Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Simon Heffer go head-to-head in this month's duelby Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Simon Heffer / October 18, 2018 / Leave a comment
YES: Yasmin Alibhai-Brown
“Political correctness” (PC) arouses much sound and fury. Believers, agnostics and detractors disagree about what the term means, its mission and its place in a liberal democracy. PC unsettles traditionalists and unnerves the powerful who have wilfully distorted facts, made fake claims, and maligned those of us who believe language can be used as a weapon, that cultures are not static but dynamic, and, most importantly, there is no such thing as absolute freedom of speech. Everyone has lines that can’t be crossed. Even JS Mill, the high priest of free expression, was careful to register constraints in certain contexts—it was not, for example, acceptable to denounce a corn dealer to a mob that had gathered outside his house, and was ready to explode. There are always degrees of permissiveness, with cultural as well as legal limits that are so familiar we barely notice them. Claims about the inviolability of free expression are humbug.
Think of the long and ongoing emotional confrontation between many British Jews and the Labour Party. For a long time, Corbyn refused to accept the examples accompanying the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism. That led to accusations of anti-Semitism, internal discord and widespread excoriation. Last year, the hard-right demagogue Katie Hopkins lost her job on LBC because she called for a “final solution” after the Manchester bomb attack, words that evoked the Holocaust. I didn’t notice any outcry about free speech over either of these episodes. Both involved words, not acts.
With online communication becoming wilder and more vicious, millions now understand how words hurt and disable humans. Those of us who are “politically correct” seek to ensure the public space is fair, caring, civil, yes safe, for all those who share it. How is that mad, bad and dangerous?
NO: Simon Heffer It is true that there is no such thing as absolute freedom of speech. If I call a man a child molester, or a rapist, or a mass murderer, and he isn’t, then I can be prosecuted under the law of slander or, if I have put the allegation in writing, libel. But there is also, or should be, a code of good manners and reason, and it…