Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Freedom of Expression

"On September 11, 2012, U.S. diplomatic missions in Cairo, Egypt, and Benghazi, Libya, were attacked by protestors, beginning a series of violent and non-violent protests outside U.S. and other Western diplomatic missions in Muslim communities across the world."

So reads the opening paragraph of the Wikipedia article, 2012 diplomatic missions attacks. These attacks were primarily a backlash of a movie made in the United States by a few degenerates mocking the primary figure and religion of more than 1.5 billion people.

As ugly as the film and the violence that succeeded it are, it brought the subject of the freedom of expression and speech back on the discussion tables, especially the accusations of double standards in the limitations of freedom of expression.

For example, a Nazi propaganda film would be criminalized as incitement, hate speech (in some countries) and discriminatory propaganda. However, a film that acts dually as a propaganda machine and an insult to such a large sector of the modern world is said to be within the permissible levels of the freedom of expression.

When a French magazine vowed to print offensive cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, the French authorities outright banned peaceful protests against the publication of these images in France. This is a clear violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which grants citizens the right to peaceful assembly.

However, this article is not to condemn the double standards of some nations, it is to discuss the nature of limitations, if any, that are to be applied to the freedom of expression, and the mechanisms of selecting and applying such limitations.

First, we must understand that there is no 'absolute' freedom in any aspect of human society, i.e. nothing is left out to be 'free as a bird' in any applied status. For example, the internet, which is the most lawless of all spaces on Earth, has its limitations in legal documents. Child pornography, piracy, phishing, scamming, etc. are all illegal actions in cyberspace.

But the freedom of expression/speech is different. Whereas the examples noted above are banned on the internet, there are banned because they have real life repercussions, whereas as the famous phrase goes, 'sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me!'

Basically, insulting a fellow human being, without physical contact, in any way does not result in direct physical damage or theft of property or capital. Therefore, people should, in fact, be free to express what they like how they like when they like... or should they?

As mentioned earlier, a showcasing a Nazi (or any discriminatory, inciting ideology) propaganda is a crime in many places, because even though watching said media would not harm any human being physically, or take his/her property or capital, this media could result in the deaths of millions if enough people become inspired by it!

Now we understand that hate speech is a limit of the freedom of expression, but what about ridicule? If I stop a person on the street and rain on him some of the most disgusting insults to his parents, his wife, his children and on everything else that he holds dear, should I be protected under this freedom of expression? It's a simple question, with a simpler answer.

Like it or not, the human mind is harmed by insults, that's why we react to them. The idea of a woman's reputation being brought to the ground without her even knowing, or a disabled man ridiculed due to his inherited illness, etc. Why else do you think we have laws against cyber bullying?

Now we have come to agree that freedom of expression should not protect insults that do not incite, but here comes the million dollar question: every man and woman are born equal, and if we were to implement a law that bans the ridicule of what each one holds dangerously sensitive, how do we go about it without banning expression all together?

The answer is that it is impossible, unless we take, instead of individuals, the very large sectors of the human race, be they cultural, racial or religious. For example, what is deeply offending to the Chinese? What is deeply offending to Africans? What is deeply offending to the Christians?

The idea here is to separate what is to actually offensive from everything else. For example, while I am not offended by the Palestinian Alarm Clock, I am offended by the film that has caused the recent disturbances. Councils elected by the large swathes of the human population that represent each block would define in the strictest terms what they consider red lines that should not be crossed.

Of course this is all theoretical and is likely to be doomed if tried, and very unlikely to be tried at all.

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