How do we define Freedom of Speech

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Freedom of Speech A few months ago – the Charlie Hebedo killings had stunned the world. Fundamentalism had yet again ruthlessly claimed lives, like it was its birth right to do so….

I was shocked, sad and devastated at the madness of it all. Following that was the counter campaign which involved posting “Je Suis Charlie” as a symbol of one’s support for Freedom of Speech. I too jumped on the band wagon and quickly shared on Facebook as many had. After all, we had to stand up against Fundamentalism and Murder, but more importantly for the Freedom of Speech. Man’s greatest gift was free will and free speech was a subset of that. It needed to be protected as the sacred law of a  free society.

I slept the night, but I was not sure whether my post was the right thing to do. I did some more reading on the subject, and soon followed the news of retaliation toward the Muslims – claiming even more innocent lives.

Now there was an outcry over the Je suis Charlie campaign. Instead of coming together as a society to mourn the many lives lost, many rational, good people were fighting for one side or the other. The Muslims felt like they were all being attacked, and the rest of the world felt like they needed to defend.

I removed my Je Suis Charlie post from Facebook, feeling more and more uneasy about the fact that I had shared it without contemplation. I did contemplate later though – What was it that did not resonate with me?

In my mind, the loudest question was – “What does Freedom of Speech really mean?” Does Freedom of speech allow us to ridicule, attack and humble a symbol, person or thing that another human being considers Sacred? Was that really Freedom of Speech or Freedom of Journalistic Speech for that matter?

At what point does Speech become as violent as a Weapon?

As I deliberated over the subject, it became increasingly clear  – exercising freedom of speech requires great responsibility and thought. It also requires that as far as possible, we must stay neutral in our communication. It is not simply the right to say as we please, especially if our comments are based on judgments or stances on another’s way of life. Making judgements or attacking the (free will) choices of people, via one’s right of “Freedom of Speech”, was in fact disrespecting the Free Will and Free Speech of those others.

In his acceptance speech after receiving the Geroge Polk Career Award for journalism, Garry Trudeau  said – At some point free expression absolutism becomes childish and unserious. It becomes its own kind of fanaticism.”

If we want to be free of Fanaticism, and exercise our rights of Free Will and Free Speech, then it becomes imperative, an absolute must, that we (truly) understand what those terms mean. The first premise of exercising free will and free speech, is 100% respect of another’s free will and free speech. This requires responsible thinking and choice making. For those  in positions of power, where what they say will affect more than an individual, the responsibility is much greater.

Both Martin Luther King and Gandhi were very firm on their non-violent approach to creating a revolution. They constantly reminded us that Non-Violence and Violence originate at the level of thought. If we are to create a revolution, then that is the level at which we need to start and we need to do this at an individual level first. Each one of us has to take responsibility for the violence in our thoughts. It is in becoming aware of it, and acting upon it, that we will slowly move along the journey of peace.

There is absolutely no justice in killing another. That is probably the most sacrilegious imposition on another’s free will, but there is also a thought that Justice does not necessarily require us to come out and defend or counter attack. There is another way…. and it is not based in duality, but in oneness…

As a start, if the elite, the progressive, the educated, can back down and not feel the need to go into a reactionary pattern of counter attack in the face of extremity, we might have a greater chance at World Peace….

 

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Jasrin Singh

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