Offense, liberalism and ever increasing doublespeak

Truly we live in strange times.

We have a government, having concluded ‘insulting’ words or behaviours a term so broad it led to unfair arrest and removed the phrase from Section 5 of the Public Order Act, who have deemed the much wider-reaching ‘annoying’ words or behaviours to be more equitable. To speak against this, you may wish to add your name to the campaign petition here.

We have Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate Maajid Nawaz being hounded by a fellow Liberal Democrat, Mohammad Shafiq, for stating he, as a muslim, did not find a particular cartoon offensive. Having retweeted the cartoon, Mr Shaffiq deemed it offensive and called for the deselection of Mr Nawaz in the face of any principle that can legitimately be deemed ‘liberal’. To speak against this and lend your support to Mr Nawaz, you may wish to add your name to the petition here.

Today, The Guardian reports a story regarding Transport for London (TfL) advertising. An ad campaign by gay rights charity Stonewall, deemed legal and allowed to run on London buses, stated “Some people are gay. Get over it!” (indeed some are and so we should). A follow up campaign by the Core Issues Trust, which read ““Not Gay! Ex-Gay, Post-Gay and Proud. Get over it!” (indeed some are and so we should), was pulled when mayor Boris Johnson involved himself in the dispute by insisting it was “offensive to gays” and should be banned. The original High Court ruling stated the ban was legal as it could “cause grave offence”. The Court of Appeal judgment has brought the verdict into doubt – not based on the possibility of offence – rather based on the suggestion the ban was enforced because the mayor potentially acted “for an improper purpose” (allegedly to secure support from the gay community before his 2012 re-election campaign). It seems the case rests on the potentially improper intervention of the London Mayor. If he is deemed to have not acted improperly, the ruling will remain legal because it was potentially offensive.

Stranger stilll, Cranmer recently commented that Wells cathedral were planning to screen The Last Temptation of Jesus whilst a local theatre in County Antrim bowed to Christian pressure and refused to run a significantly less controversial stage-showThe Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged). As His Grace noted:

It is a bizarre state of affairs when a hallowed historic cathedral – built to glorify God and magnify the name of Jesus – can turn cinema for a night and play host to an offensive interpretation and false representation of the gospel, while a secular theatre is prohibited from performing the superficially profane. Of course, Christians may freely choose not to attend the Cathedral screening, thereby avoiding the taking of offence, but so could they have chosen not to attend the Theatre at the Mill, which is effectively censoring performance out of respect for religious views not held by very may indeed.

Aptly, he concluded “only in Northern Ireland do Christians demand artistic censorship in the secular space, thereby resurrecting the paternal role of the Lord Chamberlain as society’s guardian of artistic morality and decency. And only in England do sacred cathedrals host that which is artistically immoral and indecent. Both decisions are utterly wrong, morally amiss, and a cause of great shame”.

Seemingly, we live in a world in which offence can be taken by anyone for anything. Apologies can be demanded, careers can be broken and almost anything can be banned when the watchword is spoken. As examples above show, this takes us into a situation where the Liberal Democrats rail against liberal values and the post-war liberal consensus is not liberal at all. It is doublespeak in the truest sense.

All of this, of course, is nothing new. What was surprising is that even the BBC (or, Andrew Neil at any rate) acknowledged, when interviewing Mohammad Shaffiq, that there was (a) a discrepancy in a Liberal Democrat seeking to silence another view (especially one from within its own ranks) and, (b) offence has become the watchword by which anything can be banned, silenced or broken. What was rather less surprising was the total lack of BBC admission they engage in and encourage exactly this sort of behaviour.

How long must we endure this doublespeak (e.g. claims to a liberal consensus that is fundamentally illiberal), ludicrous rulings and proscriptive limits on speech that must accord with state orthodoxy and the cultural zeitgeist? Surely we should all welcome a range of views and, even where we disagree with them, allow them to be stated. Yes, we may find the position that Britain was flooded because of gay marriage strange and to speak against the facts of scripture and culture (see here for why). However, surely we are a better country for allowing such views (and all the richer for allowing others to challenge them if they wish). Otherwise, we are destined to have nothing but the ability to parrot back bland, prescribed orthodoxies to which we can all sweetly assent.