Let me start with putting the Burchill controversy into perspective.
In the past, the Guardian Media Group, of which the Observer is a member, has published articles by notorious anti-Semites, Islamic fundamentalists, 9/11 truthers, genocide deniers, and dictator apologists.
It is without question that these articles have caused deep distress and hurt to large numbers of people.
Noam Chomsky is a case in point. I despise every word of the anti-Semitic trash the man has ever written; find his pathological hate-mongering against America and his Srebrenica revisionism repulsive; and take strong objection to his glorification of the Pol Pot and Saddam Hussein regimes.
However, I would never call for Chomsky to be censored and banned from publishing.
The right to free speech is what separates us from closed, illiberal societies. The ability to absorb individuals and their views, even or especially if we do not like them, and to deal with them in a critical way – write counter-arguments, question the validity, rip it them into pieces – is what makes our societies great, healthy, and strong.
The context in which the Burchill controversy took place is important.
It all started with Suzanne Moore’s piece in the New Statesman about the challenges faced by modern women. Her reference to transsexuals caused a Twitter storm with the result that she was driven off the network by a mob of bullies, who insulted her in the strongest possible terms and accused her of transphobism.
Secondly, Julie Burchill is Julie Burchill. It is almost impossible to find a group of people she has not offended during her controversial career. While that might not be everyone’s idea of decent, responsible journalist, liberal societies must have a place for controversialists and polemics like her.
Thirdly, the central argument in Burchill’s piece, namely that transsexuals should not demand privileges over those who were born as women, is fair and legitimate.
Of course, the language used was inflammatory, insensitive, and insulting and caused hurt and anger among the transgender community.
But the point is that every day journalists write offensive material that puts individuals or groups in the line of fire. If we start banning everyone who offends one group or another, we will end up with little left to publish.
We must resist the temptation to answer controversies, such as the Julie Burchill one, with censorship and deal with them with the weapons a free society provides us with. Shutting down journalists is not what 21st century Britain should look like.
John Mulholland’s decision to take down the Burchill piece from the Observer website was an act of 1984 Orwellianism. He might just as well join the thought police.
I am now also under attack on Twitter by members of the transgender community. According to them, I have failed to condemn the views expressed in the Burchill article, despite having stated repeatedly that I defend her right to free speech and not the article per se.
I will not allow a tiny group of people to spread lies about me, misrepresent my views, and bully me into an apology and clarification which I am not going to give, as I made my views perfectly clear in the first place.