A friend called me yesterday morning to ask if I know Salman Rushdie. My reply was that I don’t but that he and I had a good mutual acquaintance whose name is Free Speech. An attack on any of my friends or acquaintances who know and believe in Free Speech is an attack on me. Why is that so important in a world that spreads fake news faster than true news and where a wrong word is more powerful than a wrong bullet?
Free Speech has to be qualified but oh, so carefully. Rudeness, forcing loss of face on others, derision of another’s beliefs are all abuses of Free Speech. And all these can themselves be abused to make any comment, opinion and point of view unacceptable, even – in some countries – outlawed. Truth demands strength by both the teller and the receiver. A weak world is no more acceptable than a vicious one. We should be prepared to stand up for truth even when its presentation doesn’t necessarily meet the wishes of tact and gentleness.
The shocking attack on Salman Rushdie needs no further comment here. The prolific news media will, rightly, keep it before us for a long time. The media’s fight for Free Speech, however, has been diluting for years and this tragic event is unlikely to reduce that decline. It is time to restate the principles on which the concept is built and to make clear that, whatever other ideological differences there may be between peoples, personal freedom of expression is as given a right as the right to life itself.
All species, including humankind, have evolved over a long time based on one gift – creativity. The ability to attract a mate, even at the most primitive level, depends on how to dazzle her or him. From chameleon colour changes to mind-blowing nail varnish, every effort to do so is an act of creativity whether instinctive or planned. Creativity, in this context, is normally presented as survival but it is more than that. It is to allow us to become what the individual wants to be, not what everyone else or every other individual wants it / him / her to be.
On a planet of nearly 10 billion souls a lot of conformity is necessary if we are to prevent chaos and perpetual strife. So most of our life has to be orderly. We conform for our own comfort. But conforming demands obedience, sticking to the rules, obeying authority. It is inevitable that we do this for most things that make the world go round and that give humankind the toys that make life so enjoyable. When that conforming forces us into silence on things that matter we start to lose the purpose of being alive. You are alive to become the person you want to be.
Free Speech is a battle that will be won by its supporters. As people climb the ladder of civilisation, expand their intellects and target purpose more than achievement they will see the increasing need for personal fulfilment beyond the dollar. Some will die in the crusade, others will be wounded. All who take part will be rewarded.
Like Salman Rushdie they will be pioneers in the true development of humankind.
And we shall thank them for that.
Please tell us your take on Free Speech at firstname.lastname@example.org.
14 August 2022