Giving power to the bigots or much needed protection from hate-speech?

8 March 2005

Last night Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, the British-Sikh playwright, won the prestigious Susan Smith Blackburn prize for her play, Bezhti ("Dishonour"), which was forced to close down a week after its opening in Birmingham (in December 2004) following violent protests from the local Sikh community.

Bezhti is referred to in Salman Rushdie's 7 February openDemocracy article ("Defend the right to be offended") where he attacks the British government's proposed legislation to ban "hatred against people because of their religious beliefs". Rushdie argues that the law will essentially undermine the principle of free speech and "will unleash some major expressions of intolerance" - as the author of The Satanic Verses he would potentially be liable for prosecution. Various blogs have picked up Rushdie's article including cultural pickings, pseudo magazine, bdandy, quarks daily and kitab khana.

His piece also triggered a powerful reply from the proudly "chutnified" writer Shakira Hussein, who agrees that we should retain the right to offend but must "ditch the right to incite hate". Yesterday - after Lisa Appignanesi joined the fray - Shakira came into the openDemocracy forums in defence of her argument. You can follow and contribute to the discussion here.

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As COVID rates across the country surge, how can we hold our leaders accountable? Meet the lawyers, journalists and politicians leading the charge in our free live discussion on Thursday 1 October at 5pm UK time.

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Peter Geoghegan Investigations editor, openDemocracy, and author of 'Democracy for Sale: Dark Money and Dirty Politics'

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