Is freedom of expression absolute and can it be so?

License to abuse

COMMENT

HASSAN ZAINAGAIREE

 

  Caught in the black-hole of medieval   obduracy and suffocation, where any freethinking, incompatible with the dogmas of the Church, was held punishable by Inquisition Courts, it was not easy for Europe to wriggle free from the dark age. Many analyzing rational minds were burnt at the stakes or forced to retreat. The freedom of expression that we see Europe perched on has exacted much price from her. That it does not want to undermine, much less lose it, is quite understandable. Nonetheless, a free society, how much liberal it is, has to be regulated according to certain norms for collective good of the people. 

 Freedom of expression can never be absolute, as the ‘ inhuman or animal instinct’ that runs in our blood needs to be tamed or restricted. The good and  bad both synthesize a human whole, the two cannot be separated.   That which dominates determines ugly or beautiful, society disapproves or approves of. To curb the ugly or undesired laws are enacted and governments formed. 

  Upholding freedom as right is good, but when in pretext  of the `inalienable’ right every modicum of justice and ethics is swept away and it becomes a license to throw muck, then the very right loses that sanctity.  It morphs into a despicable deliberate attempt to spread mischief, rather terror, far and wide.

 They say freedom of speech for them means ‘right to offend’, ‘right to be irresponsible’. If that be so, where it will lead us to, where it will stop?    Pope Francis has rightly condemned that unrestricted freedom from which is nourished rogue temperament, hubris-driven attitude.  In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack, on his visit to Manila,  Pope referring to Alberto Gaspari, who organizes papal tours and was standing by his side, said:  ‘If my good friend Dr Gasperi says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch.’ The highest religious figure of Christianity further said: ‘ You cannot provoke. You cannot insult faith of others . You cannot make fun of others.’ 

An insult to mother can invite ‘punch’, even from spiritual source that stands cool  and pleases in  ‘forgiving sins’ of the wrong-doers. Imagine now any abuse, insult,  ridicule, slander, hate, obscenity mucked at the highly venerated symbols of Islam and the advocates of freedom of expression defending the ‘right to abuse’,  can a population of over a billion souls digest the indigestible?   Someone in West takes liberty in disrespecting the family of beloved Prophet (SAW ).  Muslims protest against the outrageous slander and demand the minimum sanity deserves. Instead punishing the guilty, we are asked to ignore the filth or show ‘valor’ and indulge in the same filth-throwing.  This kind of behavior is not preached when somebody feels his image has been tarnished and his honor smitten.  Instead state intervenes  to defend the ‘integrity’ of the victim and law grabs the transgressor for committing defamation. Here the very preamble of our belief system, the honor of Prophet (SAW), his sacred unassailable house, all are desecrated. For Muslims this is the highest form of violating their human rights, the simple reason they hold him dearer to their lives. 

 There is nothing wrong in pointing to and discussing religious anomalies and other such things but converting the artistic flair in an institution of abuse, as done by the scandalous French satirical magazine , with Europe at its back, is brazen display of arrogance and a crude vomiting of crusade-era enmity towards Islam. 

 When you arrogate to yourself the right to offend, in the name of expression, it implies all the safeguards of decency start tearing off their joints. Who then will disallow a person, entitled to right to express in a ‘civilized’ society, if he disrobes himself to showcase his might to offend. Would the privileged and prestigious figures at the Birmingham Palace or 10-Downing Street uphold his ‘democratic’ right or he will be denounced as renegade drunk deep to heap scorn on the cherished  ‘values’ of Europe. And sent to jail. This involves insulting a few mortal souls, or at best breaking some norms of the society, what if all-venerated loving  icons of a faith are denigrated that contemptuously. 

 Faiths and civilizations are not for ridicule and abuse.   They are to be respected and tolerated to maintain co-existence.   If we get stung by unbridled freedom it will create vicious circle that will devour us all. There is no freedom worth a penny if it incites trouble and violates basic planks of decency.