Let’s start straightaway with an extreme case. A case that has been sunk in emotion for decades. A case that instigates people into making all sorts of comments.
At quora.com, there is an interesting Q & A. The subject is the Nazi holocaust.
The question is: Why is holocaust denial a crime in some countries?
One answer is offered by Olaf Simons, who states he is an “historian at the Gotha Research Centre.” Here is an excerpt:
“Anyone who tells you it (the holocaust) is ‘not real’ (because he has found something to support his doubt) is manipulating you with a political agenda.”
That’s quite a far-reaching assertion. It’s obvious that
a) Someone might come to the conclusion that the holocaust didn’t happen and
b) He has no political agenda. Whether that person’s conclusion about the holocaust is true or false is beside the point. And even if that person did have a political agenda, why should his comments about the holocaust be suppressed?
Olaf Simons takes his argument further: “Holocaust denial is different. It is telling you that all the historical victims are actually cheating the public. It denies families the right to mourn the loss of grandmothers and grandfathers, mothers and fathers, friends and loved ones. It is an attempt to deny Jews the right to remember their collective history – and usually the right to have a Jewish state as a consequence of this, their history. All the Holocaust denier has to do is claim his right of free speech and tell the Jew, who has lost his family, that he is simply a liar. That is the point where we as societies must intervene…”
Doubting or denying the holocaust “denies families the right to mourn” their loss??. A person would make an argument against the holocaust does so by presenting what he believes is evidence. Even if his argument is false, I fail to see how such an argument denies victims the right to mourn.
Because you believe you are a victim, because you know you are a victim (use any formulation you want to), someone else who claims you’re not a victim actually prevents you from mourning your loss???
I think we can look at groups all over the world, down the long trail of history, who have been persecuted, and we’ll see that no one prevented them from mourning, even in the most dire of circumstances.
In fact, there were occasions where someone denying the persecution ever happened would have been the least of the victims’ worries—because the violence against them was continuing for decades. And still they mourned.
There is, of course, another reason given for banning holocaust deniers. Their speech, even if not intended to provoke, could incite others to commit crimes against the victims.
This is the “one thing leads to another” argument. On that basis, countries and organizations could ban all sorts of language. The slippery slope has no limit.
And on a lesser note, if, for example, I started a site based on the idea that Kashmir rightfully belongs to Pakistan, and that site became popular enough, a social media giant might ban me or lower my exposure, because I was spreading malicious gossip against the Indian government, and by implication, giving succor to terrorists. Or I was denying the families of people killed Pakistan army and terrorists the right to mourn—the right to “mourn properly.”
I know what you are thinking, this guy is Anti-Indian, a Pakistani. I have heard this arguments before. When did airing one’s view suddenly come under the purview of being anti-national.
There are all sorts of reasons for denying the right to free speech.
And there are all sorts of reasons for closing out reasonable debate.
“The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.” – John Stewart Mill on Liberty and freedom of speech.
Look at what has been happening on Indian college campuses. A group wants to bring in a controversial speaker, so students (and paid agitators in some cases) riot. College is supposed to be the place where all sides of an issue can be aired and analyzed. Instead, we get violence. What are these college students learning? What are they not learning?
They’re not learning the power of their own minds. If they were, why would they be angry? Why would they be afraid to listen to a person with whom they profoundly disagree?
If someone wants to stand at a podium in a college hall and say Jinnah is the greatest leader in the history of the India, so what? If someone wants to say V.D.Savarkar is a genius and Gandhi is a fool, so what? If someone wants to say college students should stage a revolution by refusing to pay off their loans, so what? If someone wants to say all college freshmen should study Karl Marx and only Karl Marx, so what? Is the sky going to fall?
Suppose a professor tells his students, “You’re all assigned to go to the talk tonight and listen to a speaker who is going to argue that V.D.Savarkar’s Hindutva is exactly what India needs now. Take notes. Come to class tomorrow prepared to argue rationally, for or against. And I don’t want you spouting generalities. I want specifics. I want thought.”
Suddenly, many students are going to realize they can’t argue rationally. They don’t have the tools. And that makes them nervous. They move into the role of agitators, because they’ve got nothing else.
Instead of making people smarter and sharper, instead of bullet-proofing them against propaganda and anti-logic, instead of educating them so they’re immune to slogans and obvious fallacies, instead of educating them to live in a society where free speech is elevated beyond shouting matches, we are seeing myriad excuses for disallowing free speech.
There is no limit to the excuses. Tomorrow, someone is going to dream up a new one. It’s like your dietary plan once you find a way to make an excuse and break the routine you’ll always find a way to find another.
Numerous players these days are saying political content on the Internet has to be monitored. They say these people have their covert agendas. But beyond that, there is no reason to monitor political speech. If people can’t deal with competing politics, they need to fortify their IQ. They need to become smarter. That’s the answer.
If we live in a sewer of propaganda, we need to climb out of the sewer.
I could go on with the topic of free speech for another 10,000 words, but I’ll end off, for the moment, with this. Look for the “special case” argument. The strategy: a group has been oppressed, and they deserve compensation and justice, AND part of justice is ensuring that language is never used to criticize the group, because they are special, owing to the amount of persecution that has been visited on them. This particular group is different. They must be served. They must never be discussed in terms that, even vaguely, could be construed as negative.
No free speech in that case.
But wait. There is another group, and it, too, is special.
And another group.
And pretty soon, free speech is walking around with canes and crutches and sitting in wheelchairs and tubes are hooked up to it. And the groups against whom free speech doesn’t exist will always be Powerful minority, Jews in the above case. And for other oppressed group like muslims in US, targeting them would come under free speech.
Interesting analogy indeed, free speech in this case is actually being used to reinforce the dominant or established narrative.
Even worse, people are focused on the issue of free speech as if it consists of nothing more than nasty remarks; and the burning question is, who has a right to be nasty, and in what situations, and for what reasons?
Whereas, the intent and hope for free speech was that it would rise higher and elevate into conversation that actually sought the truth, and examined basic principles on which that truth would stand.
In a free society,
Where fear of an idea didn’t exist.