Freedom of expression
WHOEVER would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.” Benjamin Franklin.
Freedom of expression in a democratic set-up broadly encompasses the rights to seek, receive and impart information and offer opinion and criticism without being worried about the consequences. In a layman term it means ‘end repression, allow expression’.
Today the core foundation of almost all liberal democratic countries is built on this very principle.
However, the definition of freedom of expression, despite sounding simple and elementary, becomes as complex as quantum mechanics when it comes in the phase of implementation. Every stakeholder holds a different slant on this particular right.
Governments often tend to have a very different stance on free speech than civil society and criticism over some fundamental issues are put in the category of security threats and national interests especially in semi-authoritarian regimes.
Even sometimes in the liberal democratic set-up the right and will to question the people in power do not bode well with king makers.
For example, the United States of America which touts itself as a champion of human rights and democracy and pioneer in allowing free speech has failed to uphold this banner several times.
Nixon, Roosevelt, Bush, Obama even the gargantuan Lincoln found guilty in hampering the flow of information and right to lawful protest on certain occasions contrary to the spirit of the First Amendment of an American Constitution.
Nowadays, the term “freedom of expression” is mostly reserved to berate religious beliefs and figures, fashion sense and harassing celebs on social media.
But the quintessence of free expression is to penalize the people in power and make them answerable.
The process of scrutinizing of democratic governments should be more aggressive and under no circumstances people with mandate are to be found supporting unelected regimes or aiding apartheid or genocide anywhere in the world for petty political gains.
Freedom of expression is a pre-requisite to any democracy and without it there is little hope for any nation to move forward in an effective manner. The idea of ‘dangerous speech’ exposes the authoritarian nature of the governments.
Many of us take the idea and benefits of free expression for granted but this right has been claimed after centuries of struggle and sacrifices.
The behemoths of empires like Greeks, Romans, Mughlas were oblivious to terms like human rights.
The common man under these gigantic empires rarely enjoyed any opulence or at the very least comfort.
Therefore, it is pertinent to exercise this right with responsibility and conviction by making institutions independent which can hold government officials down for their wrongdoings without being intimidated or threatened.
Free speech is a blessing and under no circumstances we should let it go. It is the backbone of democratic ideology and it must be protected at all costs.
—The writer is an Engineer, based in Rawalpindi.