Kenan Malik (born 26 January 1960) is an Indian-born English writer, lecturer, broadcaster, and free speech advocate trained in neurobiology and the history of science. His political writings typically include commentaries on modern theories of multiculturalism, pluralism and race.
Free speech in an age of identity politics (2015)
- The university is a space for would-be adults to explore new ideas, to expand their knowledge, to interrogate power, to learn how to make an argument. A space within which students can be challenged, even upset or shocked or made angry.
- The demand from [identity politics] is that we should respect not just the person qua person but also his or her beliefs. It’s a demand that undermines individual autonomy, both by constraining the right of people to criticise others’ beliefs and by insisting that individuals who hold those beliefs are too weak or vulnerable to stand up to criticism, satire or abuse. Far from according them respect, the politics of identity treats people less as autonomous beings than as vulnerable victims needing special protection.
- In plural societies, it is both inevitable and important that people offend the sensibilities of others. Inevitable, because where different beliefs are deeply held, clashes are unavoidable. Almost by definition such clashes express what it is to live in a diverse society. And so they should be openly resolved [rather] than suppressed in the name of ‘respect’ or ‘tolerance’. And important because any kind of social change or social progress means offending some deeply held sensibilities.
- To accept that certain things cannot be said is to accept that certain forms of power cannot be challenged. ...This is why free speech is essential not simply to the practice of democracy, but to the aspirations of those groups who may have been failed by the formal democratic processes; to those whose voices may have been silenced by racism, for instance. The real value of free speech, in other words, is not to those who possess power, but to those who want to challenge them. And the real value of censorship is to those who do not wish their authority to be challenged. The right to ‘subject each others’ fundamental beliefs to criticism’ is the bedrock of an open, diverse society. Once we give up such a right in the name of ‘tolerance’ or ‘respect’, we constrain our ability to challenge those in power, and therefore to challenge injustice.
- Free speech – proper, full-blooded free speech – is the lifeblood of any progressive politics and of any progressive transformation of society. If we treasure the one, we must treasure the other.