Free speech: we need it goddamn free!

4 04 2013

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Several oxymorons have captured popular imagination. Oxymorons are wonderful things. Some of them are interesting social memes with a concealed surreal parody, while appearing as a outpouring emotional drama. In recent times, my favourite one happened to be the word ultra secularist, referring to Awami League in Bangladesh. Actually that is more of a pathetic joke, invented by people with hardly any sense of humour. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, never mind. If you are persistent, please go and have a sneak peak at what has been going on in Bangladesh) .Then there are my perennial favourites – militant atheist and fundamentalist atheist- both of which I cherish and hope to remain worthy of, till I die. Having said that, I like the idea of people using oxymorons, since more than anything they exemplify the idea of free speech and expression. Freedom is worthless until it also involves the freedom to be wrong; even hopelessly wrong.

The odes in favour for an intrinsically lazy and incorrigibly dreamy man like me turning into an armchair activist for free speech should have been quite low. But then as the wise saying goes, your opponent choses the weapon for you. When morons of the lowest order with a penchant for imposing their medieval mindsets are demanding respect and shouting we are hurt at the drop of a hat, I fear a retrograde evolution from man to old world apes is in the pipeline and so the unpleasant truth be told. So, sorry to break this to you guys, there is no such thing as a right to remain unoffended. Be my guest and be offended by reading this, but there will be no donuts for you.

After the social media proliferation what followed was a wave of chaotic incidents- nonsensical cyber laws, then bans, curbs, censorships and even arrests for voicing one’s opinion. Attempt to control information and opinions is not a new phenomena, but with the greatest democratization of information unleashing itself, if anything can regress or even repeal the human progress, it will be the ones who want to stop discussions, debates, criticisms and even mocking of ideas. We always had those real and wannabe big brothers, but this time they might just be too powerful.

It all spiraled down after a Julian Assange- the dirty cables and nation states playing the tug off war to get the better of him. And then the Arab spring, sprung up. It started with hope and ended mostly in despair with the fringe elements who want the democratic rights of women curtailed, running the show. We saw the mobocracy in action and an almighty emperor play right here in India when young girls were arrested for making harmless comments on the eve of India’s ever green fascist Bal Thackarey’s death, and tweets about a union minister’s son lead to an arrest. The Shahbagh square protest happened and in the after math, like the second repetition of history as a farce, Atheist bloggers who had been tortured by the Islamic fundamentalists, have been arrested by the Bangladeshi police and their conviction might lead to a 10 year jail sentence. In short we might well be living in an Orwellian nightmare any time soon, if we already are not in one.

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New events are unfolding every day. When people need to face arrests for face book likes, satires, magazine articles or even statutory body notifications can be blocked by bullies who can think beyond everything (especially logic), and mocking or criticizing the almighty gods (well, it seems they do not have so much power in the cyber world and hence believers need to act on their behalf) or even politicians whose parliamentary language are matters of legends, can lead to serious charges, we better not be kidding ourselves. But the worse part is that whenever the discussion about freedom of expression comes up, people spread it out and try to make it unnecessarily complicated. While I do acknowledge that words or expressions might harm people any attempt on pre-emptive bans or censorships are never the way forward. They are both illogical and regressive. If a harm is tangible, it should be dealt as a civil case. If it is psychological, it should be dealt as a harassment case. We have no dearth of provisions to do this, but governments and pressure groups want to create a monstrous law which is comparable to the emergency period.

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Presently we face an unfortunate situation where narrow interest groups, often supported by Govt’s are taking it to the heights of absurdity by curbing expression or worse, giving impunity to ideas . We have witnessed this pandering of the ‘we are hurt’ syndrome during the Vishwaroopam controvertsy and even the latest case of arresting bloggers in Bangladesh. The case of arresting Atheists is particularly of concern since, it is a direct display of fanatic zeal. No religion or ideology is beyond criticism. If an imaginary religious or ideological group called Leprechronians have a problem with the flying sphaghetti monsterists (Pastafarians) criticising or mocking their Leprechronian theology, they better be prepared to deal with it in kind. That applies equally to any historical or mythological character.

I started with oxymorons, so let me conclude with it. Free speech need to be goddamn free. There is no freedom or free will, if a personal God exist. Even if he hates it, he knew you would have spoken that being omniscient. But that metaphor is important, since it emphasizes the real freedom– freedom to go wrong. And that is a lot more worthy than the hurts caused by sharp or at times maliganant criticism. We desperately need it to explore, create and even expunge ideas.

 


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