Monday, 30 March 2015

If you insult my mother and I punch you, what do you think should happen?

The South China Morning Post usually runs my letters, but not the one below... I think they'd had enough of the issue of "Freedom of Speech", in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre.  They've moved on to the plastic bag levy.
The letters editors may also have been a bit squeamish about the forthright criticism of the Pope, though surely he deserved all that, for his unconscionable incitement to violence.

Still, I post it here, for the whatever, the record, I guess, as I can't fault my logic....

If you insult my mother and I punch you, what do you think should happen?  That's right, I should be arrested for assault.
Your insulting my mother is rude and in bad taste (she's 95, after all, and blameless). But my punching you is assault and battery: a criminal act. 
This clear distinction (bad taste vs criminality) seems to elude not only Su Yuen-ching ("Right to insult doesn't make it free of fallout", Letters, 27 February), but also Pope Francis, who Su praises as "one of the kindest people in the world”.
It was Francis, lest we forget, who said that anyone who insulted his mother should “expect a punch”.
For my part, I find it not at all admirable, but repulsive, that the spiritual leader of the world's largest religion should suggest a *punch* in response to insult: it’s criminally and morally wrong.
The Pope’s comments supporting violence was his response the Charlie Hebdo murders. This makes them worse, and irresponsible in the extreme. No matter how much his office may have tried to "walk back” this Papal punchiness, Francis' comments excuse, or at least mitigate, the murder of cartoonists for their "insult" of Islam. I don't see how else this can be read.
And this is the broader problem in ceding free speech rights to the offense takers. There's always another offense to be taken. And always another level of violence that they can rise to. Saudi Arabia took offense to a blogger. They sentenced him to jail and 1,000 lashes. Bangladeshis took offense to an atheist blogger . They hacked him to death. Jihadis took offense at Charlie Hebdo. They killed them.
These are all of a type. If you write something and I take offence, I can punch, or whip, or jail or kill you. Yet in response to this, many of your letter writers have said that it's free speech that must be constrained so that we don't "cause offence". Not that the criminals should be brought to account.
Very well. But then those same letter writers must understand that giving ground to offense takers is to excuse the multitude of criminal sins against free people.  They may deny it (“tolerance”, “respect”, “don’t offend”), but it’s an inescapable result of their brand of logic.
+++++  [include or not the following….]
I suspect your readers may be tiring of the debate in these pages between a free speech fundamentalist such as myself and those who would limit it.
So, for my part, this is the last I'll say for now, as you've been good enough to publish two of my letters on the topic so far.
I'll leave with an observation from Oscar Wilde: "I may not agree with you say, but will defend to the death your right to make an ass of yourself."