By Craig Levin
The power of speech is abused and used to insult. Personally I would prefer a lot of people to shut up, or to put their pens to more worthy or useful pursuits than belittling others. I wish they would say better things about me.
It would be pleasant if they did not misrepresent or misconstrue my religion, my beliefs and all that is sacred or valuable to me.
It does not say much about a person if he needs to belittle others constantly, even if this is done with elegance. Those who disparage my beliefs do not destroy my essence, nor do they damage my self-worth.
My standing in the eyes of others, or even the whole world, may be adversely affected, but no urge me to resort to militancy arises. Neither God nor do I cease to be who we are simply because of what someone says.
I generally choose to ignore the journalists, novelists, academics, film makers and other nauseating individuals who spew matter upsetting to me. My belief in freedom of speech does not extend to a belief in the provision of a forum for those I despise to pour forth their toxic views. There may be freedom of speech but there is no corresponding duty to listen. There is no duty on society, the state or ‘the media’ to provide airtime for anyone who wants to say something.
The journalists who were murdered in Paris were probably not those whose material I would have liked or enjoyed. I am also not going to martyr myself proclaiming their, or anyone else’s, right to say whatever they want to say. The world would be a much better place if many things that are said were never said. Having the ability to express oneself should impose a duty of self-restraint. It would be more noble if we were careful to minimise hurt to others with what we have to say. True sensitivity to others and their feelings is a value we should not discard or disregard.
But this does not mean that we should cultivate a false sensitivity to every idiotic or obnoxious world view.
But that is not my point. The point is not that people should be free to say whatever they want. That ought not to be the overriding value of our society. What is more fundamental than the very important value of freedom of expression is the value of freedom from terrorism. Nobody has the right to arrogate to themselves the power to kill others. People are precious and our governments and societies should protect them from terrorists. The battle between civilization and terrorism is not merely a ‘debate’. It will not be decided by an online poll. Terrorists do not merely disrespect the rights of others to freedom of expression. Theirs is a threat not merely to the important values of democratic societies. They threaten the lives of everyone in those societies.
The journalists in Paris were living human beings. I may not have liked them. I may have despised them. I might not have defended to the death their right to say what they said but I would defend to the death their lives and the lives of all who are threatened by terror.
More than speech, more than democratic Western values we need to protect ourselves and have a society that is free from terror.