I know, you might be thinking to yourself – Has Ashley lost his mind with a title like that?
The answer is no. Well, maybe I have lost my mind, but it’s not my title. Allow me to explain.
I was reading a piece on the CBC website in which Salman Rushdie was chastising people who were planning a boycott of the PEN gala which is set to honour the 12 Charlie Hebdo magazine employees who were killed by fanatical Muslim lunatics. Amoung these boycotters, I am very sad and embarrassed to say, is at least one Canadian author. At the end of the first paragraph, there is was link to another article with that very title on it. Free Speech: Where are the limits? The first thought that ran through my head was “Can the writer of this article be for real?” I mean, to even pose a question like that, must mean that by definition, you don’t believe in free speech. You think you do, but you really don’t. You’re in line with the concept of it, but you don’t really understand it.
Why do I say that? Think about what the words “free speech” really mean. From Wikipedia: Freedom of speech is the political right to communicate one’s opinions and ideas. The right to freedom of expression is recognized as a human right under article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and recognized in international human rights law in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Well we’re off to a good start aren’t we? Free Speech means you can say what you want, when you want and is recognized as a international human right. So far so good. However, article 19 goes on to further state “that the exercise of these rights carries “special duties and responsibilities” and may “therefore be subject to certain restrictions” when necessary “for respect of the rights or reputation of others” or “for the protection of national security or of public order or of public health or morals”.
Now we seem to have gone a bit off the rails haven’t we? We need to restrict speech because it may be harmful to public health? Well ok if you insist. Then we’d better get to work shutting down every single anti-vaxxer website and promoter, every single homeopath practitioner’s office, every single anti-global warming campaigner’s office….and so on and so forth. Can you imagine that happening? I can’t.
We need to restrict free speech because it may be harmful to morals? Really? Ok, well, we’d better get on with shutting down all the mosques and churches and synagogues that have been preaching immoral hateful garbage for centuries. Can you imagine this happening? I can’t
So what’s the deal here? Why is Jerry Falwell allowed to stand on top of the 3000+ corpses of 9/11 victims on Sept 12, 2001 and spout the most bigoted, hateful, wicked garbage it’s possible to say and not have anyone be asking questions about the limits of free speech? Why are we standing over the bodies of 12 dead people, who were shot to death because they insulted fanatical lunatics, and asking about the limits of free speech? Why are we questioning the limits of free speech of people who suggest that we should be questioning the ridiculous religious beliefs of millions of people that are the real reason all of this happened?
Can someone help me out here?