In the wake of the attacks on Paris, are Western societies too tolerant of intolerance?
Sam Bowman, deputy director of the Adam Smith Institute, says Yes
After the Charlie Hebdo murders, the world stood with Charlie. Yet almost everybody illustrated their unity with the bland image of a pen, instead of the Muhammad drawings that the cartoonists were murdered for.
Even when we wanted to show that “nous sommes Charlie”, we were afraid of offending their murderers. Some solidarity!
Western civilisation is built on the principle of adversarial debate, and the more political correctness stops us from mocking the unmockable and saying the unsayable, the less strong that civilisation will become.
Like bullies, terrorists can only win when they can frighten people into submission.
In the days and weeks following the atrocities in Paris, many will call for “sensitivity” and tolerance towards even the brutal side of Islam, for fear of offending moderate Muslims.
They are wrong: as moderate Muslims themselves recognise, the legal and cultural freedom to mock the sacred is not the price of freedom – it is the reward.
Brendan O’Neill, editor of Spiked Online, says No
It would be a craven act of self-defeat to ditch tolerance after Paris. We’d be doing the killers’ dirty work. They loathe our liberty, sneering at Paris as the “capital of… vice”.
Curbing freedom would give them what they want, making our societies like theirs: stifling, ugly. We should respond to Paris by having more tolerance, not less. And yes, this means tolerance of the intolerant – even radical Islam.
Tolerance is not relativism. It doesn’t mean nodding along as every simpleton with a soapbox talks rubbish. It demands not only that we allow such people to speak, but also that we take seriously our duty to speak back.
The best way to defeat bad ideas is with the disinfectant of debate. Intolerance only pushes nasty beliefs underground, where they fester, unseen. Post-Paris, let’s have a battle of ideas, to show freedom of speech still lives, and that we have the cojones to argue for Enlightenment against their nasty creed.