Public reaction to the attack in Paris has revealed that there are a lot of people who are quick to lionize those who offend the views of Islamist terrorists in France but who are a lot less tolerant toward those who offend their own views at home.
Just look at all the people who have overreacted to campus micro-aggressions. The University of Illinois fired a professor who taught the Roman Catholic view on homosexuality. The University of Kansas suspended a professor for writing a harsh tweet against the N.R.A. Vanderbilt University derecognized a Christian group that insisted that it be led by Christians.
Americans may laud Charlie Hebdo for being brave enough to publish cartoons ridiculing the Prophet Muhammad, but, if Ayaan Hirsi Ali is invited to campus, there are often calls to deny her a podium.
So this might be a teachable moment. As we are mortified by the slaughter of those writers and editors in Paris, it’s a good time to come up with a less hypocritical approach to our own controversial figures, provocateurs and satirists.
Well this is refreshing.
It seems to be the case in North America that we are increasingly willing to enable oversensitive people, and that it is somehow a good or progressive thing to make life hell for people who happen to say something that the oversensitive types might find objectionable. We make a virtue out of whining and self-victimization – and, to be clear, I’m not implying that this is something that is exclusively the problem of people on the more liberal end of the spectrum; I’ve seen it among conservative types, and it is equally obnoxious there.
What makes this worse is that there are still groups (such as Mormons) who are considered acceptable targets. So we get to enjoy the simulation of being at the cutting edge of wit and irreverence while crying foul when someone goes after one of our own sacred cows. And, in the case of tragedy like this, we’re often quick to leap at the moral posturing it allows us to do without actually taking responsibility for our free-speech ethos in our actual lives.
True, we don’t gun down people who offend us, but that’s a rather low margin of civility to pass. If we’re going to live in a supposedly liberal, pluralistic society, we’re going to have to one day get over the fact that we don’t have a right to not be offended.