The slow death of free speech in the west

Oh, don’t worry. There’ll still be plenty of ‘offending, insulting or humiliating’ in such a world, as Ayaan Hirsi Ali and the Mozilla CEO and Zionists and climate deniers and feminist ‘cis-women’ not quite au courant with transphobia can all tell you. And then comes the final, eerie silence. Young Erin Ching at Swarthmore College has grasped the essential idea: it is not merely that, as the Big Climate enforcers say, ‘the science is settled’, but so is everything else, from abortion to gay marriage. So what’s to talk about? Universities are no longer institutions of inquiry but ‘safe spaces’ where delicate flowers of diversity of race, sex, orientation, ‘gender fluidity’ and everything else except diversity of thought have to be protected from exposure to any unsafe ideas.

As it happens, the biggest ‘safe space’ on the planet is the Muslim world. For a millennium, Islamic scholars have insisted, as firmly as a climate scientist or an American sophomore, that there’s nothing to debate. And what happened? As the United Nations Human Development Programme’s famous 2002 report blandly noted, more books are translated in Spain in a single year than have been translated into Arabic in the last 1,000 years. Free speech and a dynamic, innovative society are intimately connected: a culture that can’t bear a dissenting word on race or religion or gender fluidity or carbon offsets is a society that will cease to innovate, and then stagnate, and then decline, very fast.

As American universities, British playwrights and Australian judges once understood, the ‘safe space’ is where cultures go to die.