No, Mr Selim, you don’t have the right not to be offended

I heard you multiple times talking on the radio with Michael Nugent about religious rights and blasphemy. Every time it seems, you come back to the idea that in a multicultural country as Ireland, you have to accommodate everyone’s sensibilities. The latest example to date is a schoolboy sneaking a copy of Charlie Hebdo in a classroom, which caused muslims parents to complain to the school director who later had to apologize. Now, is Charlie Hebdo appropriate or not for children is not the question here, and you could make the argument that it is too satirical and too graphic of a publication for children, but you certainly cannot argue for its removal on the ground of religious offence.

Having the right to “not be offended” is literally impossible to define in any objective matter. Incitement to hatred and harassment are objectively definable, and cause a direct and objective harm, but the very definition of offence is that you don’t enjoy hearing what is being said, not that you were threatened or continuously insulted. One day, someone said something you didn’t like, and you took offence.

What you seem to miss, Mr Salim, is that if you go down the road of defending the right for people to be offended, there is no stopping point. Everyone can claim to be offended by pretty much everything, and it would be very naive of you not to think that minorities –like muslims– won’t be the first ones to suffer from abuses of such a right.

Are you sure you want to see schools routinely cancel Halloween because it might offend some parents, as in it happened in Connecticut last year? Are you sure you want to see muslims student groups being threatened to be shut down as it happened in Louisiana because they didn’t cater to some students’ views on gender equality? Do you want to see politicians on national television telling muslims women that they cannot wear the hijab or the niqab in public spaces as it happened in France because they didn’t like it?

What you don’t seem to grasp, Mr Selim, is that while you seem keen to censor one’s speech because you feel offended, other people have the exact same desire to silence you for the exact same reasons. Limiting freedom of speech and freedom of religion is certainly an interesting idea to defend when you are part of the majority group, but if you want to defend what makes the beauty of modern Ireland, namely its multiculturalism, you ought to side with those who defend liberal values such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion, which are the best protections for minorities against mob rule.

Yes, it means you will have to tolerate some people being inconsiderate towards you. But if it is the price to pay to avoid having to face the whims of the majority, you might want to give it a second thought.

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