Saturday, 17 December 2011

Christopher Hitchens & Shashi Tharoor on Freedom of Speech, Plus my Views

An interesting discussion between Christopher Hitchens & Shashi Tharoor on freedom of expression. I'd say Tharoor wins the 'debate' on technical grounds, though for the most part they seem to be talking at cross purposes.

Hitchens especially seems intent on taking a hardline view on being intolerant towards people who are intolerant towards people like him. Tharoor, while agreeing with Hitchens for most of the time, looks at a more pragmatic means to get along with everyone.

In some ways, the discussion above is pointless, because there are only so many matter-of-fact options available to a person involved in a making a decision that might result in people being offended and violence being incited (i.e if you want to look at things purely from a practical perspective). 

On philosophical grounds, and as far as legal premises are concerned, there probably is no divergence between the views of the 2 men above. They actually agree on on the fact that freedom of expression shouldn't be curtailed, which is why this isn't much of a debate to begin with, only a space for 2 people to air their own angles on situations arising from freedom of expression. 

Tharoor, the diplomat, focuses on avoiding conflict within a conflicted society prone to violence, while Hitchens the writer, who has no one to fear or nothing to lose, obviously takes a hardline approach to extremists, expressing outrage at people who are intolerant and advocating a no-backing-down approach, independent of context, and calling out the religious for the hypocrites they are.

There are actually a couple of points during the discussion where you can see Tharoor saying things that you know Hitchens isn't going to like, and you know he's going to respond negatively, even though Tharoor's points, and his own rebuttals, aren't really relevant to the issue at hand to begin with.

I've already made my own views on the subject clear, and agree with both of the men above. A true democracy is one where fairness prevails, and who's citizens are treated like adults, not children. A true democracy provides an environment where everyone has the freedom to express their own views, through physically harmless speech or actions, without fear of prosecution, no matter how offensive they may be to the rest of the populace, even the majority.

Take the case of flag burning for example.

A large number of Indians, even so called 'well-to-do', 'educated', 'progressive', 'modern' Indians, will tell you that this government is justified in banning the burning of the country's national flag. Yup. A blanket ban. Just like that. Free of context. That's how ignorant and backward some people are.

Others will tell you that it's O.K to burn your national flag if your intention is Just. Yup. As if they have right to permit or forbid you from such an action, pending their assessment of your intent, or an assessment of your intent by a judge or judges. Ludicrous. Where do people get such fascist arrogance from?

The fact is, it's O.K to burn your county's national flag, just for fun. It's O.K to destroy a symbol of your country that people take great pride in, just for fun, and it's O.K to piss on that symbol, just for fun. Why? Because it's your life, and no one has a right to stop you from doing what you want with it, and doing what you want with your property, no matter your intentions, no matter how offensive your thoughts, words, or actions seem to them. Of course they can question your intentions, and of course they can be disgusted at what you do. But they can't stop you. That's the whole point of democracy.

The respect that you have for another person's right of expression, no matter how offensive it is to you, is what defines you as a civilized member of society. Anything less is fascism, plain and simple.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"The respect that you have for another person's right of expression, no matter how offensive it is to you, is what defines you as a civilized member of society. Anything less is fascism, plain and simple."
- What does it make the person who is offensive??
- What about your own right of expression?? Can it also be offensive to the above offensive person??

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