February 7, 2006

Bounded Freedom?

Posted in Reflections, Religion at 1:26 am by egalitaria

What is it that motivates people to so wholly believe in something that any slightest insult to the basis of belief provokes extreme reaction? I want to understand.
I am a Christian and those who know me understand the deep conviction I have of God and His love for all. I do truly believe in the fact that He saves, and that He is real.

I therefore emphathise with those whose prophet has been recently ridiculed and put to shame by many. It is not merely an issue of religion, but rather that of scorn and utter contempt made by one party of another. Nobody in their right minds would stay silent in an offense conducted against one they truly love. Paparazzi baring your wife or daughter naked on the newspapers, in compromising positions. Is this the equivalent of how Muslims feel? I don’t know, and I am in no position to judge.

What many papers use as defence: Freedom of speech. Now what exactly is freedom of speech? Or Freedom, for that matter. Are we truly free to do everything and anything we want to as humans? Taking it further, if true, is absolute freedom beneficial to all?

“We have the freedom to do anything we want.” Not True.

We are constrained by laws of nature. Gravity restricts us from floating around in the air. Our bones and joints restrict our arms and legs from moving 360 degrees.

We are constrained by laws of society. We are not free to run naked in the middle of a highway. (You could if you wanted to, but it would cause many accidents and you’d be called in by the police.) We are not free to enter into toilets of the opposite sex in Public Areas.

We are constrained by laws of tolerance. We are not free to beat up someone’s ass just because he is of a different ethnicity, religion or sexual preference.

The truth of the matter is that freedom is granted within a certain jurisdiction. The issue arises when just who is able to decide what sort of and the degree of freedom to be granted.

I therefore believe that freedom is to be propagated but one has to be watchful of what one does. Certain laws, legally transcribed or not, govern the ways in which humanity operates. There is no escaping a reasonable circle of constraint.

Since I postulate that tolerance is a virtue to be practised where possible, I also believe that one ought to be cautious in reacting violently, even when one’s convictions have been severely and ridiculously tested. Being inflamed with anger is one thing; acting upon it in physical hatred is another. Consequences are bound to take place. What is the point of injuring others who have injured you?

This is a tricky situation. Respect for one’s religion, race and culture vs. Freedom of Speech. Despite recent events, I still believe the balance is possible. Very possible.

People just have to take time to understand the others’ motivations and core beliefs.

But perhaps it’s gone past all that. What will we next see unfolding in tomorrow’s news?



  1. Oon Yeoh said,

    The so-called “offence” that the Danish paper made was to publish distasteful and insulting cartoons. At heart, it’s a freedom of speech issue.

    “Almost by definition the people who carry the standard for the *First Amendment are the ones who have unpopular speech; after all, we wouldn’t need a First Amendment for popular speech.”
    – Cindy Cohn, legal counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation

    *The First Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees freedom of speech.

  2. Linda Maria Thorsteinsdottir said,

    Just wanted to say hi and thanx for the link. I think that what most people around here felt was shock over the reaction the cartoons got, especially the notion that if one person in some crappy regional newspaper makes a tacky decision the whole country/government is made responsible for a decision that they had no authority over and shouldn’t have any authority over. Denmark is not a country where the government can control the media and the independence of media from the state is considered a hard earned right, a right people died fighting for. I personally would rather prefer to ignore the tasteless remarks of people that I don’t respect than not having the right to speak my mind (regardless of whether people want to listen to me or not).

  3. Trish said,

    I think there are two issues to think about in this matter: 1) Freedom of speech, and 2) Reaction to it.

    Freedom of speech is itself good and worthy to be upheld. The ideal situation is one in which information on any given subject is made free and available to all. This allows for a person to pick and choose (rightly or wrongly) what makes the most sense to him. The problem is that not all information will be given equal chance to be exposed to the public. Differential weights placed on information could be due to anything – editorial preferences, financial contributions, individual opinion.

    This is especially so in authoritarian countries, and I agree Linda that the independence of media from the state is something to be proud of. On the second point of reaction, I also agree that it’s nonsensical to take seriously every opinion made by anyone, as there is bound to be at least one that you disagree with. The response of any level-minded person ought to be that Yes, I disagree with what you have written and rationally offer discourse upon the reasons for this, and if these are unaccepted then so be it. People are far too inflammatory and reactionary than society needs.

    Thanks Linda for dropping by! It’s great to hear from you and have views from that side of the world. Rgds to Bjarki.

  4. Tricias lil brother said,

    I can bend my fingers all the way back.. i suppose my joints have a lot of freedom..


  5. Chieh said,

    hi trish!

    this is mainly a note to let you know that ive been here!! 🙂 i hope to be able to continue reading your blog when im in shanghai.

    Hey Chocky, thanks for dropping a note! Yeah hopefully China won’t block out wordpress blogs, like they do blogspot ones. Although perhaps there is a way around such firewalls? I’m not sure.
    about the danish cartoon matter, i think the main issue is not really one of freedom of speech, but rather of sensitivity towards other religious beliefs. the editor probably misjudged the potential reaction towards a cartoon, as cartoons have a history of being used to satirize political situations and getting away with it, ie. people do not take cartoons all that seriously. i guess religion is a rather more sensitive topic than politics!

    The editors definitely misjudged the reaction of Muslims. Had they known the result of printing the cartoons, they would never have done so. The ramifications are manifold. The citizens abroad suffer, products being abandoned etc. The reactions are ridiculous though. Look at some of the placards used in demonstrations. They make sweeping statements of the Danish. You’re right about religion being a sensitive topic. When something is poked at, it seems that all rationality flies out the window upon point of provocation. 
    any country with freedom of speech could have published the cartoon, its just a matter of reasoning out whether the public reaction is worth the point being made.

    And who reasons? The decision makers. 

  6. freewheel said,

    I actually disagree that freedom of speech is in every situation a concept good and worthy to be upheld. Information doesn’t always have a ‘right’ or a ‘wrong’ label to it. But it can have a ‘dangerous’ label. From the point of view of a writer, the idea that we can say anything we like about any issue is next to the concept of Cain’s remark: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” and is utterly selfish.

    Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial. It is selfish to say whatsoever one feels like saying. It is selfish to do whatsoever one feels like doing. One has to take into consideration the affect of those involved. Where does one draw the line though? Does tolerance include the clamming up of speech, to protect the feelings of the other? 
    A very simple example would be the proliferation of bomb-making websites. Now, explosives aren’t in and of themselves immoral are they? But I doubt we would be so quick to support the freedom to display this information if our child was killed by say, some 14 year old chemistry genius who had mischievously and semi-ignorantly produced a bomb from the information on this web-site. What then could restrict the freedom of speech? The sensitivity of the information and its potential to hurt and destroy.

    True. I would not ever propagate careless information that would result in societal detriment. Again, the issue of who the information gatekeepers are.
    What have we done?
    We have weighed the rights to freedom of choice with the right to life and found the former wanting.
    Likewise we have weighed the rights to freedom of speech with the right of the Muslim who holds their belief as important as their life.

    What is your point here?
    As always, the issue isn’t perfectly simple. Motivations and tolerance on the part of both sides could be deliberated till kingdom come but alas, two teams playing with different rules on the same pitch won’t easily keep the same score.

    Vastly different interpretations. True. It’s like I am trying to argue that this object is an apple, and my opponent is trying to argue that this object is red in colour, and we cannot even agree upon whether the object is indeed a fruit.

  7. egalitaria said,

    Hey Jefei my little brother. How’s life down under in Auckland? Are you still playing drums and wowing the crowds with your wonderful skill? When are you coming back to Malaysia for a visit?

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: