Rohan Jayasekera’s article on the website of Index on Censorship provoked a lot of comment and opposition.
He has now responded and Index have printed some of the letters they have received.
It is not a very impressive reply.
David T adds
Rohan has responded to the initial post, and has been engaging with other commentators on this blog, and to my suggestion that the only acceptable justification for his piece was that he was in some way being “ironic” or “attempting to provoke debate”. His first response is this:
David. You are exactly correct. I was indeed “attempting to provoke debate” and “being ironic”. I’m fairly sure I failed!
brings us all up to date with my views and those of most of my critics’.
Oddly I have only had three responses from Dutch people – one who politely corrected my error in dating Pim Fortuyn’s death without further comment, another who said Muslims were goatfuckers because the Ayatollah Khomeni had authorised it, and an intelligent but damming critique from a US naturalised Dutch journalist. That last response is posted on the above link. (I also spoke to a Somali friend today who says her family in Holland are living in fear of their lives…)
Everyone else was American, with a few Brits. I stand by my position – that van Gogh used his powers of free speech to turn discourse on migrants’ rights into a baying dogfight that censors rational opinion and encourages hate.
But I won’t be trying to be ironic for a while! Too many people threatening me when i do!
I have been thinking for some time of writing a piece on the Rawlsian conception of civility (specifically, in the sense of civic respect), particularly in relation to the polarisation of political discourse which has come to a head as a product of the debate on the Iraq war. I’m not sure exactly how it can be reconciled with the principle of freedom of expression, but it might be fun to try.
I’m not sure where it will go, and but I’d be interested in people’s thoughts on the subject. There’s a relevant article here, which argues “that we should impose upon ourselves a restriction against publicly questioning each other’s motives”, a subject on which Norm has also written. It might be a good starting point.
In summary, I do think that there is a place for bombast in political discourse – and I should know – but nevertheless, that form of discourse is not entirely without cost. Nevertheless, although at its most basic level you catch more flies with honey, how tedious it would be were we to conduct all debate in pastel colours.