Challenging power is “offensive”

A terrific article by Kenan Malik on Channel 4’s contemptible decision to throw Maajid Nawaz under the bus by siding with the “offended” brigade.

‘Thank you @Channel4News you just pushed us liberal Muslims further into a ditch’. So tweeted Maajid Nawaz, prospective Liberal Democratic parliamentary candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn, last night. He had every right to be incandescent. Channel 4 News had just held a debate about theJesus and Mo cartoons and about the campaign to deselect Nawaz for tweeting one of the cartoons, not finding them offensive. Channel 4 decided that they were offensive and could not be shown. It would have been bad enough had the channel decided simply not to show the cartoon. What it did was worse. It showed the cartoon – but blanked out Muhammad’s face (and only Muhammad’s face). In the context of a debate about whether Nawaz had been right to tweet the cartoon in the first place, or whether his critics were right to hound him for ‘offending’ Muslims, it was an extraordinary decision. The broadcaster had effectively taken sides in the debate – and taken the side of the reactionaries against the liberal.

Preeeeeeecisely. Nawaz invites his fellow Muslims to act like adults and Channel 4 says No, no, no, act like bad-tempered babies!

There is something truly bizarre (and yet in keeping with the zeitgeist of our age) that someone should become the focus of death threats and an international campaign of vilification for suggesting that an inoffensive cartoon was, well, inoffensive.

It’s a bizarre zeitgeist. Somebody should name a band that.

I want to annotate every word, but I’m out of time, so I’ll point out one more important observation:

the giving of offence is not just inevitable, it is also important. Any kind of social change or social progress means offending some deeply held sensibilities. Or to put it another way: ‘You can’t say that!’ is all too often the response of those in power to having their power challenged. To accept that certain things cannot be said is to accept that certain forms of power cannot be challenged.

‘Swhat I keep saying. Lots of people are “offended” by demands that women be treated as equals. Lots of people are “offended” by the claim that LGBT people should not be persecuted. Lots of people are “offended” by suggestions that the goal of a decent society should not be the largest possible gap between the poor and the rich.



  1. Al Dente says

    A further quote from Malik’s article:

    The notion of giving offence suggests that certain beliefs are so important or valuable to certain people that they should be put beyond the possibility of being insulted, or caricatured or even questioned.

    A corollary to this is that some people say “My religion forbids X, so to keep from offending me you must not do X even though you are not a believer in my religion.”

  2. says

    “Offended” is just shorthand for “I don’t have a better reason” — because, if you do have a better reason, you’ll always use it, first:
    “Excuse me, mister? You’re standing on my foot and it’s crushing my toe!” not “Your standing on my foot offends me!”
    “Hey, it’s 4:00am and I’m trying to sleep, can you turn your music down?!” not “Justin Beiber offends me!”
    It’s pretty easy, really. When someone uses the “offense” line of argument, they’ve just laid down their weapons.

  3. rnilsson says

    Yes, that’s also related to the principle that the one to first use or threaten violence has acceded a lack of any better arguments, and has thus already lost the “debate”.

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