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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

How Free is Free Speech?

It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them. — Mark Twain

For those who stubbornly seek freedom, there can be no more urgent task than to come to understand the mechanisms and practices of indoctrination. These are easy to perceive in the totalitarian societies, much less so in the system of 'brainwashing under freedom' to which we are subjected and which all too often we sere as willing or unwitting instruments. — Noam Chomsky

I have the freedom to sing in my bathroom. I wish I had the freedom to interrupt a concert at the Metropolitan and sing. — Mahajirzadeh
Salman Rushdie graduated with a Masters in History with honours from King’s College in 1968. He was not a novice, and he knew about the world of Islam. As a writer he knew what he wrote in theSatanic Verses. He knew it would trigger consequences. If I were charitable I would say he miscalculated the reaction to his deliberate provocations.

The protests, deaths and the fatwa are history.

Those who defend his right to Freedom of Speech are selective in their defense. Haroon Siddiqui writes:
The West looks at all this and says:
What's the matter with Muslims? Why do they overreact to real and imagined slights? Why are they so intolerant of religious dissidents? Why do they mistreat non-Muslims? Why are they so misogynous?

Muslims, in turn, ask:
Why is the West waging wars in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Somalia, killing tens of thousands, and making millions homeless and destitute? Why is it waging cultural warfare in books, cartoons and the media on Islam and its revered prophet? Why does the entire machinery of Western governments, human rights groups and the media get galvanized against every single atrocity in Muslim lands but stays mostly mute on the death and torture and demonization of Muslims?
I do not condone violence and those who advocated it in case of Salman Rushdie, Taslima Nasreen or Theo van Gogh are wrong. The proper way to deal with them is under hate crime laws. They should be charged, given a fair trial and the verdict accepted by all.

I find it hard to grasp that Freedom Of Expression should be an unbridled license to promote hatred against another individual or group. The Nazi Holocaust epitomizes the double standards we employ.

If we have to live in harmony we have to respect the ideals and aspirations of others, however much they may be an anathema for our outlook and thinking. It is a sign of times that we live in an intolerant world. A world that tends to draw clear us vs. them lines. A world where phobias and intolerance reign supreme.

The choice is between harmony or chaos: between live and let live and murder and violence: between tolerance for other people's sensibilities and disregard for it. There should be an agreed upon universal demarcation for this. IF the beliefs cross over to violence against others - then however dear to those who hold such beliefs - they should be opposed forcefully.

Every person has a right to live in peace and respect – all gods and all religions and faiths aside. Subjugation of the human will, citing a religion, book or god should be scorned at. Individuals, as well as states, ought to rigidly live by respect and equality. When they veer off this chaos prevails.

Is that advocating censorship of artistic rights or rights of free speech? No. An artist or a writer is free to create. But if and when that creation enters the public domain then that person out to live by the consequences. Again, let me reiterate: the consequences of such freedom are not fatwas and death but charges under the hate crime laws.


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