Is it extreme to defend free speech?
Dr Evan Harris (MP and NSS Honorary Associate) asks a reasonable question about people who are not at all reasonable.
When is a liberal like me an extremist? When, in the words of Asghar Bukhari, chairman of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, I defend the right of Salman Rushdie to offend the likes of Mr Bukhari – and defend the Government for knighting the novelist. At least that was what Mr Bukhari screeched at me in a televised rant recently.
True, Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses was insulting and offensive to Muslims. But that is no basis to deny him an honour. In fact the reaction of Islamic extremists to his work – with al Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri now threatening retaliation against Britain for the knighthood – underlines precisely why he should be honoured. To recognise our society’s values and freedoms as well as the talent it contains.
And in one sense, Mr Bukhari was right about my own “extremist” views. For I will stop at nothing to protect the rights of people like him to be offensive and wrong.