So What If You Are Offended?
By Shazia Mirza
March 12, 2013
I wrote a piece last week for http://www.dawn.com. It was not published.
I received an email from my editor saying, “Unfortunately, I’ve had to hold back your column for this week because of Dawn’s policy on language usage. Even in our Blogs section we are prohibited to use slang and/or words that may offend our readers. If the mention had occurred once, I could have changed it around a bit but since the theme of the entire piece revolves around an offensive word, and in some places even appears to be the right choice of word in my opinion, I do have to adhere to policy.”
The word I used is not a swear word, it is not blasphemous; it is not directed at anyone. It is a word I used to describe my feelings about myself. The word I used rhymes with halls, walls, calls, falls … Yet, I was told it may offend readers.
An essential part of democracy is freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of thought and freedom of press. These are considered the essential rights that allow people to be adequately informed and able to vote according to their own interests. Democracy is not just how the majority comes to power but how the majority treats the minority when in power. It is an essential part of the development of a nation and the progress of thought. Threatening to curb people’s thoughts, is just a dictatorship, you may as well bring Hitler and Ide Amin back from the dead.
Pakistan is not a liberal or functioning democracy. This is due to the lack of commitment to democratic government and the democratic process among the major political parties in Pakistani national politics, the unresolved status of Kashmir and the political rights of its people, the status of women and civil society, and universal corruption at all levels of society and government.
But some like to think that Pakistan is a democracy.
By not allowing my column to be published last week, I have been censored. In the seven years I have been a writer, for many publications all over the world, I have never previously been censored. The reason “It may offend some of our readers” is a flimsy excuse on behalf of people you don’t know. And, so what if they are offended? Do we have to go through life protecting people from not being offended? Being able to take offence is a sign of intelligence and maturity, so by saying “It may offend some of our readers” you are patronising people of your own country and making assumptions on their behalf.
It is a person’s right to be offended. It is my right to offend them. But it is no one’s right to be offended on behalf of someone else. If someone is offended by my use of the word “*alls” then they are welcome to choose never to read me again.
Reading broadens the mind, encourages thought, and sometimes those thoughts are dirty. Be grateful for them, they don’t come often enough.
I don’t expect or want everyone to agree or disagree with everything I say. But I do expect people to make up their own minds. Pakistan is a country where about 150 women a year get acid thrown in their faces, women are buried alive, and yet a piece I write with the word “*alls” doesn’t get published. There are far more offensive things than me talking metaphorically about the parts of a man’s anatomy.
I have performed in Pakistan many times and I have never been censored. The last time I was there the organiser said, “Start off doing safe material, tone it down”. It was going OK, people were laughing, but then people started shouting “Tone it up, tone it up!” that’s when the show really took off and people started laughing hysterically and stamping their feet.
There were no complaints; no one was offended.
Let people decide what they want. Let them be offended. Let them progress.
Shazia Mirza is an award winning stand-up comedian and writer. She has performed all over the world. A columnist for The Guardian UK, she was named Columnist of the Year at the prestigious PPA Awards.