster depicting a Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster version of Michelangel’s iconic Creation of Adam fresco.

Initially, the student union claimed that Adam’s genitals were the problem – too small, perhaps? – before admitting that the posters were removed on the grounds that they caused religious offence.

If god is the creator of everything, you wonder how we ever got a sense of humour.

And only last week, BBC3 caved in when it cut a scheduled question on Islam and homosexuality from a programme that was being filmed at Birmingham Central Mosque.

The chairman of the mosque said it was unhappy about the planned question; the BBC said that the mosque had never raised any issues, but had received threats late on. It subsequently emerged that the same mosque chairman is a senior official in The Islamic Party of Britain, which thinks gays should be executed.

Offended people burning books, Berlin
Whatever actually happened, the decision was effectively censorship – and particularly ironic given that the programme was called Free Speech.

Theres the political-religious variety of offence too: take arch-Zionists, who seek to shout down any criticism of the state of Israel by accusing its critics of anti-semitism. And everyone knows how offensive that is, so people retreat from the subject out of fear of being thus tarnished. Which is, of course, entirely the point.

Mind, on a positive note, one thing managed to create common cause between Jewish, Christian and Muslim religious leaders in Israel in 2006, as they set off in joint squealing at the idea of World Pride being held in the area.

One rabbi in the good ole US of A (which has no shortage of its own intolerant religious bigots) threatened ‘blood on the streets’ over the issue. The parade didnt take place.

According to news agency Agence France-Presse, one radical Jewish group started handing out leaflets around Jerusalem, offering a 20,000-shekel (£2,659) reward to anyone who kills a sodomist. The police did nothing.

So, girls and boys: now you know how to stop something that offends you being discussed or taking place. Squeal and threaten, whether it’s with violence or taboo labels. And when in real doubt, offer to pay someone else to murder people or campaign in political parties that want gays executed.

Strange how none of them seem content to rely on their god sorting it all out in the afterlife, isnt it?

In a further irony: in recent years we’re seen the obscene demonisation of disabled people in this nation of ours – yet those who choose to believe in something for which there is not a single, solitary shred of evidence have to be treated increasingly with kid gloves.

And the issue of offence is not just about those with tender religious souls who need to defend their god.

We also have increasing numbers of situations where people are imprisoned for posting unpleasant messages in social media.

Since when did we start jailing people for saying something that we don’t like?

Yes, some of it can be very nasty indeed, but jailing people for it? Really?

How many times can we now read of police looking into what someone posted on Twitter?

It’s quite simple: the police should only look into something if there is a real and serious physical threat, or if a pattern of behaviour occurs that could constitute bullying and put a vulnerable person at risk.

Bad taste isn’t a crime. Yet.

Thank the gods that dont exist. 

More widely, should we censor groups that we don’t like?

If someone wants to say that they dislike gays or black people – let them. If they want to say that their invisible friend is a bit cross about something, let them.

As long as someone is not spreading material that is directly intended to incite criminal behaviour, then no – we should not censor them.

And yes – that means that fascists and religious fruitcakes alike have their right to free speech too, because that’s what free speech means, not just allowing those who doesn’t offend you personally to have their voice.

At a time when more and more of the mainstream media is owned and controlled by people who have no interest in promoting serious public discourse but only their own agendas and assorted lies; at a time when we are more spied on than ever; at a time when government is using the law to gag vast swathes of organisations across the land – at such a time, we need to defend any idea of free speech more and more vigilantly.

And giving in to cretins and cowards who go looking for something to be offended by is only the way onto a slippery slope.

After all – who knows how long it then becomes before we cannot, for instance, openly criticise whoever is in No 10 or the police or any other institution?

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