In a democracy it is the right of the individual to be heard. Whatever the individual wants to express he/she is free to do so. It comes also with the responsibility of the rest to listen. However controversial, however idiotic, however facetious, the right to free speech is protected on the grounds that every single individual have a voice. And as a society we should pride ourselves upon this enormously beneficial facet. It is the defining element of a functioning democracy.
As a consequence of this element it is the responsibility of the individual to open up his argument for rebuke and the responsibility of the listener to rebuke, if necessary. And therein ensues a critical debate. This process is of extreme value, and should be protected, wouldn’t you agree? Of course you do..
Now all of this may seem somewhat banal to you. You may say ‘Well ok yeah, but what has this to do with me?’. And it would be a pertinent question.
Well, it has a whole lot to do with you. Yes, you.
I think we take it for granted that we can take to the streets in protest if we like, we can write articles criticizing something or someone, anyone and anything, we can use social networking sites, we can go to comedy gigs where comedians have a license to be politically incorrect, we can watch television from around the globe, we can smoke, drink, women can wear what they like and aren’t subjected to bronze-age arranged marriages, usually at an age where in our culture these children would be beginning post-primary school, women aren’t treated as if the very sight of them in the street unveiled would be disgusting. The list can, and does, go on. I feel it is the things we take for granted that ultimately end up being the most valuable, and alas, the things that we only realize are most valuable when they are taken from us.
Free speech and all these things I just listed did not come easy. They were fought for, physically and mentally, on the streets and in print, in the mind and with sticks and stones. People fought for the right for you to have a twitter account, to criticize the church, to criticize Government, to question authority, to choose which man you would spend the rest of your life with, to go to school, to wear whatever clothing you want, to hold an erroneous opinion, to be able to express that opinion, however ridiculous it may be.
But what if something threatens this value, that is key for our functioning society? What if, as a civilization, the possibility of return to middle age style society is real, and knowable and recognizable? When free speech was virtually non-existent and you could face the death penalty, be tortured, be imprisoned, for writing, saying, reading, displaying, anything that is deemed to be heretic or blasphemous.
Imagine living in a society of fear.
Imagine you had written a book. It had taken you 2 years, countless hours of research, fits of anxiety, publishing worries, and all of the anxieties that come with the process of the novel. You finish it and are extremely proud of it; people congratulate you, your family is ecstatic and the publisher takes it on. People will read your novel all over the world. Next you get a phone call, its your publisher. Bad news; the religious got their hands on your book. They’ve deemed it anti-church/satanic/blasphemous/immoral/offensive, and are banning it in every country they have sway. Every copy that we printed is currently being publicly burned in the city square as we speak, while the religious slander your name, your family and your publishers. And, also, you may stand trial for heresy.
Now this story may sound fantastic and you may say ‘That would never happen in our country’. It did, for centuries, and a similar situation may be returned. For hundreds, thousands of years, it happened until we fought back, relatively recently, and thrived for free speech and equality. Books burned, people executed, groups slandered, etc. And it happens in many countries still today, from groups that are determined to instill the same in our society.
Today, our free speech, and everything we hold dear and everything that great men have fought for, is being threatened by a familiar foe. Religion. And in particular, Islam. The tentacles of this poisonous cult have spread and continue to spread.
The recent violent uproar in the ‘Muslim’ world over an ‘offensive’ video that commits the crime of depicting Mohammed is not the first time we’ve witnessed an aggressive backlash from Muslims.
In 2005-2008 a similar event occurred. A Danish newspaper published a number of depictions of Mohammed. The outrage and downright abhorrent violence that ensued was horrific. Danish embassy’s were attacked and burned out, innocent Scandinavians were attacked on the street, Danish companies were boycotted, the Danish Embassy in Pakistan was bombed (several people died), violent clashes all over the world culminated in dozens of deaths, several men were arrested after plotting to have the animator assassinated and there was a general threat to Westerners around the world with a number of murders culminating. A number of ambassadors from supposedly secular countries in the ‘Muslim’ world went to Denmark and deplored the Prime Minister to intervene and change the law of Denmark so as to give him the power to stifle the free speech of an afternoon newspaper. He refused. Things got noticeably worse.
This week a similar thing has happened and is happening. A wave of violence has spread throughout, not only the ‘Muslim’ world but here in Europe, in Africa, in Asia. It all began in Egypt and quickly spread to Libya. The US embassy in Benghazi was attacked on Tuesday following violent protests. 1 ambassador, Christopher Stevens, and 3 others were killed that day. This is all the more upsetting and angering knowing Stevens himself had aided the transition of a new Government in Libya and was there to assist Libya and strengthen ties with post-Gaddafi Libya. I reckon the fact that the US actually helped the Libyan people in their uprisal against Gaddafi will go unnoticed; that the US sent fighter planes and imposed sanctions on Gaddafi that crippled him makes this attack on their embassy and the murder of those poor individuals all the more deplorable.
It’s as if upon being helped free of chains the prisoner then jabs a knife in the back of the emancipator.
How does this all tie in with freedom of speech which I began with… ?
Quite simply, actually. The violent protests that occurred in 2005-2008 against the publication of the caricatures happened in a number of countries. The retaliations this week have occurred in a great many more countries. In a sort of hubble-telescope style realisation, you will notice that the violence, not contracting, is actually speeding up and spreading out in all directions, and more violently. Which means it is coming to a town near you.
Now I sincerely hope I do not sound as if I’m mongering, as it were. This really is spreading like wild-fire. A google maps image of Europe, North Africa and Asia shows the spots where protests, some of them extremely violent, have taken place since Tuesday. Demonstrations, attacks, etc have occurred in almost 50 places in these regions.
This link shows the widespread retaliations – http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2012/09/201291543351757576.html
I found myself almost gagging when Al – Jazeera published a piece entitled ‘Is the reaction to anti-Islam film justified?’. How can you even attempt to pose such a question. Put the same question to the families of Christopher Stevens and his three associates you pack of wankers. And has anybody from the other side come out and apologised for their murders? No.. Violent ‘demonstrations’ have now engulfed many cities and towns and even German and British Embassy’s are attacked.
And I haven’t even mentioned the Salman Rushdie affair! I trust that you know all about that… You don’t? Well then, take 5 minutes and read up about it and you’ll understand. It all boils down to what we in our society champion and what makes our society what it is today. Of course, people complain about greedy bankers, high price of living, etc, in our society but these things fade into darkness beside the capitulations that we’ll have to engage in if the threat to our democracy is not realised. At the end of the day we will have to yield much of what is valued in our society to appease these people.
You may be shocked even to know that many countries, including our own, have a Blasphemy Law, making it a crime to criticize religion. In our country the punishment comes with a potential 25,000 EURO FINE.
Nobody will point out the pink elephant in the room. Its easy; this all comes down to religion and religious belief but nobody says so.
Karl Marx, in the introduction of his Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, said that ‘the criticism of religion is the prerequisite of all criticism.’ The ability to criticize religion is most imperative.
If you’ve come this far, well done!