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JIM SPENCE: Jerry Sadowitz’s freedom of speech is under attack and so is yours and mine

JK Rowling Jerry Sadowitz and Salman Rushdie have all found themselves on the freedom of speech frontline.
JK Rowling Jerry Sadowitz and Salman Rushdie have all found themselves on the freedom of speech frontline.

Freedom of speech is under attack. And unless we get the gloves off soon we’ll end up like North Korea, where kids shop their parents for criticising the Supreme Leader over dinner.

It’s time to fight back against those who deal with criticism of their views by abusing, assaulting, cancelling, and threatening anyone who dares to deviate from their myopic perspectives.

Absolute freedom of speech can’t be consequence-free.

Its limits always have to be argued.

If someone is actively encouraging and inciting violence against other people that’s unacceptable. And the law needs to deal with it firmly.

But the dangers of closing it down are far greater than allowing it unbridled rein.

The law of defamation has long offered some protection for those traduced by vexatious and outright liars.

But the idea that it should protect our views from offence when those of a soft disposition take umbrage is a bridge too far.

None of us have the right not to be offended.

If I say a particular religion or a set of political beliefs are ridiculous and that offends and hurts the feelings of some people, that’s unfortunate for those who are upset.

But it’s not causing them physical damage.

However, if I also suggest that those adhering to that religion or holding those political views should be attacked or killed for them then I am inciting potential violence against those folk.

Author Salman Rushdie, who has faced death threats for his book The Satanic Verses, was stabbed at a public event on Friday. Evan Agostini/Invision/AP/Shutterstock.

And this is where we have to draw a line.

High-profile figures on freedom of speech frontline

The on-stage stabbing of Salman Rushdie in New York may turn out to be the work of someone who has been incited to commit that heinous act.

Iranian media has called Friday’s attack “divine retribution” against the author, who became the subject of a fatwa 33 years ago when he wrote the Satanic Verses, which some Muslims regard as blasphemous.

A school teacher from Yorkshire is still in hiding after receiving threats for having shown a caricature of the Prophet Muhammed in a religious studies class in March 2021.

Meanwhile, police are investigating a potential death threat to JK Rowling who has attracted the ire of some in the transgender movement for her support of women’s hard fought rights.

The inability to argue and debate the merits of religious, political, or any other belief system without suppressing different views through insult or physical attacks is the mark of a dangerously immature mindset.

And on a less serious but still pertinent note in terms of free speech, there was a question mark over Jerry Sadowitz’s upcoming show in Tayside after one of the comedian’s gigs in Edinburgh led to an “unprecedented” number of complaints.

The Whitehall Theatre in Dundee said it was seeking more information from The Pleasance after it cancelled the comedian’s second show following an outcry over the opening night.

Rest of us are caught in the culture clash

Sadowitz, who is due to play the Whitehall in October, has played here before and as I recall was fairly derogatory about the city.

If I can forgive him that, others might be equally forgiving of his clorty stage act.

And, given his lengthy career and the fact that his promotional material is fairly clear, I’m surprised that anyone at the show didn’t know what to expect from him.

But the fallout demonstrates the clash of cultures between those who think gratuitous offensiveness is completely acceptable, and those who are permanently outraged at any perceived slight on their views and sensibilities.

Jerry Sadowitz is due to appear at the Whitehall Theatre in October.

Attempts in Scotland and England to deal with ‘hate speech’ have been controversial.

There are those who think absolute freedom of speech should be allowed, and others who want to neuter and silence all opinion that does not conform to their own narrow outlook.

In between those extremes, I suspect, are the majority of folk.

The rest of us, who think we should all try to exercise reasonable restraint and common sense in not blithely insulting the beliefs and feelings of others, no matter how daft we may regard them.

The ones who think it is common courtesy not to offend needlessly but who accept that we have the option to ignore, not buy tickets, or give as good as we get in return.

Closed minds cannot be allowed to shut down freedom of speech

The dirty waters of freedom of speech have been further muddied in a world where social media makes the gunfight at the OK Corral look like the teddy bears picnic.

Depending on which football team I mention in my sports broadcasting and writing, I receive replies on my Twitter timeline which are not only defamatory, but obviously the products of some very sick and troubled minds.

These have been a feature of my life for so long that I’ve developed a skin like a rhino to deal with them.

Which is just as well, since those who are anonymous on social media are very difficult to track down, because the police simply don’t have sufficient resources to do so.

But we’ve been far too patient in tolerating threats and attacks from people who want to drive those with different views from the public arena.

It’s time to make it known unequivocally to them that their time is up.

In a democracy, debate has the right to flourish no matter how much it upsets those with closed minds.