"Cancel Culture": free speech in danger?

After an open letter in which more than 150 authors, scientists and activists including Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood and Noam Chomsky complain of an intolerant culture of debate, discussion of the so-called "Cancel Culture" continues. Commentators also take very different views on whether "the free exchange of information and ideas is becoming more restricted every day".

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Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

Back to the Stone Age

Political scientist and sociologist Ulrike Ackermann comments on the development of a new debate culture in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung:

“The hurt feelings of a group suddenly matter more than the principles and the exercise of artistic, scientific freedom and freedom of expression. ... Our society seems to be regressing to an earlier stage of development, away from the ideal of the autonomous, self-determined, enlightened individual and alert citizenry and back to tribal thinking and the formation of hordes with celebrated leaders. In the self-affirming communities, strengthened by the new media, a worrying relapse into tribalism can be observed. Society is splintering into ever new collectives fighting for their own particular interests.”

Polityka (PL) /

Victims everywhere

To win a debate nowadays one has to present oneself as a victim, Polityka comments:

“This applies today to almost every protest and political movement that wants to succeed. Even groups for which the victim image is not a good fit are using it surprisingly effectively. There are movements in South Africa that present white, economically privileged farmers and citizens as victims of persecution. Populist parties in Europe owe their success to propaganda that portrays politicians who have been members of the elite for years as being oppressed by a hostile system of outsiders.”

Kurier (AT) /

Too often used as an all-purpose weapon

Kurier believes that those who speak out publicly should be ready to take some flak:

“Freedom of expression, one of the greatest assets of mature democracies, has come under considerable pressure. Not because movements or individuals are being kicked off Twitter, but because it is being used as a fuzzy all-purpose weapon by many people who aren't at all interested in it. And because its most important characteristics have been forgotten. Because the goal of true freedom of expression is the expression of opinion without sanctions by the state: when anyone can express opinions that comply with the law without being punished. ... And it has nothing at all to do with being able to trumpet your opinion without anyone reacting. If you make a statement you can expect a counter-statement, and an acerbic one at that. This must be tolerated, and does nothing to restrict the freedom of expression.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

A brave step

The intellectuals are finally standing up for themselves, writes columnist Pierluigi Battista in Corriere della Sera:

“Freedom of expression is put to the test when people like Ian Buruma, former editor of the New York Review of Books, are dismissed because they adopt dissonant positions. As if the conflict of ideas in open and hard-edged but free and invigorating discussion, the loyally-fought clash of cultures pitting argument against argument and thesis against counter-thesis, were not the oxygen of democratic societies, based on pluralism - rather than on the dualism of a struggle between good and an evil that must be censored. ... With this appeal, a courageous gesture, intellectuals are now trying to counter this drift towards intolerance.”

The Guardian (GB) /

Unable to take criticism

Columnist Nesrine Malik criticises the initiative in The Guardian and accuses the signatories of being oversensitive:

“To those unaccustomed to being questioned, this all feels personal. They have confused a lack of reverence from people who are able to air their views for the very first time with an attack on their right to free speech. They have mistaken the new ways they can be told they are wrong or irrelevant as the baying of a mob, rather than exposure to an audience that has only recently found its voice. The world is changing. It's not 'cancel culture' to point out that, in many respects, it's not changing quickly enough.”

Berlingske (DK) /

Don't leave the field to Trump

Berlingske also approves of the initiative, particularly in view of recent developments in the United States:

“The tactic of compromising people on social media and then demanding apologies and dismissals stifles social debate. In the United States, moderate left-wing forces must also recognise that it will play into Donald Trump's hands if left-wing extremists are allowed to set the agenda in the racism debate. The president himself has demonstrated radical intolerance even though he likes to cast himself as a defender of free debate. ... If the American left wing left the defence of the free word to Donald Trump it would be an admission of defeat.”