Tuesday, February 07, 2006

"Freedom of Speech" vs. "Being Civilized"

Last week the "butterfly effect" happened - the flap of the cartoons in a Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, created a tornado across the Islamic world - and the world at large.

The MSM portrayed this as an issue of "freedom of speech" vs. those who unfortunately (because they were apparently brought up in "oppressive" societies/cultures) can't understand this "civilized" behaviour. (Many in the Islamic world, used their "freedom of expression" by protesting, recalling their ambassadors, closing their embassies, burning Danish Embassy, banning Danish exports, etc.)

The fact that these cartoons - i.e., "freedom of speech" - was not an individual's personal opinion, but refered to "commissioned" cartoons that appeared in the editorial of the press (supposedly, a social institution) got conviniently ignored...

Politically-correct, the US State Dept condemned the "display of these anti-Muslim images is just as "unacceptable" as that of anti-Semitic images, anti-Christian images, or images attacking any other religious belief".

This condemnation, ironically, came in the same week when the "peace Mom" Cindy Sheehan was arrested during the US State of Union address for merely wearing a T-Shirt with a slogan that simply said "2,245 Dead. How Many More?"

Around this same week, the world/MSM "discovered" that Google had compromised its promise of bringing freedom of information to all. When it launched its google.cn, it accepted the Chinese controls and censorship on certain searches (e.g., "democracy", "June 4, 1989", "Falun Gong", etc.)... Google accepted these censors because the Chinese government already has a well-established web monitoring and filtering system, partly relying on switching equipment supplied by... Yes, you guessed it - by the U.S. based Cisco Systems.

While Google is being hauled up for its denying the "right to information" to Chinese citizens, somewhere the fact that never gets highlighted is that it had done exactly the same thing with Google.fr and Google.de at the request/threat of the French and German governments. Somehow, that censorship was understood as part of "code of ethics" that a responsible media should follow.
[Check the list of sites denied by Google to its European users (at the behest of the government):

(David Kirkpatrick, the senior editor of Fortune, in his weekly column, eulogised Google for being "responsible"(!!?) for a different reason - making money. He wrote: "Creating a censored Google for China was a rational and responsible act for a commercial business.")

Back in 2002, the French govt had launched a case against Yahoo! for the sale of Nazi memorabilia through its site, and had fined it - Last month Yahoo! lost that case in a US court that declined to intervene... "selling Nazi memorablia" is apparently an anthema

Around the same time - end of January - the French MP, Christian Vanneste, was fined 3,000 Euros for expressing his opinions: "homosexual behaviour endangers the survival of humanity" and that "heterosexuality is morally superior to homosexuality"

Perhaps, the one who took this "freedom of expression/speech" logic to its rediculously logical extent is Dyab Abu Jahjah, the Brussels-based arab/muslim. Tongue-in-cheek, he "defended" the "freedom of expression" and put up cartoons on his site showing e.g., Anne Frank sleeping with Hitler, and Hitler telling her "write this down in your diary too, Anne!"

Somewhere, in this whole episode - religious/political etc. - it is the simple day-to-day intuitive understanding of being "civilized" that took the backseat:

1. Every society/culture has its own taboos, symbols and achilles's heels - whether it is the Prophet in one, or Holocaust-Denial in another - is immaterial...

2. A society flourishes not just because its members are free to express themselves, but also because its members consciously/ responsibly exercise the self-restraint about what not to express. It is, after all, part of common civilized behaviour not to insult others... because one's freedom to be oneself also comes with the responsibility to let others be...

Funny! how the "right to self-express" has started contradicting "being civilized"...


  • Sheehan explains expulsion from Bush speech
  • Google Follows Chinese Rules
  • Sites Google Censors
  • US court rules against Yahoo in Nazi speech case
  • Conservative MP Fined for Homophobia
  • Muslim Radical Defends Freedom of Speech, Deplores Europe’s Hypocrisy


    Goan Pao said...

    Nice point made about Freedom of speech. However the reality is that the cartoon was trying to depict the violence that Islam propagates, and the Islamists endorsed that view by burning up embassies. If only they could have taken a more snae path, the Danes would have been priven wrong. I beleive the paper did nothing wrong by displaying a common typecast about muslims. What the muslims actually dislike is the fact that they fit the typecast, that is where the resentment comes from.

    Atul said...

    Having social taboos and norms is one thing and taking them as an excuse or motivation to kill and burn people is another extreme. What surprises me or rather shocks me Prof. Madhukar is why do even intellectuals like yourself reserve all the energy for defending the taboos and sentiments of the voilent lot. At one point of time even Copernicus and Galileo were supposedly voilating the faith and beliefs of people. A cartoon offends people enough to blow up lives but these deaths themselves are being portrayed as a justifiable reaction. I don't see sense here