Sunday, September 23, 2007

Freedom of Expression

Did Ram exist, or did he not? Was the Ram Sethu constructed by Ram, by his monkey army, or is it a natural formation?

Is Mr Karunanidhi speaking for political benefit? Is he right or wrong in what he says?

Did Justice Sabharwal commit acts of corruption or not?

These are not the important issues.

The important issue is this: In a free society, it must be safe to be unpopular. It must be possible to blaspheme, one must be free to say things which hurt others' sentiments, one must be allowed to express unpopular or heretical ideas, one must be free to criticize the judiciary or the constitution, to burn the flag or to burn the effigy of not just Ravan and his brothers, but also of our Gods and Goddesses.

However, as India is far from that reality, where it would be safe to be unpopular, a common man cannot think of making radical statements and expect to be provided safety by the state. Hence, work towards that freedom, get together and discuss civil liberties, act for their enactments in India (or elsewhere) but temper your words carefully in the present environment.

Do not be suicidal.

Martyrdom is not the catalyst to public outrage as it used to be.

...

I quote from Noam Chomsky's article about freedom of expression here:

(for the context, do refer to The Faurisson Affair).

BEGIN QUOTE

...

I do not want to discuss individuals. Suppose, then, that some person does indeed find the petition "scandaleuse," not on the basis of misreading, but because of what it actually says. Let us suppose that this person finds Faurisson's ideas offensive, even horrendous, and finds his scholarship to be a scandal. Let us suppose further that he is correct in these conclusions -- whether he is or not is plainly irrelevant in this context. Then we must conclude that the person in question believes that the petition was "scandaleuse" because Faurisson should indeed be denied the normal rights of self-expression, should be barred from the university, should be subjected to harassment and even violence, etc. Such attitudes are not uncommon. They are typical, for example of American Communists and no doubt their counterparts elsewhere. Among people who have learned something from the 18th century (say, Voltaire) it is a truism, hardly deserving discussion, that the defense of the right of free expression is not restricted to ideas one approves of, and that it is precisely in the case of ideas found most offensive that these rights must be most vigorously defended. Advocacy of the right to express ideas that are generally approved is, quite obviously, a matter of no significance. All of this is well-understood in the United States, which is why there has been nothing like the Faurisson affair here. In France, where a civil libertarian tradition is evidently not well-established and where there have been deep totalitarian strains among the intelligentsia for many years (collaborationism, the great influence of Leninism and its offshoots, the near-lunatic character of the new intellectual right, etc.), matters are apparently quite different.

...

Let me add a final remark about Faurisson's alleged "anti-Semitism." Note first that even if Faurisson were to be a rabid anti-Semite and fanatic pro-Nazi -- such charges have been presented to me in private correspondence that it would be improper to cite in detail here -- this would have no bearing whatsoever on the legitimacy of the defense of his civil rights. On the contrary, it would make it all the more imperative to defend them since, once again, it has been a truism for years, indeed centuries, that it is precisely in the case of horrendous ideas that the right of free expression must be most vigorously defended; it is easy enough to defend free expression for those who require no such defense.

...

Cambridge, Massachusetts
October 11, 1980

END QUOTE

3 comments:

N Sriram said...

Am not sure if Justice Sabharwal committing an act of corruption (and getting away with it) is NOT serious and if it is comparable to the Ram's existence issue. The latter is a purely political issue and will die down once the parties concerned have benefitted or given up on its utility value. The should make us all worry seriously about our lives.

N Sriram said...

Am not sure if Justice Sabharwal committing an act of corruption (and getting away with it) is NOT serious and if it is comparable to the Ram's existence issue. The latter is a purely political issue and will die down once the parties concerned have benefitted or given up on its utility value. The former should make us all worry seriously about our lives.

harmanjit said...

Justice Sabharwal's corruption is a serious issue, but it encompasses just one instance of corruption.

What is far more important in the long run, in order to overcome corruption and instill accountability, is for the media and individuals to have full freedom to make comments and criticize judiciary as well as any other highly regarded mascot of this country.

But for the 4 journalists of Mid-Day who dared to face jail for contempt of court, Justice Sabharwal's alleged doings would not have been exposed.