A senior lecturer has said people must have freedom of speech, but that society needs a 'moral reckoning' when it comes to the impact of what is said in a public space.
Amanullah De Sondy was speaking in the wake of a letter published by more than 100 prominent public figures - including JK Rowling, Salman Rushdie and Noam Chomsky - about free speech and so-called ‘cancel culture’.
The authors of the letter - published in US magazine Harper’s - claim the “free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted”.
Mr De Sondy - Head of Study of Religions & Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Islam at UCC - discussed the issue with Sunday Times and Irish Daily Mail columnist Brenda Power on today’s Hard Shoulder.
Mr De Sondry suggested that "ideas are not just ideas, and thoughts are not just thoughts".
He said: “[This] is a time - if you want to call it a reckoning - where people are thinking ‘what is it what you’re saying, and is it helping our society ills?’
“We tend to think ‘we need to get two viewpoints, there has to be a for and against’. But can we really have two views on racism, two views on homophobia, two views on white supremacy, two views on rape?
“We have to think of freedom of speech - you must be able to say what it is you want to say.
"Cancelling… I don’t really like that term. What I think is important is that all of our ideas need to be interrogated.”
He warned that what people say and think can have “a real-life effect” by causing physical and mental harm to other people.
He observed: “At some point, we have to get off the fence because the fence is going to bite us in the bum - what’s going to happen is it’s going to lead to actions and more harm to individuals.
"What we need is an ethical and moral reckoning on the impact of what you’re saying in a public space.
“Freedom of speech is part of the fabric of our society - every society will excel if you have freedom of speech. What we now need… is to think about what are the implications of what you’re saying."
Ms Power, however, suggested there can be two views on racism - and two views on “absolutely everything”.
She argued: “The fact that some of them are offensive, pungent, oppressive, unpleasant… that doesn’t mean they should be silenced.
“The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument and persuasion. Of course there are multiple views on racism, transgender rights, religion, or whatever opposing opinion you don’t want to hear.
“My heart sinks when I hear journalists calling for an extension of hate speech legislation.
"The difficulty when you start to say there are some opinions you can’t have on racism or whatever… who decides what you can have?”
She said that there are things people cannot express and opinions they cannot hold, then there’s a risk of “joining a long list of oppressors and censors down through the ages”.
She said: “There is a terror among people like myself, who are opinion columnists, about saying the wrong thing… about expressing your opinions freely… for fear you might wake up and find yourself out of a job.
“When the internet was first pioneered it was hailed as an absolutely fantastic new frontier, where the free exchange of opinions, ideas and information would be untrammelled. It has had the opposite effect.”