Freedom of Speech
“ Thou Hypocrite! First cast out the beam out of thine own eye.
Fundamentalist Islam represents a real ideological threat to our principles of liberty. However, we seem poorly equipped to deal with such fanaticism. Primrose Lovett looks at the hypocrisy of the Western response to radicalism, and why freedom of speech might no longer be the answer.
ew people in our society question the merits of free speech. It is accepted as an indisputable pillar of Western liberal society: an exclamation of liberty; a celebration of humanity. Enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, it sets us apart from dictators and fanatics, and is seen as a clear symbol of human progress. However, the modern threat of fanaticism has thrown into question the applicability of universal free speech. It seems we must choose between self defence or the moral high-ground. Either we limit our own principles and deny freedom of expression to those who threaten us, or we exalt the right to free speech for all, including our enemies. The first option is hypocritical, the second is naïve. Proponents of free speech have a misguided hope that the ‘freedom’ of Western liberalism will not fail to draw the whole world to its cause. This will never be the case, however, as free speech cannot combat a mass, totalitarian, ideology. Our leaders have realised this: they now pay but lip service to ‘free speech’ whilst criminalising its ex-
VIVID 3rd Edition May 2008
treme manifestations. This hypocrisy is abhorrent. Perhaps, finally, we need to be honest with ourselves: we must stop tolerating the intolerant, and admit that ‘free speech’ is not a moral absolute after all. Freedom of expression is built on the premise that everybody is equal and that, therefore, everyone has the right to their own opinion and the right to express it. The underlying theory behind this is that through rational debate and the
“Freedom of speech is neither our weapon, nor an adequate defence, in this global battle of ideas.” challenging of the status quo society will be propelled forward along the historical path towards truth and perfection. However, rather than achieving this goal, 150 years after the Enlightenment our rational debate appears to have done a full circle. Free
speech has led to an ever increasing diversity of opinion. Now, we are no longer searching for truth, but denying its very existence as postmodern scepticism asserts that all is relative. This has resulted in an attitude of moral pluralism, where people are afraid to make any kind of value judgement, particularly in the realm of religion. Faith, regarded as beyond reason, is above criticism. This, however, has rendered us incapable of dealing with the current crisis. An ideological battle is on our hands. For the first time in modern history we find ourselves in the West on the defensive in a global conflict. Islamic terrorism is unique not only in its international scope, but in the directness and effectiveness of its physical and ideological attack on the West. I do not support Western triumphalism, such as the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, and am all for open academic debate. However, on the domestic stage, freedom of speech is neither our weapon nor an adequate defence in this global battle of ideas against those who are not willing to listen. The theory of free speech arose >>