I defend anyone’s right to free speech just as I defend anyone’s right to think what they like. To take the opposite approach, in my view, is to go down the road to control and totalitarianism. I accept, however, that this means that people are going to say and think things that are abhorrent, disgusting and hateful, whether in ignorance or not.
What I don’t accept though is that people can divorce themselves from the consequences of what they say. Saying abhorrent things leads to feelings of abhorrence, saying disgusting things leads to disgust and saying things that are hateful leads to hatred.
Politicians and people in the public eye know this. They can hide behind the freedom of speech to say things that evoke feelings of hopelessness, anger and blame. Such feelings can give rise to disruption and violence. Saying things that are hateful opens the door to a rise in hate crime. This is the politics of hate and when you are in a position of influence it is an easy and cheap thing to do.
A bombshell is dropped, wrapped up in an article that tries to put rational arguments forward, yet is designed to raise the hackles and boil the blood. People clamour for an apology and the refusal only adds flames to the fire of publicity. It is all a game to propel the author into power on a wave of populism. It is an unsubtle yet highly effective approach.
An apology is not the answer, however. Saying something abhorrent and then repenting, or not, is just a trick. Those in public life know better.
We all need to be careful what we say, not to restrict our freedom of speech but to ensure we don’t incite offence. Unless, of course that is intended and when we hear those who try to manipulate our opinions through hate speech we should not give them the response they crave.