Saturday, January 17, 2015

Can there ever be absolute freedom of expression?

Recent attack on people associated with satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris has initiated discussion on various levels about whether there can be a absolute freedom of expression? Terrorists killed people associated with this magazine to take revenge for publishing cartoon on Prophet Mohammad. Many Muslim people found these cartoons really offensive and insulting to their faith. This was not the first time any publication, book, picture or article came under attack for insulting any religion or politician. India is very well known to ban books, attack authors or make their life difficult so that they leave the country just for publishing something which hurts people's religious sentiments. There are various laws in India which limit freedom of expression as far as religious sentiments are concerned but still people take law in their own hands are try to intimidate artists or publishers who dare to publish something which is different than what people want to see or hear. So the question is can there be absolute right of freedom of expression? If not, then who decides where to draw the line and on what basis? Can there be general consensus on what should be allowed and what shouldn't?

Every democracy or progressive society claims to give right of freedom of expression to their citizens, but if we check carefully there are some ifs and buts attached with this right. These ifs and buts differ from country to country. I can understand that anyone is not allowed anyone to preach violence or child pornography or obscenity under the name of freedom of expression. One can very well understand this type of restriction but apart from that why to put so many restrictions. Many people agree that there should be freedom of expression but they also say that in case of religious sentiments there should be some limit which should not be crossed. But the problem with this argument is who will decide that limit not to cross? Everybody's religious sensitivities are different, whatever is considered as blasphemous in one religion is perfectly fine in another, so in any diverse society how can one draw a line and how many lines one needs to draw to cover each and every religion or sects so that nobody's religious feelings are hurt? People's sentiments are going to get hurt by some thing or other, artists or writers present their work in different form and styles. Art in some forms such as satire, paintings or cartoons can be sometimes really crude and offensive, not everyone can digest them but that doesn't mean that form should be banned or if someone uses these things to express something  they deserve to be punished. We just can not depend of people's level of sensitivities to design any law as sensitivities keep on changing. It will be good to have complete freedom of expression or as much as people have in countries like USA, it should be very clear what is allowed and what is not.

In today's developing world with so much connectivity and resources to verify any information we should be becoming more broad minded and tolerant. But it seems our civilization is going in reverse direction as far as tolerance and liberty in concerned, people are becoming more conservative and less tolerant. They get offended by small small things like some book or some cartoon and react in very violent way. To protest or express disagreement with anything is right of every group or person but it should be done in lawful and peaceful manure. Whenever people try to question freedom of expression by putting any ifs or buts after such violent attack on some publication for publishing something objectionable then actually they indirectly justify the violent act which some people commit under the name of protest or disagreement. Absolute freedom of expression is not a easy thing to handle, everyone gets equal right to express their feelings. People who feel offended also have right to express their feelings, people who dislike anything can openly say that, they can insult or say offensive things but under any case no form of violence can be a part of freedom of expression. As Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. Said, "Your liberty to swing your fist ends just where my nose begins". To threaten someone with physical intimidation or injury is not freedom of expression but a act of violence and it is illegal. We are far away from achieving absolute right of freedom of expression, India has very poor record in this area (still it is better than most of its neighbors) and they need to improve a lot. USA has much better record in this area and I think it is one of the best countries as far as right of freedom of expression is concerned, if possible other countries should try to follow their example. 

I support absolute right of freedom of expression except freedom to propagate of violence. This will allow societies to become more tolerant and exchange their ideas more freely. Banning something only increases people's curiosity in those things and make them more popular. Lets not ban any book, movie, article or magazine just because some people find it offensive. This is a difficult task to achieve but at least let's try to work towards it, may be one day we will have a society where there is absolute right of freedom of expression and everyone is using it with great care and responsibility. 

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

[Copyright : Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing]

Links:
1. Faith vs Freedom: Is Right to Free Speech Absolute?

1 comment:

  1. Life is surely 'Give and Take' but not ..."You give and I take".

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