There is a reactionary aspect to the ideal of multiculturalism as it is espoused in Britain and the Netherlands, and increasingly even in the United States. It presumes that minorities would rather be represented by ethnic or religious leaders than by national ones. This gives too much power to community leaders whose status is depending on their ability to control the way we speak or think about the people supposedly in their charge, and it stops people from thinking of themselves as individuals and citizens. In fact, it thwarts national discussion altogether. And rational discussion is a vital aspect of political education. It certainly was necessary to educate the mainstream of democratic societies to respect the rights of minorities, but now immigrants and their offspring must learn that to be offended is the price we all must pay for our freedom of thought.
Essay #3: “The Freedom to Offend” by Ian Buruma from the New Republic and printed in Best American Essays 2007.
I didn’t pick this quote from the essay because I agree with it entirely (I don’t), but because I think it does a good job summing up Buruma’s main argument: by limiting discourse by calling “offensive” too often, we limit our ability to really talk about important issues. However, I disagree with the way Buruma places this problem as one that comes from leaders in minority communities — frankly, it seems to me that almost everyone in every group needs to get a thicker skin when it comes to accusations of bias or offense.
This was definitely a provocative political essay, and it got me thinking about my strong support of freedom of speech again, which I liked.