Freedom of Speech = licence to provoke a fatal response?
Let’s start with a disclaimer.
I’m a staunch advocator of freedom of speech. I’m also a staunch advocator of respect, equality and tolerance. Including the right to my sexuality and the right to practice, or not practice, a religion. And the rights of all others to their sexuality and to practice, or not practice, their religions. I would fight for my rights. And yours.
I bitterly oppose the seemingly self-assumed rights of religious fanatics to impose their religious beliefs and practices on others through fair or, worse, foul means.
But I also call into question the judgement of those who set out to provoke or make a statement to weapon-wielding fanatics while hiding behind the safe apron strings of freedom of speech, the police and security guards.
Presumably, it’s an attempt to put Islam extremists back in their religious box. We, in the Western world, will not be dictated to. We will not be hounded into observing Islam beliefs in our own countries. And to that extent, I totally agree. We need to stand united and defend our hard-won right to freedom and freedom of speech.
Because freedom of speech is not free. Think Saudi blogger, Raif Bawdi, sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail for ‘insulting Islam’ and ‘disobeying his father’.
But when a self-appointed provocateur chooses to open an exhibition designed to provoke terrorists and fanatics by displaying images of Mohammed, (most recently in Dallas and Copenhagen), or indulges in drawing cartoons of said Prophet (Sweden’s Lars Vilks, for example), it begs the question for anybody’s God’s sake, why? And what real and lasting good can staged ridicule of a religious/historical figure possibly generate in our modern mutual society?
And these seasoned practitioners of freedom of speech know where it is advisable to draw the cartoon line. They, unlike true freedom of speech fighters, are not prepared to risk being jailed or lashed for their opposition. They sprinkle their drops of confrontation in, for them, safe havens; then point one finger at the predictable gun-pointing reaction that proves the provocateur’s point. And another finger at their right to freedom of speech.
Let me be crystal clear:
Shooting and violence is abhorrent and reprehensible. It ends all other moral arguments on what should or should not be tolerated. Shoot, torture, threaten or impose by force, and you’ve lost the argument. Game over.
But this is the other part that disturbs me.
These organisers know there will be a reaction. They know that the risk of an innocent security guard or policeman being fatally injured by a fanatic is not insignificant. They know other innocent civilians may be caught in the crossfire. And, at the very least, they know their actions will be hurtful to peaceful, law-abiding Muslims. But they go ahead anyway. With seeming disregard for the potential physical and emotional fallout for others — because they can. Their interpretation of freedom of speech gives them licence to put security officers and the general public in harm’s way, not just the fanatical few.
In a democratic society, we have the right to require all citizens to uphold our national laws. We shall have the right to live our lives as we see fit, and the obligation to cause no hurt or harm to another citizen wittingly.
I’m not defending fanatics. I’m not defending murderers. Not even remotely or indirectly.
I’m exercising my right to state I don’t agree with justifying public exhibitions designed to provoke a reaction that may, predictably, also end in the death or injury of innocents by calling it freedom of speech.
Surely we can find a better way to draw a line than by drawing cartoons and provoking a fanatic to draw — and fire — a gun?