The holiday season is here and that means it’s time to engage in the time-honored Christmas tradition of objecting to every time-honored Christmas tradition. Australia is a gazillion time-zones ahead of the United States — it may even be Boxing Day there already — so they got in first this year with a truly fantastic headline: “Santas Warned ‘Ho Ho Ho’ Offensive To Women.”
But the point is the right not to be offended is now the most sacred right in the world. The right to freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of movement, all are as nothing compared to the universal right to freedom from offence. It’s surely only a matter of time before “sensitivity training” is matched by equally rigorous “inoffensiveness training” courses.
In Hanover, New Hampshire, home to Dartmouth College, an atheist and an agnostic known only as “Jan and Pat Doe” (which is which is hard to say) are suing because their three schoolchildren are forced to say the Pledge of Allegiance.
Well, okay, they’re not forced to say it. The Pledge is voluntary. You’re allowed to sit down, or, more discreetly, stand silently, which is what the taciturn Yankee menfolk who think it’s uncool to sing do during the hymns at my local church. But that’s not enough for “the Does”. Because the Pledge mentions God, their children are forced, as it were, not to say it. And, as “Mr and Mrs Doe” put it in their complaint, having to opt out of participation in a voluntary act exposes their children to potential “peer pressure” from the other students.
Let U.S. now cross from the New Hampshire school system to the Sudanese school system. Or as the Associated Press headline put it:
“Thousands In Sudan Call For British Teddy Bear Teacher’s Execution.”
There’s apparently a whole section in the Koran about how if you name cuddly toys after the Prophet you have to be decapitated. Well, actually there isn’t. But why let theological pedantry deprive you of the opportunity to stick it to the infidel? Mrs. Gibbons is regarded as lucky to get 15 days in jail, when the court could have imposed six months and 40 lashes. But even that wouldn’t have been good enough for the mob in Khartoum.
Still, at exactly the time Gillian Gibbons caught the eye of the Sudanese authorities, a 19-year old Saudi woman was sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in jail. Her crime? She’d been abducted and gang-raped by seven men. Originally, she’d been sentenced to 90 lashes, but her lawyer had appealed and so the court increased it to 200 and jail time. Anybody on the streets in Sudan or anywhere else in the Muslim world who wants to protest that?
East is East and West is West and in both we take offense at nothing: Santas saying “Ho ho ho”, teddy bears called Mohammed. And yet the difference is very telling: The now annual Santa suits in the “war on Christmas” and the determination to abolish even such anodyne expressions of faith as the Pledge of Allegiance are assaults on the very possibility of a common culture. By contrast, the teddy bear rubbish is a crude demonstration of cultural muscle intended to cow and intimidate. When East meets West, when offended Muslims find themselves operating in western nations, they discover that both techniques are useful: some march in the streets Khartoum-style calling for the Pope to be beheaded, others use the mechanisms of the west’s litigious, perpetual grievance culture to harass opponents into silence.
But their complaints are frivolous and decadent, and more determined groups are using the patterns they’ve established to shut down debate on things we should be talking about. The ability to give and take offense is what separates free societies from Sudan.
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