Friday, 23 May 2008

Canary arrested

Again, a cartoonist under threat for being offensive, this time Dutch cartoonist Gregorius Nekschot. Only now the police are doing the extremists' work for them.

There's coverage on Journalista with lots of links, here and here. (Scroll down in each post.)

Also via Journalista, an opinion piece by Perro de Jong, A Policeman Calls.

Mr Nekschot (not his real name) draws cartoons critical of Islam, amongst other things. Some are grotesque, some sexually explicit, some violent. A number of them are very likely to be considered offensive by a great many people. But I don't believe offensiveness should be illegal. 

What is considered offensive is not universally constant. 

To grant anyone freedom from offense would be to grant them absolute power to censor, as only they themselves could define what they found find offensive. To grant everyone freedom from offense is logically impossible, as many conceptions of offensiveness are mutually exclusive. To grant only some freedom from offense is unfair, and therefore in my view offensive.

And the quality of the work must not be an issue either. Freedom of expression only for work of recognised artistic worth is not freedom of expression.

Freedom of expression is essential. The only exceptions I can see are incitement to murder, libel, breaches of intellectual property law, contempt of court in the reporting of legal cases, disclosure of state secrets likely to endanger life, and the like.

I'd like to recommend an article written by Oliver Kamm for Index on Censorship, titled The Tyranny of Moderation: Respect and Civility are the Enemies of Free Speech.

Now when I posted a link to that piece on the Comics Journal Message Board in connection with an earlier cartoonist-hunt story, another poster ridiculed the argument therein, writing that it implied that more offensiveness would greatly aid the discourse of ideas. This misses the point. Offensiveness is the canary in the coal mine. If the canary cannot survive, the air is not healthy for miners either. If there is no freedom to offend, then all expression is under threat.

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