Okay, number 1, yes, I would like ‘freedom of speech’ and I would defend people’s rights to it. But, number 2: I question that it currently exists in the universal, uncompromising, legitimate way it is made to sound like it exists in. When we defend FOS as a bastion of the ‘liberal, civilised West’ I think we have to be very careful. Whose freedom of speech are we defending? Who actually has freedom of speech?
Freedom of speech may be apparent in the fact I can say whatever I want wherever I am. But, what really matters is the freedom of speech when you have a platform, an audience. There is where the real FOS lays. Because to have freedom of speech with no platform is completely different to having freedom of speech and a platform. To invite an Israeli ambassador to talk at the Cambridge Union because: ‘FOS’, but then to never invite a Palestinian representative, is really giving a platform to one voice and silencing another. Furthermore, so many groups are systematically oppressed and silenced that having FOS doesn’t mean they have a voice that is listened to.
What also scares me is the list of censorship rules and media obstacles that representatives from every European country have had a hand in to some extent. I saw a picture of the ‘je suis Charlie’ march and next to it a list of each country’s representative and what measures they had put in place in their country to limit FOS.
Basically, what I am saying is that we must be critical about FOS, we must not just defend it unthinkingly, for in doing so we are really advocating the idea that some voices deserve to be heard more loudly than others. But more importantly; the really pernicious effect of using FOS as the bastion and symbol of ‘the west’ is that it feeds into and strengthens the ‘us/them’ dichotomy. In seeing Europe and the West as ‘free’ and defenders of FOS it is implict that the rest of the world and ‘other’ people are ‘enemies’ of FOS; traitors to freedom… Not only is this dangerous and uncritical, it both misunderstands the problem that is facing Europe right now and it further perpetuates the very thing it is trying to claim to want to prevent.
Panorama did a show recently on Muslims in Britain. The most important factor seen to radicalise Muslims was the onset of dichotomous thinking which split the world into ‘them and us’. Hang on a second… Is this not the very same thinking that the whole FOS debacle has proved to perpetuate? Is this not the same type of thinking that is spurred by the alienation of a large minority of Muslims in Europe? It scares me that we can uncritically pursue the ‘them/us’ discourse without realising how it is furthering the liklihood of extremism and radicalisation by creating this idea of ‘two camps’ in Europe.
FOS needs deconstructing and people need to be more critical about what it is that needs ‘defending’ in Europe, and whether it is not just people’s basic social and economic rights that need protecting – proven to make people feel less disenfranchised and alienated, and thus less likely to feel ‘othered’, alienated and hence more susceptible to radicalisation!
Also, sidenote: how can we defend FOS for some people while simultaneously trying to outlaw ‘radical’ thoughts that Muslim people may have?! Insane.