Freedom of Expression

This topic of “Freedom of Expression” is the raging topic of the day around the world, in the aftermath of the Paris killings of the journalists of a cartoon magazine last week.

In quick summary, I would like to join the debate in a neutral manner – my hypothesis is that “freedom of expression” has its judgmental limits. The limits are described by respect, decency, inter-faith appreciation, and finally, judgment of the editor in the case of a newspaper or a magazine publication – whether widely available or not.

Provocation is not a good idea on any topic, anywhere around the world. Human beings are emotional, and they react with anger when provoked – we have seen such behaviour in crowds, street fights, bars, and even in schools. And, when they are challenged on their faith in any which way, they are going to be seriously provoked.

I am not particularly religious or religion practitioner, though I am not an atheist. I believe in Quantum Physics ! So, sometimes it is hard to understand why people are enraged over provocative actions. But, it is due to the deep religious and faith convictions of folks around the world when it comes to teasing them with religious provocations.

I do not agree with the French President and the U.S. State Department spokesperson who endorsed the French magazine’s right to respond with further provocation – it is just its “freedom of expression” which cannot be challenged. This is not a correct principle, as the U.S. itself had to curtail civil liberties in the aftermath of the Pearl Harbour attack during the Second World War, and immediately following the 9/11 terror attacks in New York. France will face a rather similar and strong dilemma – on the one hand it claims that “freedom of expression” cannot be curtailed, on the other hand it is taking actions against people who say the wrong things against Jews for example, and will shortly be faced with controlling prospective “terrorists” who return from Syria.

In a nutshell, it is critically important to realize that “freedom of expression” has its natural limits – you can criticize a person, a party, a government, a policy, a principle, a program, a country, et al, but why criticize a religion or faith – what gives ? It is better to completely avoid such extremely provocative actions, and take specific actions by the government to promote inter-faith collaboration and trust.

I fully support non-violence even against targets which provoke, so the incidents of terror unleashed in Paris last week cannot be supported as justification for the provocation caused by the magazine. However, if more such incidents need to be avoided in an environment in which governments do not seem to have much control, then they also need to look at a comprehensive policy review when it comes to blindly and partially (!) supporting “freedom of expression”.

Time to think carefully instead of reacting as things happen, craft suitable policies, and ensure that religious faiths come together in every Western nation to promote peace and amity and generate a new focus on economic growth – governments should intensely focus on poverty reduction and employment creation. Poverty reduction and jobs for the minority communities will lead to better collaboration.



Vijay Srinivasan

17th January 2015


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