Friday, September 10, 2010

Freedom Of Expression Has No Bounds

News across the world has been going crazy recently about an evangelical pastor based in Florida attempts to burn the Koran in a ceremony to commemorate 9/11. Pastor Terry Jones in his previous comments has shown himself to be extremely Islamaphobic and these views are not acceptable. I hate Pastor Terry Jones and his bigoted views. However for the same reason I do not support those calling for the building of the Islamic cultural centre near ground zero to be stopped, for the same reason I will defend anti-globalisation organisations right to protest and a holocaust deniers right to debate, I do not support those calling for Pastor Terry Jones Koran burning event to be banned.

This is because freedom of speech and expression has to be protected even if it ends up protecting nasty people. Unlike in other countries the USA until now has always understood this. This is because of the American Constitution first amendment that protects freedom of speech. Therefore abhorrent people can burn the American flag because this is their right as free citizens of the United States to do so. This meant that the Texan Gregory Lee Jones in an Anti-Reagan protest, right to burn the American flag was defended in the Supreme Court. I and many others at the same time have the freedom to call people like Pastor Terry Jones as abhorrent racists and run counter-demonstrations as long as we do not engage in physical violence. However I do not have the right to gag his protest and neither does the state. This is because freedom of expression means abhorrent people have the freedom to offend. If we shut them down we would be living in a dictatorship and I'm sure no one wants that. I would prefer to live in a society where everyone can express an opinion and go on a march without fear of arbitrary arrest or state intervention to ban it. This is despite the fact that offensive people will take advantage of these rights. The alternative choice is to live in a society comparable to the Soviet Union where your every move is watched and the state traps every individual inside a prison. This all means that hardly anyone will speak out or protest due to fear.

There are those who say the ban is endangering security, however Pastor Terry Jones is not calling for the killing of American soldier. Those who are carrying out these attacks have deep hatred for the west and will look to any excuse to attack soldiers from the west. They are not attacking American and British soldiers in Afghanistan because of Pastor Terry Jones. They are attacking American and British soldiers as they hate that the free values of the West. We should not give into them, just because they would like to see us live in a less free society where freedom of expression no longer exists.

It is testament to the USA that they can let extremist organisations be they Muslim, Christian or Jew to express their opinion in any way they see fit unless they take part in physical violence. These rights would not be allowed in countries such as Saudi Arabia, where religious freedom is not allowed and when those expressing religious beliefs, which the state does not recognise are dealt with severely. The excuse given here a lot of the time is that a reduction in religious freedom was needed on the grounds of security. This is a feeble excuse. No one after all is secure in an authoritarian society. If the USA government banned Pastor Terry Jones’ protest, they will throw away a long tradition of promoting religious freedom, including the religious freedom of those with deeply warped views.

To conclude I do not support the calls calling for the burning of the Koran ceremony to be banned. Whilst it would be easy to call for a ban, it would be a betrayal of freedom of expression and freedom of speech. We betray these values at our peril, as they are the foundation blocks of a democratic and free society. Without them the very essence of democracy in the USA and the West in general starts to crumble.

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