Saturday 18 June 2011

Freedom of Speech

Freedom of speech is defined by the largest encyclopedia in the world
as " freedom to speak freely without censorship". The debate about
freedom of speech has re-ignited recently based on incidents such as
the Danish Cartoon Controversy, Pastor Terry Jones' Burn a Koran Day,
the Facebook competition "Draw Muhammad Day", the ban on Niqab in
Belgium and France, emergence of Wiki Leaks etc. As a reaction to the
first three incidents, there was a wave of violence across the Islamic
World targeted against western citizens and their properties.  One of
the primary factors that has caused uproar-in almost all the above
incidents-is the lack of respect shown by people belonging to
different religions towards one particular religion. This debate about
freedom of speech is not a new one, it has gone on since the Roman
philosophers pondered over the many implications and intricacies of
this concept. In the modern era, Intellectuals and philosophers
including John Milton and Voltaire have advocated strongly in favour
of Freedom of Speech. Milton said, ""Give me the liberty to know, to
utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all
liberties." while Voltaire said, "I disapprove of what you say, but I
will defend to the death your right to say it." The idea of Freedom of
Speech has had its opponents as well, a prominent one being Karl Marx,
the father of modern-day Communism, who famously said "Freedom of
speech belongs to he, who owns the press". The concept of freedom of
speech is one of the cornerstones of Modern Day Democracy, which
according to Political Scientists is the formula for achieving growth
and development of a country(along with  Rule of Law). It has been
considered a Universal Human Right under Article 19 of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights that formed the basis of United Nations Organization(UNO). In context of the aforementioned incidents, the
need of the hour is to draw a fine line between freedom to express and
hate speech. A freedom which basically expresses the inner hatred and
bigotry of a few  people towards other people is not freedom but the
exploitation of an ideology. Double standards are also witnessed in
the International Community regarding this issue. Denial of Holocaust
is illegal in 16 countries(the case of David Irving was a litmus test
regarding this) which is essentially denial of the right to express
oneself. On the other hand, when two of the same 16 countries ban
wearing a Niqab, that is not Illegal according to Law. The situation
is far worse in the developing countries, most of which have
dictatorships or monarchies in place, which restrict the expression of
any dissent towards the ruler or the ruling elite. Examples of
China,Burma and most of the Arab countries can be given, where the
citizens are shorn of their basic human rights. Without expression,
without Dissent, social sciences can not progress and without this
progress the society becomes a tribal like society. It is binding on
International Organizations like UNO and large economic powers to
enforce the Universal Charter of Human Rights via Peaceful Methods and
Negotiations. It is also imperative that clear boundaries as to what
constitutes Hate Speech be drawn so that further violence doesn't
spread and more innocent human beings are not killed.

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