Thursday, October 05, 2006

The ultimate freedom: speech

There are many freedoms defined in the Bill of Rights we cherish. However, all those rights are not equal. The right to freedom of speech is the most important without which the others can easily become academic. This is not just important to Americans but to citizens from around the world. And the importance of free speech isn’t merely the right to express one’s opinion important as that is but the sharing and challenging of ideas.

It is important to also remember that when many people say they support freedom of speech what they really mean is they support freedom of speech they approve of and not speech outside the approved expressions of politics, religion or sexuality. Suppression of free speech can come from the left, the right, multiculturalists, monoculturalists, and any variety of religions. The erosion of free speech comes in many different forms ranging from the threat of violence to self-censorship.

The latter is what Timothy Garton Ash describes as “I’ll respect your taboo if you respect mine.” Ash discusses the challenges before us:
Almost every day brings a new threat to free expression. A French
philosopher is in hiding, running for his life from death threats on Islamist
websites, because he published an article in a French newspaper saying that
Muhammad is revealed in the Qur'an as a "master of hate". A production of
Mozart's Idomeneo, which at one point displays the severed (plastic? papier
mache?) head of Muhammad, alongside those of Jesus, Buddha and Poseidon, is
pulled off the stage of the Deutsche Oper in Berlin after a telephoned threat of
violence was reported to management by local police. And that's just the past

Going slightly further back, there's the murder of the Dutch
film-maker Theo van Gogh and the murderous hounding of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and
Salman Rushdie. A British anti-fascist activist is beaten up following the
publication of his photograph and address on a far-right website called
Redwatch. Animal rights activists make death threats to medical researchers and
their families. Sikh extremists force a play they dislike to be taken off the
British stage. Christian extremists threaten BBC executives because they
broadcast Jerry Springer: The Opera. Need I go on?

Fanatiques sans frontières are on the march. It's wrong to describe this as
a single "war on terror"; our adversaries and their ideologies are so diverse.
But if you think we are not engaged in a struggle against manifold enemies of
freedom, as potentially deadly as those we faced in the 1930s, you are living in
a fool's paradise. …

You can read the whole article here.

1 comment:

Joel Monka said...

It can be argued that the most important right is the right to keep and bear arms- because no government, not even ours, can be trusted to respect our rights unless they fear the consequences of not doing so.