Culture of hate speech laws is making jokes a crime
By Douglas Murray
People who can’t take a joke - that IS offensive: Modern-day society is lacking humour
Most people reading this will, at some point, have had the misfortune to meet one of those piggyfaced people who, at a certain point in the conversation, says: ‘Excuse me, but I find that offensive.’
Often it’s someone who isn’t actually offended themselves. They are claimed offence for an absent third party. Unfortunately, this horrible behavioural tic is extending its reach. It is realising its power and getting organised.
You often hear the phrase ‘Why does no one ever say “X” in the media?’ or ‘Why do you never hear “Y”?’
The simple answer is that - to an extent barely realised outside the business - what can be written and broadcast in our media today is no longer decided just by editors and commissioners, but by a labyrinthine bureaucracy open to wild abuse by anyone who can claim to have had their feelings hurt.
Offence-takers are enjoying a peak season.
If you don’t like something you hear, you can claim to have suffered an offence - instead of just turning it off. Minority interest pressure groups encourage it, and you can be directed to things that you weren’t offended by first time round via Twitter and Facebook. Best of all, you can threaten to use the law.
Let me give an example. But first, let me cover myself by issuing a disclaimer - what follows is a joke: ‘A man walked into a Dublin bar and saw a friend sitting with an empty glass.
“Paddy, can I get you another?” he asked. Paddy replied, “Now, what would I be wanting with another empty glass?” ‘
Let me be absolutely clear; it is not a good joke. I am not saying it is. But in any sane society there would be only two possible reactions. You could laugh or, (more likely) like me, you will have emitted a small groan.
But, of course, this is no longer a sane society and so a third option presents itself - which is that you call up the police and report that a crime has been committed. Not a crime against humour. But a crime. Full stop.
Happily, the above joke is not my own. Any correspondence should be sent to Councillor Ken Bamber who sits on the local council in the Medway towns, Kent. Cllr Bamber told the above joke during a council event.
Unfortunately, another individual present was one Brian Kelly, a Unison representative. Mr Kelly promptly stated that he had been born in Ireland and had Irish lineage and as such found the joke offensive.
A complaint was launched. A lengthy legal process ensued, at the end of which Mr Kelly was awarded many thousands of pounds in compensation, paid to him by the Council and Cllr Bamber. You and I, of course, paid for the cost of proceedings.
Now, when I read about this earlier this year I had a few thoughts of my own and wrote a piece about this madness.
Anyhow, I signed off in the spirit of ‘they can’t take us all’ by saying that readers should send in their own Irish jokes to defeat this compensation culture menace. At which point, I unwittingly walked straight on to the crime scene myself.
I, too, had committed a hate crime. Worse, I had incited others to do the same. I had become a one-man walking crimewave. Before I knew it, I was in what one journalist described as ‘a minor international incident’.
The phone began to ring with predominantly Irish journalists wanting comment. Editorials were written on the case of the Scottish sounding man who had incited jokes against the Irish. As the case dragged on, I started to wonder whether I could leave the house without committing a hate crime.
Apparently, I didn’t have to. The Irish embassy issued a statement and the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs proclaimed that it was precisely because of articles like mine that hate-speech laws existed.
And, of course, utterly inevitably, some self-appointed harpy who claimed to be an Irish ‘community leader’ reported me to the Press Complaints Commission and police.
Hate crimes complaints, I learned, are like hydras: attempt to chop up one and you find yourself facing two.
I know I’m not the only journalist to have gone through this process. More and more special-interest groups are demanding acquiescence or silence in relation to their agendas.
And, as a result, there are certain subjects that you are simply better off not writing about. Anything to do with race, religion or sexuality you’re better off out of. Of course, the principle that no one should be able to claim or receive compensation for hearing a joke they do not like was lost in much of the Irish hullabaloo.
But I was struck by something in the conversations I kept having with people. Generally, my interviewers and correspondents recognised that there are real crimes - rapes, murders and so on - which might better suit police attention.
But there was also a presumption, and the younger the interviewer the more prevalent it was, that there must be - had to be - something in place in society that stopped people having to face the risk of having their feelings insulted. Particularly if it had something to do with ethnic heritage, religion or sexuality.
My own reaction to this is fairly robust. Being offended, and learning to deal with it, is part of being a grown-up in a grown-up society. I get offended every time I walk down the street. I’m offended by very fat people, I’m offended by flashy people.
I’m offended by Channel 4 News. Most of all, I’m offended by super-sensitive people who think that they’re the only ones in the world with feelings. Yet I don’t try to get any of these banned because I know that it’s not the state’s job to punish people just because they annoy me.
An increasing number of us appear to think differently. I suppose we should have seen this coming. After all, if the Government is meant to provide everything else in life, why shouldn’t it be expected to police your feelings as well? It is a logical endpoint of the welfare state.