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Today, content is increasingly the explicit justification for restricting speech.

The argument used, especially in colleges, is that “words hurt.” Thus, universities, parliaments, courts and various international bodies intervene promiscuously to restrict hurtful or offensive speech—with the results described above.

Today, hurtful speech is more likely to be political speech than obscene speech. I recall, alas, making a very poor joke about literary deconstructionism. The literary, media and political worlds rallied in defense of Mr. He became a hero of free speech and a symbol—even if a slightly ambivalent postcolonial one—of Western liberal traditions.

Freedom of political speech, however, was regarded as sacrosanct by all.

As legal restraints on obscenity fell away, however, freedom of political speech began to come under attack from a different kind of censor—college administrators, ethnic-grievance groups, gay and feminist advocates.

Over time, they encouraged others who had no interest in Islam whatsoever—from wealthy individuals to “dissident” minorities to democratic politicians—to try their hand at silencing opponents.

Almost no newspapers published the Muhammad cartoons, for instance, though the story of them dominated the international media for weeks.

Sensitive intellectuals discovered that, in a multicultural world, respect for the Other meant understanding his traditions too, and these often were, well, sterner than ours.

Freedom of speech was only one value to be set against…ahem, several other values.

The right to be offended, which is the other side of free speech, is therefore a genuine right.

True belief and honest doubt are both impossible without it.

The Saturday Essay No Offense: The New Threats to Free Speech The U. and Britain have long considered themselves the standard-bearers for freedom of expression. We said most of the right things about defending freedom of thought and the imagination.

Can this proud tradition survive the idea that ‘hurtful’ speech deserves no protection? 14, 1989, I happened to be on a panel on press freedom for the Columbia Journalism Review when someone in the audience told us of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s religious edict for blasphemy against the British novelist Salman Rushdie. But the death sentence from Iran’s supreme leader seemed unreal—the sending of a thunderbolt from medieval Qom against modern Bloomsbury—and we didn’t treat it with the seriousness that it deserved.

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