The author and journalist Christopher Hitchens, who died in 2011, was a fierce—and fearless—debater. (Photo by David Levenson via Getty Images)

Things Worth Remembering: The Freedom to Offend

In 2006, Christopher Hitchens gave a brave, ‘blasphemous’ speech on Islam that resonates with even greater power today.

Welcome to Douglas Murray’s column, Things Worth Remembering, in which he presents great speeches from famous orators we should commit to heart. To listen to Christopher Hitchens deliver a part of his famous 2006 speech at the University of Toronto—and Douglas’s reflections on it—scroll to the end of this piece.

When I was starting out as a writer and a speaker, a friend gave me some sound advice. “The only rule of public speaking,” he said, “is never to speak before, with, or after Christopher Hitchens.”

This was some years before Hitch entered the stratosphere of celebrity that enveloped him in his final years. In this period—the early 2000s—he was well known, but he wasn’t famous famous. 

But his reputation as a public speaker and debater was already formidable. Indeed, there were some who thought he spoke even better than he wrote.  Which, if you’ve ever read his 2007 book God Is Not Great, was high praise.

Although we knew each other for some years, Christopher and I only ever spoke alongside each other once, at a seminar at a British university. It was only as we were sitting there, before starting, that I suddenly recalled the advice of our mutual friend. A certain knot formed in my stomach. 

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