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Sensitive intellectuals discovered that, in a multicultural world, respect for the Other meant understanding his traditions too, and these often were, well, sterner than ours.

Under the new British law, an evangelical Christian also was fined for holding up a sign that read “Stop Homosexuality, Stop Lesbianism.” But he was lucky.

A human rights tribunal in Canada imposed a lifetime ban on sermonizing about homosexuality on a clergyman who had similarly offended.

Today, hurtful speech is more likely to be political speech than obscene speech. I recall, alas, making a very poor joke about literary deconstructionism. The literary, media and political worlds rallied in defense of Mr. He became a hero of free speech and a symbol—even if a slightly ambivalent postcolonial one—of Western liberal traditions.

My colleagues, though more sensible, were baffled and hesitant. But he also went, very sensibly, behind a curtain of security that was to last many years. Rushdie’s life but the lives of his publishers, editors and translators might be threatened—his base of support in the literary world thinned out.

Over time, they encouraged others who had no interest in Islam whatsoever—from wealthy individuals to “dissident” minorities to democratic politicians—to try their hand at silencing opponents.

Almost no newspapers published the Muhammad cartoons, for instance, though the story of them dominated the international media for weeks.

The Saturday Essay No Offense: The New Threats to Free Speech The U. and Britain have long considered themselves the standard-bearers for freedom of expression. We said most of the right things about defending freedom of thought and the imagination.

Can this proud tradition survive the idea that ‘hurtful’ speech deserves no protection? 14, 1989, I happened to be on a panel on press freedom for the Columbia Journalism Review when someone in the audience told us of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s religious edict for blasphemy against the British novelist Salman Rushdie. But the death sentence from Iran’s supreme leader seemed unreal—the sending of a thunderbolt from medieval Qom against modern Bloomsbury—and we didn’t treat it with the seriousness that it deserved.

It isn’t just some Muslims who want the false comfort of censoring disagreeable opinions. Gays, Christians, feminists, patriots, foreign despots, ethnic activists—or organizations claiming to speak for them—are among the many groups seeking relief from the criticism of others through the courts, the legislatures and the public square.

England’s libel laws—long a scandalous system for enabling the rich to suppress their scandals—now have imitations in Europe and the U. In May 2014, the European Court of Justice created “the right to be forgotten,” enabling those with ugly pasts—a fraudster, a failed politician, an anti-Muslim bigot perhaps—to delete their crimes, misdemeanors and embarrassments from Internet records so that search engines cannot find them.

In both countries, the restraints on speech have since been softened, but the concessions have been modest, and Canada’s Supreme Court has clearly indicated a wish to retain the new speech regime in full.

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