Rushdie Redux? A.C. Grayling: You can be too tolerant

“Sikhs have every right to protest against an offending play, but the law needs reinforcing if increasing moves by extremists to curtail free speech are to be resisted.”

See my earlier post here.

More from The Independent:

This week the theatrical world, and the arts world more generally, has been up in arms. You might think this happens quite a lot, arts people being fairly passionate folk. But it isn’t every week that fully 700 people – many of them very eminent – put their names to a letter to a national newspaper protesting about the cancellation of a play that has offended a number of Sikhs. Well, I’m with them. Freedom of speech is not a decorative amenity in a liberal democracy. It’s fundamental to its structure. Without it, other rights and freedoms are effectively empty, because they cannot be asserted, and still less defended, when free speech is forbidden.

So far, so conventionally liberal. But things are changing. The increasing assertiveness of religions in recent years is prompting a crisis. Under the generic cloak of claiming to be “offended” by whatever they do not like, religious conservatives and fundamentalists seek, with increasing insistence, to silence others and to impose on society not merely tolerance of their own preferences but actual solicitude. Thus, Britain is being asked to become a place where no criticism or challenge can be offered to any religion, whether or not we agree with its treatment of women, its practice of female circumcision, its intolerance towards the liberal attitudes of the majority, or its tendentious and sectarian education of children.

At the extreme, devotees have countered “offence” against their religion by committing mass murder, as in the 11 September 2001 atrocities, and individual murder, as of Theo van Gogh in the Netherlands. The former was an expression of hatred towards a system, and the country that most exemplifies it, that many Muslims find threatening to their traditional values. The latter was an act of censorship designed to frighten people into not criticising Islam.

More here. Thanks to R.D. for bringing this to my attention.