This growing culture of outrage doesn’t extend free speech – it limits it

The Guardian
By Suzanne Moore
You Can’t Read This Book is published today. Available here and in book shops

“The futility of much of this is actually a block on real debates about free speech. Nick Cohen’s magnificent new book You Can’t Read This Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom reminds us that pre-publication self-censorship “is the most suffocating form there is”. This self-censorship is all around us: people are afraid to call Mossad killings murder for fear of being called antisemitic or still talk of the horrific murder of women as “honour killings” for fear of being Islamophobic.

Cohen takes us back to what I call the big bang of cultural relativism: Salman Rushdie and the Satanic Verses. People were killed by zealots who had never even read this book. The boundaries of the free world were remapped. Suddenly “respect” for religions meant some got far more respect than others. We know that a cartoon of the Prophet can cause death, but the ridiculing of Christianity is everyday. Cohen quotes the inimitable creators of South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who said: “It’s really open season on Jesus. We can do whatever we want to Jesus and we have.”

Actually, though, this current climate of outrage is depoliticised in its democratic “anyone, anytime, anywhere can be offended” mode. What Cohen does so refreshingly is to insist on the primacy of the political. A real culture war, as opposed to these Twitter scuffles, means understanding that the political is as much a part of our identity as the religious. We can feel “the offence as deeply as any believer who has had his God or prophet questioned”. This means not bowing down to the religious right, be it Muslim or Christian or Hindu. It means questioning the kind of self-censorship that went on in corporate financial structures before the banking collapse.”

Read the whole thing

7 thoughts on “This growing culture of outrage doesn’t extend free speech – it limits it

  1. Richard Ingrams, a while back, started one of his columns with: “Just when I was starting to panic about not having nothing to read in bed at night, Chris Mullins’s memoirs landed on my desk”.
    Well, I know how he feels. But just when I’m about to fall into depression (I don’t think she likes me) Nick Cohen’s new book gets pushed through the letter box, to save the day, the rest of this week. At last it’s here!

    What a great idea displaying that magnificent quote of Christopher Hitchens’ at the front of the book.

    Good luck with the book, Nick.

  2. Thank you, Nick, for voicing a concern I share. I wish I could say the same for some of my closest friends, whose left wing stance somehow devolved into believing anti-Semitic theories of Jewish conspiracies, in some cases, and into apologetics for Islamic Yihad in all cases…. Opposing religious bigotry only when it comes from Christians or Jews.., opposing imperialism only when it’s American or European imperialism…defending sexism when it comes veiled in tradition…attacking science, and the very notion of “truth”, in order to appear more open-minded..
    this is not the Left I remember.
    If this is the Left, it’s a very mediocre, very incoherent, and unprincipled one.

  3. Looks like a good book.

    No, I will not read the rest of Suzanne Moore’s review, mainly because of her snide attitude to “Mossad” and therefore Israel, expressed with that extra-casual air of expressing the obvious that generally goes with sticking to the target at every possible opportunity, no matter how irrelebvant it seems. And to Israel of all targets, the object of the mmost murderous of comments and actions every single day by these disgusting a***-lickers of the Arabs.
    Fortunately for me I have read your very interesting book “What’s Left” and therfore have a good introduction to the value of your perspectives, mistaken though some might be ;).

    I try to reduce my exposure to the smug Jew hatred of the Guardian and their drooling associates. Thanks to you having your own website I can do this most comfortably. An excellent site, I will visit again.

  4. ‘This self-censorship is all around us: people are afraid to call Mossad killings murder for fear of being called antisemitic or still talk of the horrific murder of women as “honour killings” for fear of being Islamophobic’.

    Oh dear, Ms Moore. Your own prejudices leap out at this point.

    I see no shortages of cases – in your own newspaper in particular – where the actions of the Israeli state are regularly condemned, without any form of threats or censorship whatsoever. You might perhaps be smarting a bit about the furore that your fellow Guardianista Deborah Orr got into with her ‘chosen people’ article; a piece which happened to combine snide anti-Semitic innuendo with shoddy research. In this case you really need to get a grip of yourself.

    Furthermore, I notice your implicit comparison between Mossad hits and the disgrace of honour killing. Only in your world is the act of killing the likes of Imad Mugniyah or Mahmoud al-Mabhouh (namely, men who have themselves shed blood or have ordered the shedding of blood) with the murder of women who make the mistake of claiming the same domestic rights as their white sisters. In any case, it more or less demonstrates how debased you are both as a leftist and as a self-declared feminist.

  5. Hi, Neat post. There’s an issue with your website in internet explorer, might test this?
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