I’m offended by lots of things, but principally hypocrisy.
Being offended is the extension du jour of the victim culture. Elias Canetti, in his 1964 book ‘Crowds and Power’, posits the idea of ‘stings’, minor insults which we all accumulate from the unseen horde of ‘insects’ that surrounds us, and which build up until we release them in acts of physical or mental retaliation on others.
In the absence of the old laws of blasphemy and lèse majesté, for which the punishments could be extreme, taking offence has become a popular game, a form of reverse bullying. Anyone may claim some special low status as the ‘victim’ of a perceived past outrage or present misfortune, and band together with others feeling similarly depressed about themselves. Their aim is to get one over on anyone not so afflicted, claiming the moral high ground by demanding they apologise or resign or lose their livelihood, or even by issuing – and sometimes acting out – threats of violence against the external person targeted, unless they agree to conform to the unwritten rules of the group.
This may include the appropriation of language.
Just this morning on the radio, a presenter read out a message from a listener, demanding that they retract the use of the words ‘special needs’ in relation to children, as the listener herself had two children with ‘special needs’. ‘Special needs’, she argued, should never be used as an adjective, only as a noun. It was clearly offensive so to do, as the children should not be defined by their needs. Oh. Not special, then.
And in much the same vein, my local university decided to redesignate the Special Needs exam room as the ‘Individual Examination Requirements’ room, so as not to confuse the tiny number of perfectly fit students conning their way into the facility and benefitting from extra time with the even smaller number of genuine dyslexics, dyspractics, agoraphobics, sociopaths and mild cerebral palsy cases, none of whom I imagine would take offence at the thought that their needs were special. After all, exams are not about ‘individuals’, they are designed to test the knowledge of the group.
To take a more egregious example, the other day a former England football team coach, now some kind of official blue-blazer, was pressed to comment on the story of a talented young footballer who can’t get a job because he’s served time for date-rape. The footballer, Ched Evans, is appealing his conviction, and a club, Oldham Athletic, was willing to take the risk of hiring him, until their sponsors threatened to pull out and the directors started receiving death threats and worse.
The England official, Graham Taylor, attempted a convoluted rationale to explain his theory that this might not be the first miscarriage of justice to affect the Beautiful Game. In doing so, he appeared to draw a comparison between Evans’ conviction and the suspected cover-up of police incompetence and press calumnies against the dead, following the Hillsborough football ground disaster in 1989, when many spectators were killed in a stampede.
This not wholly indefensible analogy was, with hindsight, culturally insensitive and poorly thought-through as new inquests are expensively in progress. There is, it has to be admitted, an imbalance of proportionality between the two cases. But it does not do to tread even accidentally on the tender sensibilities of the victim state, as many politicians, media celebrities and sports personalities are coming to realise, in the Age of Twitter. For, ‘anything you do say, however innocently, may be hashtagged and retweeted against you’, as the old police caution might now put it.
Naturally, the Prime Apologist interviewed on behalf of ‘the victims’ of Hillsborough, a lawyer who has made it his life’s mission to monitor the media in order to be able to express outrage on behalf of all the hundreds of people who either survived, or lost a friend, child, parent or relative in the disaster over 25 years ago, expressed outrage at the insentivity and ‘crassness’ of Taylor’s fumbling thought process. Nor under questioning did he exactly decline to demand Taylor’s shaggy head as someone unfit to lead the administration of football, as if the moral standing and verbal articulacy of the Archbishop of Canterbury were the industry benchmark; while others who affect to speak on behalf of rape victims everywhere were also massively offended at the disgusting levity with which Taylor dared to throw off the seriousness of the crime by appearing to support Evans’ right to work.
Anyone, such as the former Lord Chancellor and Justice Minister Kenneth Clarke, who seeks the protection of the right of free speech to try to argue that there are degrees of difference in the seriousness of sexual offences, is immediately howled-down by the women’s lobby, who seem to regard merely being born women as a free pass to the victim state. Not only can free speech cause offence, in many cases it IS an offence. There are many things it is now illegal to say, thoughts it is illegal to think*.
It is completely bizarre to suggest we live in a society where the right exists to express what you may be thinking. Whatever you do think, in however unguarded a moment, if made public, becomes for a time YOU. The thought is father to the man, as someone might have said. Defending a moral principle they do not uphold in practice, the Western leaders’ joining the ‘Je Suis Charlie’ march through Paris on Sunday is an act of hypocrisy, not to say electoral grandstanding.
In short, something someone said – someone who really ought not to be taken vastly seriously on an intellectual level – has provoked a storm of murderous, swollen outrage in the victim community by making a ‘crass’ comment that he apparently had no right to make in a free country. You are free to say things that offend other people, but not things that offend ME. Meanwhile, wilder elements were busy threatening those they perceived as no longer human, the board members of Oldham Athletic and their families, with criminal violence, murder and, yes, ironically even rape….
Would you dare to pillory the victim state in a cartoon, as you might dare to joke inoffensively about God or some other religious nonsense? Rape or childhood abuse victims? People with cerebral palsy, MS or Down’s? The halt and the lame? Kids with ‘learning difficulties’? Jews? Diabetics cluttering up the A&E departments? The grossly obese? Cancer sufferers? Problem gamblers? They may be boring whingers (I claim free speech protection), but their emotional scars, disabilities and differences are sacrosanct.
Now, last Wednesday, two masked gunmen forced their way into the editorial office of a tiny-circulation satirical journal called Charlie Hebdo, in Paris, and shot dead ten staff, including the editor and the paper’s star cartoonists. They did so, as one of them explained, shortly before himself being summarily executed by cops in a Butch Cassidy-style ending, in order to defend the name of the Prophet – peace be upon him, if upon no-one else – against the scurrilous insults of a certain section of the irresponsible Western media. (There is absolutely no understanding in the Islamist world of the notion of a press uncontrolled by Government, hence the perpetual conflation of the two.)
Specifically, a cartoon suggesting obliquely that certain elements of Middle Eastern society were taking the Prophet’s name in vain, and that he might not approve. (This suggests that the Doobie Brothers or whatever their name was were particularly stupid, as they had no appeciation of irony, but we’ll pass over that in case it’s against the rules to make fun of stupid people.)
Charlie Hebdo‘s rationale in publishing regular cartoons of Mohammed in the wake of a similar Danish effort that also led to mass outrage in the worldwide Moslem community had been twofold: to ridicule what they saw as the absurd sensitivities of some of France’s six million strong Moslem diaspora, and to assert the press’s right to freedom of thought in a secular society. There was a curious degree of arrogance about it, a near-bankrupt scandal sheet with a weekly circulation under 60 thousand, taking on the mantle of defender of the faithless. There was therefore a third reason, to boost their flagging ciculation.
The iconic act of retribution sparked an immediate debate in the global media about free speech; although that was really not the point. The murders were sponsored by al-Quaeda in the Yemen as a warning to the French not to interfere with jihadi terrorism in Mali. The target, a no-account magazine, merely presented itself. Interviewee after interviewee stepped up to support the absolute right in a civilized society of any individual to cause offence without incurring extra-judicial retribution from the self-appointed spokespersons and trained killers of a different culture.
Moslem after Moslem – ‘good’ Moslems, as opposed to bad – was dragged before the cameras to atone for the actions of a lunatic fringe, ‘their’ lunatic fringe, and to reiterate the founding principles of ‘Liberté, égalité, fraternité’ which, we are reminded, were born in the bloody carnage of the Terror.
Meanwhile, the media were admitting that the majority of editors were already unwilling to criticise aspects of Islam for fear of a visit from the masked gunmen. (Incidentally, why is it that our brave policemen have also adopted the wearing of masks, along with their Dan Dare ray-guns and Terminator uniforms? Surely, it’s contrary to the Magna Carta principle of the freedom to identify one’s accusers?)
‘Je Suis Charlie’ became the rallying cry of an instantaneous, mass campaign to defend the right of journalists and cartoonists to shout ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theatre, to draw on an old legal definition of what actually ought to constitute the responsible limitations of ‘free speech’ in a free society.
It seems that it has become almost obligatory to offend Moslems, with their corny religion and their mad devotion to some old desert guy who thought God was dictating a book, started a global war and then flew up to heaven with his horse off the roof of a mosque. They should be happy to be offended as the price of admission to Western civilization.
It’s like someone has strapped Moslems to an electric chair and is administering progressively more lethal shocks while masked men repeatedly punch their children’s faces, and a soothing (if nervous) voice asks them, over and over again, why they can’t take a joke? It’s all just a bit of fun. Either that, or it’s a founding principle of Western democracy.
But it isn’t okay to assault the tender sensibilities of the self-appointed ‘victims’ of personal insults and accidents and genetic disorders, with their well-funded charity organizations and paid mouth-frothers, taking sublethal umbrage at the slightest careless use by media baboons of what they consider to be inappropriate sporting analogies, and who affect to dictate to the majority what words are allowed to be used in relation to their self-perceived victimhood.
These ‘victims’ deserve our protection against the secular blasphemies of the age, apparently, but anachronistic religious minorities don’t.
And if you don’t agree with me, as a minority of one I shall be mightily offended.
And in another case in the news today, the eminent historian Dr David Starkey is receiving murderous Tweets because he accidentally referred to a fellow guest on a TV debate as ‘Ahmed’ instead of ‘Mehdi’. Which is essentially the same name. Moslems have accused him of monstrous racism. (No doubt I shall be accused of post-lcolonialism by spelling Muslim as Moslem throughout.)
10 people have been burned to death in Niger, where Christian churches have been set on fire in rioting over the republication in many Western media outlets (not even remotely connected with Christian churches) of the Charlie Hebdo cartoon, which for all I know hasn’t been published in Niger so they haven’t even seen it.
The Pope has said people don’t have a right to laugh at other people’s religions. Coming from the head of a murderous evangelistic two-thousand-year-old kleptocracy, that’s rich.
David Cameron has contradicted the Pope: people do have the right to poke fun at other people’s religions. That’s all right then, because I was going to call the oversensitive Moslems of Niger a bunch of ignorant savages. All in fun, you understand.